Seeking fresh winds and new directions

the_winds_of_changeAnyone who has felt the ‘full force of the wind’ will know the feeling of how hard it is to keep on your feet, to stay determined to stay upright and true, to hold the course, whatever happens.

When you feel the force of change running through the organization, you tend to have that same sensation, to resist the force with all your energy.

It is often really hard to let go, the environment was something you had become used to, you accepted and become resigned to its weaknesses and constantly exploited its possibilities or even possibly the other way round.

Ignoring the power of choice within change is dangerous

Constructing a climate for any transformation is hard. Our cultures are deep-rooted; we resist those winds blowing into us “full on,” well beyond being reasonable or smart enough to avoid them before they confront us. The Chinese proverb below gives us a clear choice: “to build walls or build windmills”

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The sharks that prey are arriving a lot earlier now

The Sharks are CirclingChange is all around us, it is accelerating not abating. Do you feel you are trapped, encircled and just a little concerned. You often hear of volatile trading conditions, a more complex market and situations changing constantly and moving faster than ever. ‘Much’ seems to be closing in on us.

We do know we need to re-equip ourselves for constant disruption; we are really beginning to see a shift from the classic bell curve into more of a shark fin for adopting change.

One that is characterized by sudden, even violent success or an event, some moments of brilliant dominance, followed by a dramatic change in conditions as others have spotted the same opportunity and you hit a rapid decline, the race to the bottom of competition constantly negating one another.

Market are segmenting, the life cycle is shortening or having an even longer tail of dealing with slow decline and constant erosion of any competitive position. The sharks are arriving even earlier and in a greater need to show their dominance.


It does seem “creative destruction” is a central force in many of our activities. Activities where innovation is continually replacing not just in products and new services but in designing radically different business models, searching to replace less adaptive competitors in the marketplace at faster rates.

Adoption is far earlier, the pace of change is quickening and from this the competition is responding in new ways, often surrounding the new innovation with their version, built on often a really ‘fast follower’ principle to keep in step, and throttle off any different adoption, knowing what it costs to have to win this back over time, if it can at all when it switches. The life cycle is becoming even more important to manage in all of its stages, as its traditional shape I feel, is radically altering. It is coming faster and fading away quicker unless you manage its parts very specifically.

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Opening Ourselves Up to the Innovation Mashup

Mash Up VisualSometimes some things come slower than others, and then they suddenly rear up and hit you. We don’t make all the connections we should; we are too caught up in our little world, beating our existing drum, drowned out by its own noise, to step back and appreciate something new is really happening.

Recently I was investigating one strand of thought and then bingo! Something else, leads to something else and the rest, so to speak, becomes history.

I’ve been reflecting on the new era of innovation and opening myself up to exploring alternatives, different thoughts, discussions and viewpoints. Underlying this is a growing sense of my convictions, still partly forming, malleable but trying to drive certain ‘stakes’ into the ground to keep testing and improving on a hypothesis or two; that innovation and its management definitely has to change, and fast!

Of course the cloud figures in this as a whole new different way to orchestrate innovation. More on that at another time as I need to get into some more robust discussions with one or two others on this and expand on my own position a lot more.

My recent ‘bingo’ moment was as I was listening to a round-table discussion within GE and its lighting division with a panel of outside thinkers. Beth Comstock, Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer was chairing the discussion, so it will always stay lively and stimulating and it did not disappoint on that. Her throwaway line at the end of the panel session was “Perhaps the headline here is the Big Data Mash Up”.

Mash-up?  So am I missing a certain beat here? Or does it fit into my thinking

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The value of having an innovation coach.

Behavioural coaching is big business. Having your personal coach alongside you when you are making a significant change in your role has been invaluable to many executives. Equally in having external support when someone is  either stepping up in the organization or making a significant change in their responsibilities has recognised value to that person and to the organization to manage the transition. There is significant value in employing an innovation coach in my opinion, let me explain why here.

The growth of the innovation coach

I predict innovation coaching will grow in its recognition, value and importance in 2012. Why? There is a growing sense of urgency around the need for innovation to solve our growth problems. This quest for seeking out growth and new opportunities continues to raise innovation consciousness. We all are aware part of the barriers to better innovation adoption come from our existing and constrained mental models, so when you introduce the need for greater innovation you introduce multiplicity- you get challenged more, your current framework of ‘business as usual’ gets disturbed significantly.

What is called for increasingly is a far more open mind that allows for opening up and gaining greater connectivity on a host of different levels. The more we connect, the more we see innovation potential.

Having available an experienced innovation coach can be supportive, informative and provide a greater understanding of how innovation ‘all fits together’ and where it can fit (or not) within what you currently do. The end result is shifting the thinking, merging what you have with what you have been introduced too so as to deepen the essential understanding of all that makes up innovation.

Any innovation approach I suggest does follow ‘classic’ coaching steps or phases.

Coaching for behavioural change needs to be brought down to the personal level- the recipient needs to relate, to let new information pass through his knowledge lens and see the new fits for himself. What simply does not work is if this was seen to be imposed- they will eventually discarded and then a person simply reverts back. The person needs to go through four stages of personal awareness.

You go through four stages

  1. Unconscious Incompetence– this is often a self reflection stage where the coach and the person receiving the coaching simply reflect and draw out areas of incomplete knowledge. You raise them from being unconsciously there.
  2. Conscious Incompetence– From these reflections you gain insights, you begin to explore tested tools and techniques, you begin to frame new references that are relevant, you begin to explore and experiment. You are looking for growing confirmation that it has value.
  3. Conscious Competence– As you begin to ‘grasp’ differences this enables the exchanges between coach and person being coached to look at the alternatives with a growing confidence and some ‘matching’ begins to occur. These new conscious understandings begin to become relevant and within the discussions you can see an emerging path for action beginning to emerge.
  4. Unconscious competence– the final part where the impact of what has been learnt, understood, investigated and explored has a real personal impact. It seeps into the make-up of the person and changes there ‘going forward’ behaviour. These see different patterns, they comprehend innovation meaning differently than their original perspective and these ‘new’ competences enter and become more automatic, unconsciously simply occurring, as the way to manage innovation going forward as the value ‘gels’.

The whole process can take time

This is partly the time available not just for the one-on-one sessions but the work that does need to occur in the in-between meetings. It could also take a few sessions, focused on specific areas before you pass from one state to another. It needs significant investigation and work from both the coach and the recipient but increasingly more from the recipient as the understanding expands.

Current roadblocks can be deep

Innovation is sometimes just ‘skin deep’ but as you peel away that top layer you get revealed many aspects of personal bias or general ‘accepted’ perceptions. These could include an often surprising (to the individual) lack of their openness, how he or his organization is so risk adverse. As you explore the way innovation is currently conducted it never surprises me of talk of ‘just’ a top down culture imposing innovation on the company and its employees and why this has never been effectively challenged.

Often you draw out that level of conservatism within innovation activity that is so often tucked under the coat of incremental only and the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ can change has never been fully considered. Sometimes certain individuals can feel suddenly being ‘empowered’ as the innovation champion can be seen by others that they are simply showing off and resist any advances, believing that persons knowledge is no different from their own, so they quietly resist- that needs addressing. Then you can come across that ‘superior’ person who has become the ‘stage gate’ decider irrespective of knowledge.

Each of these all can come through to others as lacking reputation and not as respected for their innovation knowledge as they need to be. Coaching can change all in awareness.

A structured approach is valuable

Going through a structured coaching programme for innovation can offset often these hidden barriers as well as bridge countless other unknowns. Working in a safe environment with a knowledgeable innovation coach can clearly help.

Sometimes the individual involved that ‘rush’ of offloads, all their concerns may come out in a rush. Or often and more than likely, each layer of enquiry needs to be peeled away in gentle probing or sometimes by exploring different challenges of ‘what if?’. That is determined by the skill of the coach as well as the willingness of the recipient to exploring sometimes aspects that are at a real personal level of thinking. Each needs to trust the other.

Getting into a comfortable relationship between coach and the person ‘looking for change’ takes time and chemistry. The higher up an organization, the more the managing of often sensitive discussions can become tricky.

Innovation Coaching has real value

Although this seems to be expensive to undertake, one-on-one coaching offers a lasting value to connect innovation far more deeply in the way a person and their organization ‘sees it’.

The importance, like all behavioral change coaching, is to create a safe but challenging environment so the recipient can take risks and learn. You as the coach find the balance between challenging through enquiry and supporting different thinking to draw out possibilities to gain new understanding from.

All the work is usually based on the recipient’s agenda, through a set of opening discussions you need to balance both personal learning with organizational needs. These need consistent clarification and recalibrating as you go.

The coach’s role is to facilitate and collaborate.

You need to take care not to act like ‘the expert’ imposing a given view but you can explore options that the recipient draws their own conclusions and value from. Avoid imposing and provide different thinking and perspectives so it becomes a facilitated debate that the recipient draws into.

Coaching is made up of a series of interactions

The ability to create meaningful interactions that connect people with ideas allows them to clarify and connect on the more important principles and critical issues surrounding innovation. Having a real passion and depth of innovation knowledge becomes critical to navigate this often tricky road to discovery.

The value of a coach is he/she is both a catalyst and facilitator of individual development. The value is in looking to improve innovation performance within that persons understanding so there is a distinct ROII (return on innovation investment).

Pause, learn and then move on with new innovation purpose and knowledge

By helping executives to firstly  pause, then take stock of the significance of various innovation transitions, and help them determine the best way to proceed is invaluable. Of course this support is determined by the commitment, engagement, the given skills and scope as well as the person’s real interests in wanting to have a greater understanding of innovation. It all requires available time.

Innovation coaching has a valuable contribution to make, in the right hands and with the  right person. It has a significant personal investment on all sides involved to achieve clarity, insight and returns for innovation to flourish so others can equally benefit from this more intensive approach and emerging internal expertise that will eventually come from within.