The Critically Important Innovation Narrative

Whatever we do, we do far better when we become emotionally connected. Often understanding a good story builds this emotional connection or simply puts you off. Stories can inspire and spark even greater ideas. The art of storytelling and making connections with the listener or reader has incredible value. Yet, a story has limited value. For me, it is the more powerful narrative that drives innovation, inspiring and gaining identification in multiple ways.

A story is linked to a series of events that take a character from one state to another. In contrast, a narrative is a system of stories that links values and events to establish a broader and often new cultural meaning.

Let’s drawdown on so much of John Hagel’s work on narratives. It has shaped my thinking. John ran the Deloitte Center for the Edge. Alongside an extraordinary group of people, they progressively built up a growing understanding of differences between stories and narratives and take out narratives to a clearer institutional level.

I would like to quote some of his writing here as it gives me, and I hope you, the reader, a richer understanding of narratives and why they are so important to us.

“Narratives have great power, but their power increases dramatically when building on other narratives.”

“Context and location are critical to enhancing the power of narrative.”

“Stories are self-contained (they have a beginning, middle and resolution), and they are about the storyteller or some other person; they are not about the listener.”

“In contrast, narratives are open-ended, they are yet to be resolved, and their resolution depends upon the choices and actions of the listener” It becomes the choices you make, and the actions you take will determine the outcome”.

John rightly points out story have such emotive power, but he points to “it is the narrative, throughout history that people give their lives for. Every successful social movement in history has been driven at its core by a narrative that drove people to amazing and new things”.

“Narratives have an extraordinary power of pull”. They shape. John quotes Apple where they condensed their narrative into the slogan “think differently“- that means you, the listener, has to think differently. He then offers Nike with their condensed narrative of “Just do it”, so it challenges you to be willing to step up and perform, think differently and challenge yourself, where you need to find the time to break out of your personal barriers and achieve something better.

So defining stories and narratives, you see the growing potential of having a good narrative for your innovation activities. They are a call to action and engage those listening to the narrative to make a difference. The care within designing the narrative is you do not want contradictory narratives; they need to be in pursuit of complementary narratives.

My favourite point here offered by John is “stories are about plots and action while narratives are about people and potential.”

So for innovation, narratives do become vital.

They help us to orientate and can profoundly inspire us to shape the future. We need narratives of the explorer rather than narratives of the true believers. “We need to seek the opportunity to learn and grow, the possibilities of things to be discovered, not the certainties to be recovered.”

So narratives attract, engage, motivate and call people to push and achieve their potential.

Growing faster by changing your innovation narrative

George S. Day, a Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennslyvania, along with Gregory P. Shea, an adjunct professor of the same school, wrote a great article back in December 2018, “Grow Faster by Changing Your Innovation Narrative” undertook some research and suggest that companies that grow faster than their industry rivals articulate a coherent, compelling innovation narrative and rely on four powerful levers to make it a reality.

Let me outline these here and some of their observations of why the innovation narrative is so important.

Within this view by Day and Shea, they point out that managers are never short of advice. Prescriptions are focusing on best practices, adopting popular concepts like design thinking, lean startups principles, having innovation boot camps and working through co-creation with customers. They point out, “these have merit but if you have no understanding of your company’s innovation narrative is tantamount to going from symptoms to surgery without a diagnosis.”

The value of the innovation narrative is it should offer beliefs about the company’s ability to innovate. They suggest these narratives are growth-affirming or growth-denying. Spending time with growth-affirming company’s they typically found the refreshingly upbeat, constructive, ambitious character to their innovation narratives.

The research identified different possible innovation levers, but four were identified as the most relied upon by organic growth leaders to stay ahead of their competitors: 1) invest in innovation talent, “) encourage prudent risk-taking, 3) adopt a customer-centric innovation process, and 4) align metrics and incentives with innovation activity.

So let’s explore these four primary levels of growth-lead innovators to develop and maintain such an innovation narrative.

The following four levers — and associated behaviours — can support a growth-affirming innovation narrative:

  1. Invest in innovation talent: The leadership team signals a strong commitment to innovation through visible and sustained investments of resources and time. Two specific traits deemed difficult to develop, such as conceptual thinking and a consistent focus on end-user needs, were sought in recruiting.
  2. Encourage prudent risk-taking: Innovative companies foster tolerance for risk throughout the organization by accepting internal cannibalization, endorsing a fail-fast approach, and learning from innovation disappointments. The level of careful dissection of failures and cues from rapid prototyping, frugal experimentation, and lean methodologies was strong. They shared accountability to contain and manage innovation risks by making small, staged bets on a “share to gain” approach.
  3. Adopt a customer-centric innovation process: The process used by growth leaders starts with deep insights into customers and anticipates emergent needs. The constant asking of “what do they need?” The important blend of outside-in (what’s needed) and inside-out (what’s possible) approach to innovation converge on the best growth opportunities from both directions.
  4. Align metrics and incentives with innovation activity: The innovation dashboard emphasizes learning over scorekeeping and creates a credible link to rewards and recognition for innovation accomplishments. The lack of confidence in any measures tracked in the innovation dashboard lies in the paucity of metrics. The lack of real depth or insufficient innovation means new, lacking hard data. The focus is more on day-to-day innovation activities.

So we need to avoid the story as it is tended to be told for an explicit purpose. The need is to encourage engagement for them to see their possibilities. Narratives are different.

Narratives need differentiation, tap into unmet needs within us all, have the ability to be leveraged, mobilize resources to be the connector in a network or ecosystem, seek out distributed innovation, sparked in very unexpected directions and ways. A narrative needs attraction to pull people in, attracted by the possibilities, opportunities and the challenge you are offering that needs a new dimension of innovation and the ability to offer long-term, trust-based relationships.

A good innovation narrative drives business success; it provides the stimulus for achieving more of our potential. It gives dynamic motion to what we need to achieve.

Going beyond the known of today

There are so many places where innovation is essential within the Energy Transition, due to the magnitude, size, and complexity of the change needed to achieve a decarbonized world. There is a world of innovating possibilities

One of the most important catalysts for changing the energy system into a sustainable green one is by taking our thinking beyond the known into the possibilities we need for a sustaining future, of energy based on the ability for renewables to generate all our electrification needs.

We need to build out all our renewable possibilities that include solar, wind, hydro, green hydrogen and nuclear energy.

It is in this combination of pursuit, nurturing, and expanding our thinking through the thoughtful constructing of a vision built on knowledge, exploration and understanding, that we can mobilize the changes needed.

My energy journey is being navigated across the three-time horizons.

For many years I have been a powerful advocate for applying the three-horizon framework and the thinking that should go into it, to offer a highly effective way to “translate change”, to gain a shared identification and common pursuit of purpose. My opener for relating to the three-horizon framework Opener to the Three Horizons for Innovation

Can we move beyond what we know, into what might be possible?

 

To achieve that we need to create the environment of discovery, through research and developments.

We need to pursue, nurture, and see beyond as our three points of delivering change within the Energy transition. The combination of all three gives us the potential to navigate the energy transition we need. This energy system needs to move from today’s reliance of fossil fuels and antiquated infrastructure into one based on clean, sustainable and renewable energy sources, delivered through a highly distributed infrastructure, designed for the final consumer of the energy.

The powerful need is accelerating and consistently lobbying for the required changes and offering a consistent clear demonstration that the innovative solutions can make the changes necessary. An energy system to provide affordable, sustainable, reliable and modern energy systems in design that met consumption needs, greater choice and a world rapidly de-carbonizing as the point of urgency to reduce the global warming effect we face.

I see innovation as my critical supporting part of transforming the energy system.

Much of my focus is on building out the value positioning through what innovates and changes the energy structure we have in place today.

The need for a rapid learning, knowledge sharing, and leveraging approach has become an increasing “sense of mission” for me, this is why I position myself as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems within the energy system.

It is how I leverage, approach, and explore, that is my current “struggle” to get right. I know clearly, we do need to mobilize innovation capability for the energy system, and I want to be part of that transformation.

Also, I know I can influence and shape by offering a “collective” perspective from research, knowledge, and practical understanding.

My Value Proposition is always focused on content, that links the context in concepts and solution to be applied, and mobilize the expertise, experience and knowledge to back it up from those seeing that possibility in the future.

I have within my constant “Northern Star” the following thinking:

“content is free and abundant, constantly available, yet the time we need to read it, to absorb it and then finally translate it into our personal need or requirement is not! My Northern Star mission and goal is to invest my time and offer this set of insights and knowledge to others, so they keep pointing their resources towards concepts and solutions keeping innovation top of mind in this Energy Transition.”

The translation I seek to provide is to give appropriate meaning, it is a large part of my job, to translate information and knowledge into tangible value and provide impact and validation to make a compelling case for change.

To provide support in generating the thinking towards innovating energy solutions I have established three focused points of posting or reference sites on energy to build out my contribution towards the Energy Transition.

www.innovating4energy.website

www.innovating4energy.com

www.digital4energy.com

I have been building a blend of services around the Energy Transition.

I want others to truly recognize the value of innovation within any energy transition, this has become my own transformation in what and where I want to focus:

Opportunities and conceptual change need a focused innovators perspective.   There is a real gap in building a robust innovation capability, capacity, and competency to accelerate the Energy Transition journey to provide the external view.

What I am aiming to offer: Fresh knowledge and insights that based on in-depth research and know-how, a corporate understanding of over twenty years of advising and transforming innovation activities, providing a great resource to “tap into” from the advisory role, connecting the Energy Transition needs by looking from the Innovators perspective.

What drives and motivates me in this focus on innovation within the Energy transition?

We need to provide a more sustainable future for all living things on this one planet of ours, including ourselves, in exploiting the use of clean energy from the more sustainable, renewable sources of wind, solar, water, and fusion that does not burden or have an impact on our “living” system.

The present entrenched fossil reliant energy system must migrate towards a clean energy future, one that is urgently required. We need to take decisive action to allow for our planet to return to a balanced one.

If we as humans want to lead healthy lives, we do need this balance this with what this earth offers, to live alongside other creatures, plants, and in what nature provides, and value this in new completely different ways. It is not simply trying to constantly extract or be the ultimate judge over parts of the ultimate ecosystem, we need to stop imposing just our human needs and recognize this is a shared planet that needs a balanced ecosystem.

Ecosystems can change, evolve naturally, or recover given time, but we presently do not have the luxury of allowing one to develop we much (attempt) to manage this energy transition ecosystem as quickly as possible. Having a robust energy system is so essential in our lives, we are increasingly dependent on it, to connect us into a sustainable future where we grow from having this incredible “energy” resource.

To get to this robust, new sustainable energy system, innovation must be at its core. It provides the “fuel” for changing. I want to catalyze it wherever I can.

Leadership Alignment Work Mat for making Innovation fully connected.

I do believe the value of working the seven domains of this framework, named the Leadership Alignment Workmat has significant value within and across any organization. It brings innovation together, a unifying point for the activity and momentum of innovation to become central to the core of the business, in its future investment and value impact.

The Leadership Alignment Workmat provides a unique examination of the executive’s role in innovation, it offer a framework that the leadership of the organization can adopt to ensure linkages and synergies between strategy and innovation, innovation and capabilities, innovation and culture.

Often they lack the communicating medium to help clarify and shape the innovation story to tell, so as to provide the guidance necessary for achieving that essential engagement and encouragement they would like, to align organizational efforts required from innovation to the strategies envisioned.

Benefits of applying the Leadership Alignment Work Mat

From an investment in an executive work mat exercise you receive four significant benefits.

First, as an executive team you will create cohesion and a consistent innovation framework that reduces barriers or uncertainties for innovators.

Second, you demonstrate your engagement, which increases visibility and lowers risk, which encourages more and better ideas.

Third, you create work-flows and encourage innovation skills and capabilities which accelerate ideas through your internal processes that increase the opportunity to be more self-organized under this framework.

Fourth, you influence compensation, provide motivations and promote the cultural and climate to innovate which progressively reduces barriers and creates incentives for innovation to thrive.

These benefits add up to more speed, more agility, clearer flexibility resulting in new, relevant products and services that can increase organic growth and provide solutions that differentiate you.

We believe C.E.O’s and senior executives play a vital role in the success or failure of innovation. Unfortunately, those roles have often not been well-defined and sometimes they are rarely well executed. We call this the engagement- alignment gap. Only an engaged, committed senior executive can create the means for building a sustained innovation capability or disciplined approach through defining innovation’s role.

The Leadership Alignment Work Mat resolves the litmus test. It provides a compelling structured approach for senior executives to build, extend and sustain an innovation capability. Starting with the most strategic goals of your business, it links and aligns innovation to strategy; it explores the critical aspects of any senior innovation strategic framework. It addresses the critical aspects so as to provide a holistic approach to innovation, reducing uncertainty, reducing risk and increasing your chance to help your company innovate consistently.

The end outcome of this Leadership Alignment Work Mat approach provides the innovation leadership and guidance to your organization to ‘frame’ the innovation activity to your strategic goals. This allows you to articulate and communicate the alignment through the innovation work mat throughout the organization. It will provide the necessary understanding needed to perform the innovation tasks more effectively under this framework umbrella.

It offers the strategic ‘frame’ your innovation future requires, it forms the emerging common language and communication necessary across the organization, that provides guidance, inspiration and clarity to your innovation vision and goals.It allows innovation to ‘cascade’ throughout the organization to achieve that close alignment innovation requires with the strategy to achieve a meaningful and sustaining set of results.

To find out more or request a detailed White Paper on this, please contact  paul@agilityinnovation.com or explore more here by clicking on the tab insights and resources“or on the re-luanched site of www.agilityinnovation.com under the tab toolbox

Mapping Out Your Innovating Way Forward

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

 

Mapping any innovation journey can be complicated. There is a fairly detailed journey needed to be undertaken for mapping out your future direction of innovation.

Let’s get straight into it, and the process and sequence needed within any innovation journey.

Firstly you have to work through the Strategic Needs– this needs to cover the type of approaches, the scope and intent, the assessments of the required impact for the end customer and organizational value, the understanding and outlines of this becoming organizational-wide in its integrated needs.

This approach does need a systematic approach, continuous up-dated toolboxes and visible metrics and tracking. Lastly, to build and quickly test, adopt and scale as knowledge and understanding are gained.

Second, there is the need to build reference points for future innovation activities, so duplication and learning can be built into understanding. Here it is vital to have gained the continued support and engagement of high-level participation, where we recommend the Leadership Alignment work Mat approach,

We need to ensure transparency for all stakeholders; the design evolves into a highly usable and integrated set of modular interlocking designs that allow for learning and flexibility to adapt to different conditions of needs, budget, and resource considerations. That collaborative mindset enables innovation to progress and eventually emerge from all the dialogues, exchanges, and contributions.

Then thirdly, we go into the process design stage shown.

This is the validating, evaluating and forecasting the future innovation state. This then needs to be well planned out in a roadmap of initiatives, identifying and resolving the key components and establishing a framework of how this will be moved forward. You have the choices of any work going to be internally developed and alternatively having a consortium or network of collaborators. I would argue here is one of the most valuable contributions an experienced innovation facilitator can participate in.

The final stage is the implementation and momentum building stage. This includes a dedicated programme management need, approaching any roll-out through initiative testing, piloting and exploring steps to move towards the organizational design options that work from this validation. A growing need is to build supporting technology and structure requirements, provide consistent internal communication of progress and applying for the associated screening and approval.

Ending in a ‘living and dynamic’ innovation touch and value map that evolves in time

Finally, throughout this journey, a consistent focus on building the appropriate capabilities and competencies. Over time and experiences, you clarify and deepen your innovation proactive principles and make this a constant “living and dynamic” touch, reference and value map.

The level of mapping out your innovation pathway gives significant dividends where there is any collaborative environment. This provides identification and reference.

Happy to talk about innovating mapping some more if it interests you for applying to your organization’s needs.

 

Building Capability and Capacity to Expand Capabilities for Innovation

A new equation

For innovation to be successful, the bottom line is the commitment and focus made for the building the capabilities and competencies in innovation as people make us the real value and ARE the innovation success equation in my opinion,

So we must simply invest in them by focusing on the 3 C’s of developing peoples Capability, Competency and Capability.

As we set about to build and expand capabilities we need to consider:

  • How we can accelerate uptake of innovation activity around the conditions provided through investing in them
  • The need to trigger engagement and achieve a growing attainment of knowledge acquisition and dispersion skills- essential for collaborative innovation
  • Setting about building practices for greater synergies, relationships and networking conditions, for ongoing learning and absorptive capacity
  • Extracting the right cultural, design, climate and environmental conditions,
  • Placing increasing value on evolving the structures, processes and technology application
  • Investing in lessons learnt, in validation and resolutions to challenges to build an ongoing adaptive capacity.
  • Recognizing people solve the critical bottlenecks and find solutions to overcome the constraints, they become increasingly motivated to find solutions and resolve gaps through their ability to be creative and inquisitive.
  • The ongoing building of capabilities and competencies clearly leads to a more sustaining and determined innovation future.

Increasing capacity through coaching

There are many benefits from having an intense course of one-on-one coaching, irrespective of the level of responsibility you have for innovation within your organization.

It is very similar to management behavioural coaching to change perceptions, to reorientate your thinking and approach, to open up to different thinking to build out your innovation understanding. Coaching yields a clear return but the hard work lies with the one being coached, wanting to see the alternatives and add these into their daily actions and lives.

Increasingly your innovation knowledge through coaching, you can accelerate different insights that can form a vital part of any innovation comprehension that can reduce uncertainties, encourage experimentation and draw others towards a changing relationship of trust, increasing productivity and engagement.


Through working with us through some fairly intensive and context specific sessions you quickly deepen personal knowledge and accelerate your critical business awareness and contribution.

Our innovation coaching approach provides ideal safe environments to enable innovation to quickly take hold and be translated.

Leaders, champions, sponsors and teams can gain from this coaching as well as the individual.

The Real Tipping Point in your understanding comes through ‘tailored’ Innovation Coaching where you see real benefits by discussing why and this, in my opinion always is framed around content and context:

•Context matters a great deal

•Content needs to offer a total solution

•Success takes time & effort

•Finding a release of working time to focus on adding new value to the Business (hard-wiring) becomes essential to achive this shift

I wrote this sometime back “Learning the Mantra of Innovation Context”It has value to read.

I take th approach in coaching innovation in multiple ways:

•Our approach is a mix of questioning, listening and re-skilling techniques and why this makes sense

•We recommend coaching is normally on a 1to1 basis as ideal but this can be in team situations as well, although this has a different approach

•This coaching is always innovation centric in everything we do in these 1on1 sessions

•Ownership lies with the person being coached and we seek to transfer the necessary insight and knowledge quickly and effectively

•We facilitate the unscrambling of many random thoughts and provide the clarity of piecing the innovation puzzle all together

It is yours alone to finally assimilate and use this new knowledge gained; we will help you in achieving your personal goals and provide the fresh dimension and place innovation understanding into the context necessary.

Why not contact me to find out more about a number of unique ways we approach innovation through coaching. Many of these become ‘deep dives’ to provide the necessary breakthroughs.

Then we have Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

There are certainly growing benefits in using external advisor’s and innovation mentors

To find someone who is empathetic and experienced in business innovation is growing harder so as to avoid many typical, sometimes unseen ‘pitfalls’ on innovation.

Someone who has a depth gained from their own business experiences; working in large organizations, managing complexity, projects and starting up fresh initiatives or taking them over to turn them around.

Someone who can empathize with the managing of innovation; in learning and leading significant activities.

A mentor or advisor can certainly provide:

* The opportunity and environment for you to step back from the day-to-day detail to take fresh stock, to re-engage in the bigger picture of what innovation can provide. They can help you to refocus and re-energize innovation activities. They can be timely.

* They can be a great sounding board as they listen they can prompt and stimulate your thinking. They can challenge it and help in arriving at new ideas towards solutions to your challenges. They can offer a series of directions and courses of actions to be considered.

* Growth or the needs for Renewal needed are often tough areas to manage and deliver through innovation activities. Timely advice can instil a growing confidence, the chance to debate and explore alternatives, and explore emerging options. A mentoring approach can help in avoiding ‘classic’ mistakes made by others.

* Today, we need to leverage the connections within our networks more and more. Knowing who, where and why becomes increasingly of value so as to avoid loss of time, energy and basic mistakes.

A mentor who has a wide network to tap into can seek out the best advice to support assumptions or offer even more clarification.

Each mentoring or advisory engagement will be different

Discussing constantly changing business challenges often values external evaluation. Often you can forget one issue as another one ‘pops up’ into the crowded agenda.

A mentor can remind, prompt and connect issues and bring a fresh perspective to these. Having the opportunity to revisit the different complexities within innovation so you have available a knowledge resource to share and reflect on constant changes since the last conversation or meeting can provide a catalyst to taking the appropriate action.

Having the opportunity to engage around different topics of discussions that surface around innovation can become a powerful motivational force for you to recalibrate, stay motivated, and have added incentives to think through these again.

In our view an innovation advisor or mentor needs to offer:

A good innovation mentor or trusted advisor should offer a different perspective based on a combination of their own practical business experiences along with a real depth of innovation understanding to provide a real return to your needs from innovation.

So to build the 3 C’s of Capabilities, Capacities and Competencies we can follow a peoples equation and invest in coaching and mentoring to really accelerate these.

Why do we have difficulties to self-disrupt?

“Why do we always seem to have internal difficulties to self-disrupt?”

Now that is an interesting question. My quick and simple answer is to look at all the internal constraints you can see, or ask those around you what they can see as constraints for them. You will be surprised at all the constraints that stop the individual or the organization to make changes.

It is also being constrained when you look outside your organization and not recognizing the (perpetual) changes going on, often until it is too late or a fast, nimble entrepreneur has nipped in and set about building a new alternative to your existing offering that has, perhaps for some time shown signs of business model decay. Continue reading

The art of “Back Casting” needs care

Backcasting is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect that specified “future to the present”. The fundamentals of the method were outlined by John. B. Robinson from the University of Waterloo in 1990. The fundamental question of backcasting asks: “if we want to attain a certain goal, what actions must be taken to get there?”

While forecasting involves predicting the future based on current trend analysis, backcasting approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction; it is “a method in which the future desired conditions are envisioned, and steps are then defined to attain those conditions, rather than taking steps that are merely a continuation of present methods extrapolated into the future”

I have collected different views on “Backcasting”.

Those are from assorted references like Wikipedia, from past work on water and energy systems, from Natural Step, from Innosight, discussed and promoted in Mark Johnson’s book “Lead for the Future” and a really recent one from Roxi Nicolussi and her Backcasting; Creating a Strategic Roadmap for the Future” or finally here, this one “All Roads Lead From The Future Back — A Vision and Spoke Model” by Aidan McCullen. I am looking to further explore the applications applied in water, energy and climate work.

So exploring backcasting as a method

Continue reading

No thinking time left- help

Today most executives seem to be time-starved. They are constantly reacting to daily events, to fix upon the focusing and fixing of short-term performance. This applies to the top executive down to the most junior. The sheer difficulty of having most, if not all of your colleagues working remotely is making it so much harder. Keeping the business simply going is hard, demanding work. What time is there left to think beyond the present?

How can you keep the engagement, how can you find an environment that is creative, stimulating and allows for innovation? Juggling so many crisis events in different ways is exhausting.

Who is encouraging your pause button to go on as we lose more of those relaxing moments to top up our stimulations, as we all continue to isolate, with our lack of socializing, travelling, being in each others company continues to leaves us so devoid of real human interactions, apart from countless Zoom, Skype, or Team meetings? We need to replace this “void” with better thinking time to re-stimulate our curiosity and logic senses.

It just seems to me they simply don’t have this luxury to think.

Technology is rapidly taking over this thinking role, we increasingly rely on searches to at least begin our thinking. Humans are becoming the 2nd class citizen for thinking. Continue reading