Coaching helps overcome the ten innovation intractables

10 intractable innovation challengesA Question:
If you could ask those that lead innovation, your senior organizational leadership, a series of questions that might help unlock innovation blockages, now would that be valuable?

Getting to a root cause of innovation blockage
So what does block innovation? Arguably there are plenty of things up and down organizations: a lack of resources, an overcrowded portfolio of ideas, a lack of dedicated people, treating innovation as one-off, keeping it isolated and apart from mainstream activities.

The list could go on and on, no question but to seek out a meaningful exchange of minds let me offer these outlined below as ones to tackle. Get a discussion going on all of these needs ‘being selective’, raised at separate times and then integrated into a collective ‘declaration of innovation intent’ going forward.

Let’s take a different perspective.

If you could ask a series of question that might help unlock innovation blockages it would make such a difference to our innovation performance and engagement. I think this might need a good external facilitator as my recommendation, one who has deep innovation knowledge and expertise, able to manage the ‘dynamics’ within the room.

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Moving Towards Globally Integrated Innovation

There are so many books out there on innovation that it sometimes gets just hard to decide which to buy and read, to invest time into. I’ve got a growing stack of books sitting on my coffee table or in my e-reader file all shouting “read me, read me!”

Managing Global InnovationWell one I recently finished has been one of those rare books that got the Paul Hobcraft treatment; considerable underlining, scribbles in the margins, circles around some pages that I want to refer back too as quickly as I can. You can never achieve that same sense of ‘ownership’ and possession through the e-reader can you, or am I missing something there?

So the book that joined that elite pantheon to the innovation gods on my top shelf was one written by Yves Doz and Keeley Wilson entitled “Managing Global Innovation – frameworks for integrating capabilities around the World”, printed by Harvard Business Review Press. I really recommend it.

The Key to bridging your Global Innovation Gap

The book is all about providing the understanding of integrating your global resources to build and leverage a global innovation network. I think it does a good job in explaining the different parts, the considerations and the tougher aspects of making this work for you.

Ok, I’m a sucker when it starts off by discussing the innovation challenges, then starts climbing into chapters on optimizing the innovation footprint, then communications, receptivity and then how to organize for global projects focusing on collaborative and integrated innovation, it does draw you in.

I’ll leave you to explore this in your own time, if global innovation and integrating is your bag. Equally I think it will be more than helpful in thinking this fully through or recognizing gaps within your present operations.

What the book does for me

Why it is one of those books for me is where it keeps coming back and placing the focus, on knowledge attainment, seeking out receptivity, transferring and integrating complex and codified knowledge. This emphasis fits so much with my own passion and constantly pushing “Absorptive Capacity” that it felt like coming home, that reaffirming feeling. The difference was the book took you through a different level of journey and understanding to add a whole lot more in my own thinking around this area.

Collaborative diffusion, building distributed innovation ecosystems, compatible strategic ambitions, cultural compatibility and discussing the interdependencies all challenge your thinking. As the authors nicely sum up in Chapter 7 it is how the behaviour of decision makers needs to move from that in-built notion of “being successful by competing” on their individual level and changing their mindset for more collaborative innovation across this diverse and global network.

The authors suggest this new way of managing is a difficult one to adopt and sustain but suggest the best way, perhaps the only way, is through constant practice and having a positive reinforcement of what makes for successful collaborations. I’d also add that ability to experiment, to learn from others around you constantly and recognizing ‘winning and being successful’ is not reliant on just yourself, it is leveraging everything that is all around you that builds your experience and knowledge.

Globally Integrated Innovation

Connected WorldWe live in a world of huge diversity and dispersion of knowledge. There is a growth and constant push into new markets, emerging new competitors that are increasingly challenging us to find solutions to this management of global networks, both inside and outside our organizations in more integrative approaches to capture the ‘best’ of innovation.

Today’s present structures of the innovation organization, the systems required, the processes, the diversity of cultures, different mindsets and the focus on extracting the best from this mix of structure and resources is hard and complex.

The authors argue the scope and scale of the tasks should not become an impediment to action and suggest three dimensions of change to help in this. I’ll leave you to search for these.

They warn there is one huge caveat to achievement.

Senior management’s vision, their commitment and attention to this will not achieve this globally integrated network alone.  It is the recognition that failure to implement strategic change is often this lack of buy-in from groups of middle managers who remain happy with the status-quo or unaware of the need and rationale for the required change.

These gaps within organizations are due to the lack of dialogue, openly discussing threats and challenges and being inclusive in the implementation. This took me back, again, to my own arguments and suggested solutions to bridge that gap, through the Executive Innovation Work Mat.

“Knowledge is increasingly dispersed”

We return to knowledge in the wrap up within the book, where the authors have identified five radical shifts taking place that will lead to greater knowledge diffusion and diversity: 1) globalization and the opening of new markets; 2) increasing technological complexity and convergence; 3) demographic changes; 4) greater external pressures, in particular environmental concerns (and scarcity); 5) offshore outposts and outsourcing.

Knowing what makes up the complexities of global innovation and managing and harnessing this in dispersed networks is a real challenge and there is no better place to start than in picking up a copy of this book and working through it thoughtfully and thoroughly, to “organize, build and manage a global innovation capability from design to execution”

My final thought – beyond the previous boundaries of innovation

With innovation increasingly moving beyond its previous boundaries of simply leaving it to the scientists or marketing departments has long gone, for today and in the future, innovation is about open, inclusive, exploration and harmonization to extract the best.

Innovation has moved beyond products into new services, changing value propositions and business models and needs this constant reorganization around changing the innovation activities. Technology- based alone is not enough pursuing greater functionality; we are increasingly in the disruptive era of simplification, which captures far more of the imagination and where the increased movement of wealth generating opportunities lie.

Look at the effects of reverse innovation, jugaad or frugal innovation and where this has potential, the strong underlying movement in start-ups that are far more ‘needs related’ or serving ‘unmet needs’ through lean approaches than those in the past, of simply cruising along for opportunity with a vague business concept.

Everything has become so much sharper in why we have to focus our minds down, it is far more on what and where innovation can give us the next growth opportunity and that comes from all the diversity we can muster. Managing in the global innovation space is no different, it needs a dedicated focus and understanding, to find the unique mix that suits your needs and knowledge accessing and translating becomes the global unlocking key.

Linking innovation context to the process

Time passes extremely quickly, particularly when you enjoy yourself, or so it seems for me. I was surprised, going through some of my past blogs, the time between related entries on the need for having in place a sustaining competitive advantage framework on innovation, has been longer than they it should have been. This blog is the third entry on this subject.

Always, always and always do I see organizations struggle to align themselves for their innovation activity, why is this? Either alignment of innovation into the strategy they are (assumedly) following or shaping innovation into the context of where and how innovation can fit.

I’ve written on this often enough actually, and argued the need for building a more sustaining innovation framework.  I have been working for some time within one of my formulas on this with its given framework of II + EE + MLC + OC + RNE build towards = SCA. I somehow suspect you need nudging on what this means

Required past reading possibly needed here.

Without duplicating more than necessary you need to go back and read two previous blogs on this

The first was written in August 2010 and entitled “A formula for Sustaining Competitive Advantage through Innovation”. The link is here:  http://bit.ly/95kCI1

The second was written in June 2011 and entitled “Sustaining is Pivotal to Making Innovation Progress”. The link is here: http://bit.ly/lPLssm

Both offer a helpful introduction to the framework and formula.

The next part of the equation

This blog ‘advances’ this framework by attempting to link the context of innovation into a process to think through. I say attempting because we need to accept each building process is different, and unique to the organization and the circumstances of what they want innovation to achieve, besides the standard reply “growth and profit”. Doesn’t this always sounds like the famous question asked at beauty pageants: “So what’s the most important issue for you?” asks the compare with the reply “world peace”. Oh, I wish it was so simple.

Those leaders that talk of “growth and profit” from innovation seem to reduce it to just a sound bite, I just wish it was so simple. I do wish the majority of our business leaders would get ‘into’ innovation understanding a lot more. Innovation breaks down always outside the CEO’s executive door and it really does need them to step outside and get more fully involved as it is a major area to succeed at if a longer tenure is in their minds.

Still, I digress. Here I outline how I see a typical linking through of a context to innovation in a ‘flow through’ process that is shaped along the II + EE + MLC + OC + RNE build towards = SCA, framework.

Innovation Alignment, Context & Process

Innovation Alignment to the Corporate Strategy does need working through. It needs linking to business goals and strategy, to the role innovation plays within this, the type of innovation portfolio you wish to design and work upon and the delivery and adoption needed so the organization ‘aligns’ itself. You need a thinking-through process to align context into activity.

This takes time, it needs sustaining effort but it needs leadership to understand the critical connecting parts to do this. It needs a defining framework that I see as separate to what I’m offering here. On my present rate of outlining this it does seems sometime next year for that – not good news for those interested.

Watch this space

Actually let me share a little secret between us,  I’m working on a more radical, visually appealing and exciting way to approach this now but within a joint collaboration around this critical issue. So, who knows this might be discussed earlier than my past track record of once a year to move from one aspect to another. It needs to be and I’m sure my collaborating partner on this will be pushing me a lot harder going forward.

A Rubik Cube Approach to Innovation

I’m sure we have all come across the Rubik Cube, a 3-D mechanical puzzle, invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik as one of the world’s best-selling toys.

The classic cube has six faces covered by nine stickers each offering a solid colour (white, red, blue, orange, green and yellow). The cube has a pivot mechanism enabling each face to turn independently, thus mixing up the colours. For the puzzle to be solved you must achieve that each face is to be made up of one consistent colour.

It was suggested the cube was originally built to aid students to understand 3D objects but actually Rubik’s actual purpose was solving the structural problems of the parts moving independently without the entire mechanism falling apart.

Innovation is equally a puzzle with moveable parts

We need to see Innovation as an entire structure where we constantly need to move the parts. We always want to seek alignment, perfect alignment. That dream of achieving all, within that specific aspect of innovation we are attempting, is fully lined up and then we are content. Impossible!

What we fail to realize the total structure within innovation is always turning; it is always altering its ‘face’ to adapt to the changes we need to adapt too. We can never achieve perfect alignment, the makeup of innovation is constantly changing, so what we must do is keep moving the different ‘faces’ around to meet at best, a temporary alignment. That is the best we can really do.

Permutations are infinitesimal within innovation

Unlike Rubik’s cube where you have 239,500,800 ways to arrange the edges, it does seem like innovation! In the Cube you have eight corners and twelve edges and eight ways to arrange the corner cubes. Seven can be orientated independently and the orientation of the eighth depends on the preceding seven giving 2,187 possibilities. You can even flip eleven edges independently with the flip of the twelfth depending on the preceding one, giving 2,048 possibilities here.  They suggest there are forty-three quintillion positions and perhaps even more but you are getting the ‘permutation’ picture of the Cube and perhaps of innovation!

The Move Notation

Attempting to align anything needs movement, a sequence of moves. Well if you think about it to achieve a certain innovation ‘state’ you need to bring a number of aspects or faces to closer alignment but these do need a planned sequence of moves in most cases. Relying alone on serendipity just may not work.

There are solutions to the Rubic cube that need less than 100 moves and in July 2010, a team of researchers including Rokicki, working with Google proved the so-called “God’s number” to be 20. I think you will agree there are many consultants offering the equivalent “God number” of ways to solve innovation, their “omniscience” moment.

I sometimes kid myself I’ve crack innovation only to recognize minutes later I had forgotten something or not fully accounted for it in my concept -it just keeps me going even more.

We need to take care we are not tilting at windmills

There is an episode in the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. In the novel, Don Quixote fights windmills that he imagines to be giants. Quixote sees the windmill blades as the giant’s arms, for instance. A relevant part of the novel that I sometimes feels relates to me and innovation states:

Yet Innovation is a consistent challenge, sometimes another millstone seemingly around our necks!

Yes the Rubik Cube feels often like innovation, you change one part and it has its consequences on another.  When you reflect on all the permutations required in innovation you recognise it is a constant, evolving, ever-changing puzzle. For me the enjoyment of the Rubik Cube is to keep thinking and moving around the different parts. I’ve never been able or patient enough to solve it but like innovation it still fascinates me. The difference is unlike the cube which can be solved, innovation as such, cannot. We can only arrive at a given point, and then it changes again. What keeps me motivated is moving the different parts so we do arrive at an improving situation but never a complete one. We need to keep moving the innovation parts constantly.

The best we can do is work consistently to attempting to align as much within the innovation puzzle (processes, culture, people, functions, concepts, technology etc) and get it as close as we think we can and push through the idea, constantly pivoting as we go, to achieve a better solution than before.

The quest is never-ending.

We can’t stop searching, we also can’t achieve perfect alignment for innovation but we can alway be constantly moving towards a certain harmony, that allows us to make sure we are making progress on where we were that time before.

Innovation is a puzzle, even if we felt we had got to that ‘aligned’ point I just bet you something will come along and mix it up again. A change in the market, a merger of two different organizations and their cultures, a new technology breakthrough that will all keep us constantly turning the different faces of the Innovation Cube to try to get back to that (illusive) ‘steady state.’

All we can do is keep turning those different faces of innovation and get closer to ‘alignment points’ but never, it seems, achieving the perfect alignment, that ultimate moment unlike the (simple) Rubik Cube. Perhaps the answer does live within the wind that drives the windmills.

References taken from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia