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.

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

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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.

 

Designing Unique Workshops is hard work

Finding opportunities for Innovation and Growth is hard work. It is the value of having good, interactive, highly particpative workshops breaks much of those initial barriers to allow the hard work to begin in a more cohesive and collaborative way.

I believe any design of workshops must meet your needs, to push the thinking and to generate new returns in innovation understanding.

Boilerplate designs might look initially attractive but knowing your needs, limitations, concerns, and ambitions can transform a workshop into one that lasts in the participant’s minds as they felt it was “clearly” designed for them

Which end of the innovation spectrum do we need to go?

  • Workshops can mean different things to different people. Find ones that are 100% focused on engaging with and accelerating innovation. They need a couple of simple rules
  • Conducting ‘open’ dialogues or focused conversations should always have a sound context so the contributions slowly build-out and hold real promise
  • Discoveries can start with different ‘fields of enquiry’ to achieve different connections and deepen our perspectives

A great book, written by Bill Sharpe, explaining the Three Horizons often comes to mind. I wrote about it here “Three Horizons- fields of future, full of foresight”

Then I find the Divergent / Convergent approach in thinking as highly valuable

We need to always challenge ourselves and taking you through a set of lenses of discovery that go from ‘divergent to convergent‘ is important.

You need both to explore and exploit the multiple possible solutions. Divergent thinking is the ability and opportunity to offer different, unique or variant ideas adherent to one theme, while convergent thinking is the (eventual) ability to find the ‘correct’ solution to the given problem.

You encourage and ideate many solutions, both possible and impossible, and then use convergent thinking to move towards a realizable resolution or solution.

I use this ‘divergent and convergent’ structure for many of my workshops, it allows for broader engagement and involvement and that eventual drawing together from this process. Once or twice you have to be nimble on your feet to move from one to the other but the discipline comes from timing these as shared spaces but giving each a clear discipline of dedicated time as you do need a very different mindset to think openly then begin to narrow the options down.

Creativity makes use of divergent thinking, which is solving problems with many possible solutions, as opposed to convergent thinking, which is solving problems

The process of figuring out a concrete solution to any problem is called Convergent Thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of thinking that explores multiple possible solutions in order to generate creative ideas. It’s a straight forward process that focuses on figuring out the most effective answer to a problem.

Divergent thinking” is the process of coming up with new ideas and possibilities. We are more in a creative and intuitive mindset. We explore lots of possibilities and stay more at this point on the conceptual abstractions.

We work this through then we go more into  “Convergent thinking”, this is associated with analysis, judgment, and decision-making. We become more analytical, rational, sequential and objective. We begin to explore constraint driven issues. It is the process of taking a lot of ideas and sorting them, evaluating them, analyzing the pros and cons, and making decisions, and exploring options that reveal, over time and discussion emerging value

These journeys are personal ones as well as team forming opportunities and form the backbone of good workshops.

 Understanding innovation requires a deep awareness- through a variety of tailored or purpose-designed workshops, dialogues or discovery trips you can rapidly enhance your awareness and grasp of what ‘makes up’ innovation. 

Innovation is our 100% of our focus and we can, without question, advance your knowledge and insights across all of its complexities to be simplified through our workshops, dialogues and discovery approaches.

Building the workshop it is deliberately designed to help you need to think through many areas of productive innovation opportunity. For example:

1. Understand the trends and drivers in your industry as well as explore alternative perspectives allows you to look at not just ‘best practice’ but leading and emerging practice.

2. Look constantly outside your organization to ‘see’ and collaborate from the values of applying open innovation principles and techniques

3. Fostering the culture and climate for Innovation to workinside your organization can create the environment you are looking for but it takes a real understanding.

4. We all need to be aware of the way we earn our profit and where and why and it becomes absolutely vital that our innovation activity fully aligns to the strategic needs

5. Complete differently in the value chain- what it gives from new Business Models and discovering new opportunities to energize your business in different ways

6. When we stop and look at customers in different ways so as to listen to their needs we can discover new innovation opportunities and then how do you discover those unarticulated ones?

7. Expand into new markets and customers thoughtfully using the core within your business, in exploring the adjacency spaces and probing those ‘white spaces’ needs careful consideration.

8. Develop new product, services, structures and processes needs debate and understanding

9. Pursue a range of degrees of novelty to generate a greater sense of innovation possibility

10. Being able to sustain your momentum and make innovation repeatable does needs a broad identification and set of discussions to raise awareness, and build those capabilities and capacities well.

These journeys are personal ones as well as team forming opportunities.

 Understanding innovation requires a deep awareness- through a variety of tailored or purpose designed workshops, dialogues or discovery trips you can rapidly enhance your awareness and grasp of what ‘makes up’ innovation. 

Innovation is our 100% focus and we can, without question, advance your knowledge and insights across all of its complexities to be simplified through our workshops, dialogues and discovery approaches.

Building the Innovation Business Case

The building always the Innovation Business Case offers a unique approach to tackle one of the real problem areas within innovation- making the case compelling.

One of the toughest aspects within Innovation is making the Business Case. Much of the information is imperfect, the returns are often fuzzy and the doubters ready to block and deter new ideas from entering the commercialization process.

Knowing the issues, reducing often the ‘noise and distractions’ and making the professional case is what we need to do to attract commitment to the projects we are working upon.

How can you reduce down uncertainty? By ensuring the innovation business case takes a clear methodical approach to this and builds the arguments up in a sound structured way, that shows the areas of clear discussion and conclusion and reduces down the more ’emotive parts, so as to allow the ‘idea or concept’ to firm up and be seen for its real merits.

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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

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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

Building our understanding of the factory of the future

Siemens Digital Enterprise SPS Dialog Results

Last week, Siemens had a really valuable virtual event called their “Digital Enterprise SPS Dialog. Those that missed it you can watch previous sessions on-demand at any time via “Recordings”. They provided an outstanding virtual showroom packed full of innovations, product presentations and use cases are exhibited in an exciting real 3D environment. The platform and all on-demand assets will be available until January 29th 2021.

The “Digital Enterprise SPS Dialoghad 56 3d-exhibits in 12 topic areas, more than 130 product presentations, 3 real factory showcases with 21 stage presentations involving over 38 speakers. By registering you can view “on-demand” selectively or watch the whole event, explore the showrooms and simply learn, evaluate and assess what these concepts would mean for you in your own Industry 4.0 journey, to a more highly automated and connected environment.

I said it at the time, and I repeat it: “The event was, for me, the best virtual event of this very strange and weird year we have all been caught up in“. For Siemens, they also commented this was quite a milestone to be achieved in the field of virtual events. It delivered a lot. My initial post “Siemens SPS Dialog.” might be worth also picking up upon.

By being virtual, the insights provided has advanced my understanding of what is being offered in Siemens Digital solutions significantly and would give any clients a terrific understanding of Siemens combined physical and digital offerings.

An event showcasing critical aspects of the factory of the future Continue reading