Cracking the complexity code

Cracking the complexity code of organizationsThere was a good article within the McKinsey Quarterly published way back in 2007 entitled “Cracking the complexity code,” written by three authors Suzanne Heywood, Jessica Spungin, and David Turnbull. It still has a lot of relevancy in my mind today.

They lead this article with “one view of complexity that holds that it is largely a bad thing- that simplification generally creates value by removing unnecessary costs.” Yes, we all yearn for a more simplified life, structure, organization, approach to systems or just reducing complexity in our daily lives to find time for what we view as improving its ‘quality.’

Within the article, they argue there are two types of complexity – institutional and individual.

The former concerns itself with the interactions within the organization; the latter is the way individuals or managers deal personally with complexity.

The real important take away from this article for me was when organizations treat complexity as something they must overcome, reduce, or try to ignore they miss opportunities. Complexity, the authors argue, should be seen as a challenge to be managed, managed well, and its full potential exploited, not as a problem to be reduced or eliminated. It is through the nature of these complexities we achieve competitive advantage and can deploy more of the flow of knowledge for those new sources of new profit and wealth creation.

They suggest organizations need to decide on where to hold complexity within any design and build the right capabilities where they matter. I would argue innovation certainly matters, and it is complex and needs to be understood as precisely that and managed accordingly, not in a piecemeal fashion. Complexity matters in building the right processes, skills, and culture, but because they don’t behave in linear ways and any ‘messing’ with the complexity and relationships within this can have an awful lot of unintended consequences.

We have choices of complexity

There are different types of complexity to manage. Work conducted by Julian Birkinshaw and Suzanne Heywood suggested four types of complexity. I only summarize these here.

1) Imposed complexity, those interventions both internally and externally that require ‘higher’ insight.

2) There is the inherent complexity found with any organization and presently managed through striving to be more efficient and effective.

3) There is designed in complexity, where innovation needs to fit more. These are choices about how, where, and why an organization sets about its operation. These can be constrained, underinvested in, even jettisoned but do have lasting consequences for the future of the organization. This is the area of strategic impact as these can limit competitive advantaged from the level of innovation intensity chosen as an example.

4) The fourth is unnecessary complexity where increased misalignment resides, it is sometimes easy to recognize but often hard to let go as it sometimes makes up “the way things are run around here” and have a richness in history.

The challenge of complexity within innovation

If you can begin to identify complexity that hampers effectiveness, you can start to remove it. What you have to be very clear upon is having a complete understanding, or a well informed one on all the effects of the complexity part you are removing is not the route to value and often innovation. The more creative side certainly does get constrained and caught up in this often shorter-term pursuit of effectiveness for effectiveness’ sake. You suddenly don’t have the bandwidth for innovation exploration and more.

Do recognize that innovation is complex; recognize it does have to be handled carefully, but it needs to also be fully understood for what it is, a complex adaptive system. It cannot be treated in the same way as effectiveness or efficiency can. It needs ‘actively’ managing differently, for all the future opportunities it holds by placing emphasis on building more exceptional innovation capabilities to make it ‘dynamically’ work. Otherwise, you end up with unexplained consequences to the more unsatisfactory performance from your innovation activities and often at a loss to explain why.

We do need to relate more to complexity as it comes with the turf if you want really lasting innovation. We need to deal with all the different types of complexity.

Do you know your innovation fitness?

We seem to be facing a more Darwinian World. I’d suggest that today innovation is caught up in the survival race, where the bolder ones are more innovation fit and pulling further ahead.

We need many more organizations to get out of this survival trap and exploiting innovation in bolder ways, become fitter in their innovating purpose.

The harsh reality is this is becoming a very crowded, increasing uncomfortable place to be, as we reduce our capabilities to take a risk, too invest, to make those decisions that create more radical innovation.

If we don’t offer value creation, we become increasingly unattractive and not regarded as essential but simply become disposable, pushed aside by others, more nimble, aware, and innovative.

The more we play ‘safe’, the more we run the risk of being disrupted. We are failing to leverage much of the liberating power within innovation. Is our business world today is it so predictable?  No, it is well and truly ‘dynamic’ and evolving, and we have to respond to it in faster, more bolder ways. Continue reading

How do we measure success in our digital transformation? A journey of discovery

How do we find answers to knowing what measures give us for success in any digital transformation? Are today’s measures relevant to tomorrow, are they still based on our legacy system of measurement, when a business was operating in a stable, predictable environment?

Today, I think we certainly have a beginning point but all of us lack a clarity of the end point of where digital transformation will take us. Why, well I think this nicely puts it, we have to move or be moved. Nicely put Mirko

Yes, we can measure success in our progress but these are in both multiple and equally personal ways.

Each organization is unique. Never has this become crystal clear that when you face your own transformation journey. You can learn from others, you can adapt but you need to clearly understand where you are in your own evolution and capacity to undertake change as it is simply your journey. This has not been as well recognized as it is today when we attempt to make any transition, from the old ways of doing business to the new one; that is highly connected, collaborative and based on our growing reliance on technology and ‘everything’ digital. It can become life-changing. Continue reading

What goes around, comes around, in Innovation

It is funny but that often-used phrase “what goes around, comes around” seems appropriate here.

I was catching up with my often collaborator and sparring partner on “all things innovating” Jeffrey Phillips  recently, and within our conversation, some of our discussions sort of triggered a reflection back to some fundamental work we undertook some years back.

In revisiting it, I felt it does stand the test of time and does seem to make this “come around” seem true. Let me provide a quick introduction along with some brief explanations : Continue reading

Shifting our thinking within the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I always enjoy selected parts of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos and in this year’s #WEF18 agenda, it certainly had its good points. I don’t attend, I listened and read.

Overhaul though, I was a little disappointed, as it lacked the real leadership insights you come to expect, strong personalities did not seem to shine through this year from the speakers and panelists. They gave fragmented insights for the future, mostly seemed to be retrospective, caught in the present, or simply trying to catch up.

I certainly felt the WEF theme for this meeting, of “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” showed through, actually more re-affirmed as fractured. We seem all to be still working on what the future will look like, as it is in danger of being fractured even more before it coalesces around new directions and order.

Some suggest we should allow the future to just simply unfold but I don’t share this view, our future does need to be shaped in so many ways but in what ways and what to allow to “simply evolve” is a very complex question and we are not getting many cohesive answers. So, it continues where it continues, based on individual perspective. The future is never easy to map out but you would expect more answers than questions

Yet what this forum provided, was in its bringing me back to refocus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It helped deliver a far sharper focus on its impact, potential, and scope beyond just manufacturing. Now, this was the major ‘bright spot’ of future collaborative potential for us all. Also the growing concensus around the skills and future of work Continue reading

Building upon the four essential pillars for innovation

It is always welcome to read a thoughtful article that reminds me, no, it actually inspires me, by reinforcing my own belief that innovation is progressing, even if this is sometimes frustratingly slow. The innovation architecture is progressively being recognized and put into place, it’s forming the building blocks of the innovation platform we need to build upon, ones for more radical innovation outcomes.

So the article “Want to Win at Business Model Innovation? Put these Four Pillars in Place” was written by Rick Waldron, ex Nike, and Intel.

He grabbed my attention with this comment early on in the article:

“ Little attention has been paid to the architecture required to stand up a sustainable, impactful new business innovation capability. Those of us battling it out in the trenches are left to learn the hard way”

I so very much relate to this central recognition that most organizations lack a solid, well thought through innovation architecture, it is one of the real reasons innovation is constantly under-delivering.

Rick points out:“Corporate innovation efforts by and large continue to fall far short of moving the needle in any significant, sustained way or of delivering on the promise of future-proofing companies against ever-increasing disruptive forces.

While a growing number of companies have begun to find some success in implementing design-centered thinking, lean innovation techniques, jobs-to-be-done analysis, and empowering employees to solve customer and internal process problems, much of the focus has been on supporting current business models – i.e., on incremental rather than game-changing innovation. But this work is merely the table stakes for staying in the current game”

The view offered in this article suggests four pillars to be put into place: 1) A Committed and Engaged Leadership, 2) A Comprehensive Innovation Strategy, 3) A Sustained Mindset Shift and 4) A Comprehensive Tool Kit.

Rick’s article just gave me the chance to go back and review my thoughts and relate his excellent suggestions and thinking into some of the work I have written about in this area. So I wanted to link them up a little more in my mind on some diverse and previous thoughts that I have written about and hopefully link them far more into yours and this article of Rick’s. Continue reading

Choosing your direction of travel

In the past week or so, I have been looking a little harder at the Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industry relating to innovation, it left me a little frustrated.

I felt that warm and fuzzy feeling, as I read all too often those comforting words or platitudes of how “innovation is vital to us” and one of the “highest areas of focus.” Yet as you then listen to the voices of the very leaders within these industries in interviews, or read on blogs, or in discussing what are the challenges they face, it does seem somewhat hollow.

You know they are nowhere at the point of really understanding the potential of the changes that could take place within adopting a broader view on all aspects of innovation.

Nearly all in these current companies making up the Chemical and Pharmaceuticals sectors are well past their prolific era, the discovery part is bogged down in slow growth, expensive development costs and regulatory conditions. Blockbusters seem a thing of the past but perhaps they don’t need to be with a very different innovative approach.

You do get tired of hearing “we are looking to become a value-creating solution provider”, yet the willingness to really create collaborative networks is still stuck in the “us and them” mentality. The thinking through on the contribution around innovation needs to be changed.

The two industries are struggling in finding new operating models to adapt to a different, changing world. They are not yet tuned into those more integrated systems of collaboration, where platforms and ecosystems are critical to making improved progress, advanced by multiple contributions to the discovery and exploration stages, where there is a new potential force of collaborative breakthroughs. So from what I can see so far, change is highly constrained:

Evolution is slow, revolution is seemingly non-existent due to narrow vested interests.
Continue reading