From a buzzword to the imperative

I keep coming back to the leadership of innovation; we need to move it from the peripheral to a more central one. This is not so much in a leader’s desire and need for innovation, which always seems well stated, but in their ability to lead it, to have it not just in their mind but in their real follow-through, in action and attitude, in their deepening engagement and involvement to it.

“Leadership for innovation can’t simply be delegated”, so tell me how many times have you heard that one? Yet it always seems to be pushed down the organization when you look a little closer. Running a day-to-day business, reacting to the events, achieving the performance to maintain the momentum, planning the future is demanding but innovation is absolutely central to sustaining and securing the future but does it really get enough of the CEO’s time? I think it should figure more in their time but how can this be achieved?

I certainly don’t envy global leaders in trying to balance all that is crowding in on them, that is making up their daily, weekly and monthly agenda’s. Something always has to give and innovation is one of those malleable parts whereas other more pressing ‘demands’ are more real, tangible and definitive and  innovation gets constantly squeezed out at the top. Regretfully for many it does seem innovation ends up as important but not urgent for them to focus upon.

The management of innovation is the management of attention.

I find this an interesting observation. Achieving the management of innovation requires the management of attention was a view outlined by Andrew H. Van, a Professor of Organizational Innovation and Change back in 1986,where it was suggested for management that “the awareness of need deteriorates and their action thresholds reach a level where only crisis can stimulate action as they gradually adapt to the environment.”

I interpret this as Innovation does seems to get gradually pushed back, on the agendas of the CEO and perhaps even the organizations, if the leader is not being actively engaged consistently in it. Nothing has changed today; we still are not achieving this innovation attention.  It slips down their crowded agenda’s as they deal with countless issues running a business. If their organization is in that crisis then innovation will have certainly have grabbed the CEO’s attention but by then it is often too late. We do need to manage innovation more strategically.

How can we change this?

Clearly what comes towards the CEO in ongoing issues does not go away, it only seems to increase in pace and complexity.  Of course, we can call for the CEO to clear the decks and embrace innovation as central in everything they do. I think this call for his attention is not wrong but possibly naïve with what is on their plate to manage.

Where we can demand in their attention is in providing a deeper personal commitment and clearer insight into their understanding of the need to structure innovation to all its necessary alignment points, so it can deeply integrated with the strategic goals looked for. For that to happen it needs articulating somehow.

Influencing and shaping innovation

What I’d like to see is a way where the leader can influence and shape the core structures required for innovation and provide the building blocks for the organization to work within. Something that sets out expectations of where innovation fits within the growth plans and defines critical areas that are essential for innovation to link into the strategy and organizations vision.

Perhaps you can call this an innovation foundation document; perhaps you can take this even further and shape it in a more exciting, compelling format that frames the linkages and synergies between strategy and innovation, between innovation and capabilities, between culture, the environment, the process, routines and how it should all be governed.

How about a leadership alignment framework that articulates where innovation fits?

Something that addresses the critical aspects of innovation to gain a crucial alignment across the organization that provides the strategic underpinning to performance. Its aim is to promote the freeing up of people by taking away many of the debating points around innovation and replace these with a strategic framing recipe, one that looks for the organization to use it, work within it and operationalize it.  This can be dynamic in that it ‘cascades’ up and down the organization as a communicating tool, it also becomes the meeting point to work through, the common language mediation that innovation so desperately needs for all to identify with, as well as the place to offer improving and evolving leadership engagement and guidance.

Can we ask for more?

The leader’s role is to provide guidance, strategic guidance, as well as to offer inspiration and clarity to capture the real essence of an organizations desire to innovation. If we can secure their attention through this strategic framework then it becomes their commitment document towards innovation.

If we can find a clear way for them to combine both the articulating and nurturing they believe is desired for innovation, so it can flourish, as well as offer specific ways to drive and measure this, we are heading in the right direction. Then I think we achieve something important. We draw the organization in and build the innovation activities around common and essential focal points. As we ‘grow’ the CEO’s involvement and attention through this suggested mechanism, this will have a significant impact on identification, commitment and understanding that will resonate throughout the organization and perhaps become more empowering to all.

A goal and its realization

Achieving a framework that builds structure, outlines both the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects and offers the overarching common communicating language is certainly achievable. Something that is clearly articulated from the top,  then cascaded down the organization for it to be further ‘fleshed out’ within the organization, would immeasurably help innovation in the alignment to strategic goals and required attention.

If we can provide a framework that can align, that can engage, and can offer a common set of references to refer too, clearly provided by the CEO and his team, then this surely would be a valuable contribution? It would bridge that often missing element of conveying the top managements desire and commitment to innovation’s momentum. This will work down the organization to plug into and generate that much-needed identification, to energize innovation as the ‘force’ essential for growth.

I want to discuss this further in the weeks ahead as I feel we can gain some much-needed traction on this as there is a clear leadership gap on innovation, no question. I think there is a good solution. Innovation does require a constant communicating and guidance from the top and in providing an innovation alignment framework of how this all is interrelated, we can achieve the attention of management strategically and that could be a huge thing.

Twenty critical questions to be resolved for succeeding in innovation

Some time back I compiled a list of those critical areas that I felt need addressing for innovation to have a chance of success. Going through them again today and in light of different insights picked up on the way, I added more of a descriptor to each. I certainly think these reflect the struggles within innovation that need working upon constantly, so it has a better chance to succeed.

This revised thinking I feel has upgraded my own focal points as areas I will be exploring even further in my work in the period ahead.

What do you think? Do you think the list is missing something?

My upgraded thinking on the 20 top innovation aspects to master and resolve.

1. There seems so much ongoing difficulty to identify the real opportunities for innovation as there is often no structured approach to this, or even worse a poor recognition of any well formulated strategy, so allowing so many opportunities to fall through the gaps.

2.   Not generating and managing ideas that deliver real growth, mostly due to a lack of any effective decision-making process, organised governance and structure to manage this.

3.   A on-going failure in not effectively seeking out external insights in clear ways and lacking a capturing structure to achieve this, so simply restricting the real awareness of the external environment to the necessary person internally within the organization.

4.   The inability to draw down from a diverse set of networks, partners, systems and people and then connecting them in a ecosystem to acquire, transform or exploit this new knowledge for new innovation.

5.   Not setting the appropriate focus on innovation activities for value creation and making those critical points explicit enough within and across the organization, so leaving it too open to personal interpretation and fuzzyness, resulting in often disappointing end results.

6.   Not having a clear alignment to the Corporate Strategy for innovation, often missing the connections between formal and informal mechanisms needed for managing innovation.

7.   Having poor implementation that fails expectations as the ‘need’ of the end result was left far too vague or compromised somewhere between discovery and delivery.(see 5 also)

8.   Failing to recognize and build innovation capabilities across the organisation that deliver the appropriate mix of skills and experience by often not appreciating the significant differences between the types of innovation necessary and their unique characteristics to execute through these.

9.   Building the competencies to further strengthen change is based far to much on existing organizational cultures that focus on effectiveness and efficiency, failing to recognize this is often in conflict with innovation, that is requiring a far more open ended, adaptive approach.

10. Having different expectations and behaviours across the organisation, divergent opinions and significant disconnects of self-interest and petty politics that override innovation intent.

11. Continually having changing priorities and conflicting responsibilities by not successfully managing the conflict between short and long term needs that are required to be managed in a more structured, thoughtful way.

12. A lack of concerted effort to encourage collaboration across and outside the organization I would suggest is limiting organization design in flows and effectiveness for innovation success.

13. Diverse systems that restrict the flow of knowledge sharing and don’t capture and share those aspects that would, if overcome, would trigger fresh insight and growing awareness of valuable alternatives.

14. Inadequate understanding of consumer and customer needs as the front line engagement process is not alert enough or trained to discover these, or often don’t have a system in place to report these back in the knowledge and incentive that these are seen as important by the customer.

15. Localised innovation that does not engage the whole organisation and continues on a silo basis, pushed by local managers as their pet projects, starving more critical ones and not being well picked up due to a lack of a comprehensive innovation portfolio management system.

16. Largely being reactive to competition and not being proactive, due to this constant struggle to fully understand the external environment and failing to anticipate those future trends and where they fit in their implications for the organization and its innovation focus.

17. Lacking a leadership perspective of the “ideal” culture and climate to inspire innovation and really appreciating what real differences do motivate people at the different levels for them to participate and actively engage in innovation activity or simply not.

18. Not having enough time, resource and resolve to grow innovation activity, as innovation and its appropriate management has not been fully designated as a clear function, with designated accountability, well resourced and integrated within and across the organization.

19. Failure to exploit the know-how and IP within the organisation and explore its potential with partners, so its potential can be fully exploited and commercialised instead of often just left ‘gathering dust’ as simply a protected patent not being exploited.

20. No clear and distinct measures and metrics to drive the innovation process effectively across the organisation and for the individual to relate to, that aligns the efforts with promoting and exploiting innovation as part of everyone’s responsibility.

The implication of this list or even simply parts of it

The effective tasking of innovation activities today cannot be left to chance; it has to be designed into the organization from top to bottom. By not having designated people fully involved and accountable for innovation is likely to inhibit growth. Having a well designed innovation structure and governance is essential but still not well understood

Having an honest conversation at board level is a good starting point.

Reflecting on this twenty points alone and being open enough in addressing them can make a dramatic difference between success and ongoing disappointment. Leaders or those tasked with innovation need to have this honest conversation, if they come up short then they need to ‘reach out’ and seek fresh external advice on how to resolve these gaps so as they can quickly understand their gaps.

Gaining a deeper understanding does make a real difference

I would argue executives should not be afraid to ask. Having a deeper understanding can often come from a dedicated focus often not possible within the confines of one organization. The external advice offered can help move them towards a more successful innovation management structure to succeed in those innovation efforts and go closer to match their desires and growth goals from innovation. Sometimes it is well worth reaching out for fresh perspectives and even, a dose of reality.

My arguments for a common framework needed for innovation management

Following the release on Monday, April 25, where we published a Collaborative Innovation Reference Model by Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Innovation and myself, Paul Hobcraft of Agility Innovation, I would like to put forward some further opening arguments for proposing the broad adoption of a common framework for the innovation management process.

You can read more about its background here and you are welcome to participate.

Why innovation does needs a common reference point?

When you don’t have a common approach to something, in this case the management of innovation, you can have considerable pockets of inefficiency and a high level of ineffectiveness to deal with.

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Questions raised on a collaborative innovation framework

Yesterday, 5th May, there was an interesting exchange on #innochat relating to collaborating frameworks for innovation. We have a wiki on this http://cirf.pbworks.com if you care to take a look so you get the context and the suggested framework we are proposing.

#Innochat is a lively, informative and inspiring one-hour(ish) discussion on Thursdays at noon (Eastern US time). Usually the best way to follow along is to head over to TweetChat – sign in with your Twitter credentials and follow along and participate. Take a look at www.innochat.com and join in.

Jeffrey Philips @ovoinnovation and myself @paul4innovating have been suggesting that we need to organize more around a common approach to innovation and having recently published this we decided to put this forward within this discussion hour to learn more from many established innovation thinkers. The fact that twitter decided to go ‘whaling’, stalling and generally misbehaving to create some bottleneck in exchanges, it did seem to generate a lot of ‘chat’ and a great diversity of opinion.

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The shaping of innovation- future directions

Rethinking innovation after a week where I have argued for a more common approach to innovation (see some of my recent posts )- as one that can be well structured and managed – I feel needs to be discussed next. I do fear if we don’t radically rethink innovation we are in danger of missing out on much that is coming towards us.

If we do not adopt and gain a clear understanding of (basic) innovation, its structure, process and differences in approaches we need, we will certainly struggle to move beyond the basics to the ‘promise’ of advancement that innovation should be offering.

I would like to offer some of the factors that I feel will be shaping innovation’s future; many are presently taking place but in pockets of expertise and experimentation, that we have to investigate more to understand the implications further.

What is holding innovation back?

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Critical aspects of the Collaborative Innovation Framework

This week a collaborative innovation framework venture has been launched by Jeffrey Phillips at http://www.innovateonpurpose.com and myself, Paul Hobcraft at http://www.agilityinnovation.com.

They have opened up a wiki for anyone to join with the intention of building on these frameworks. This is at http://cirf.pbworks.com.

This effort is seeking contributions, we want your engagement. It is deliberately open to be used, to be improved upon and to form a platform for a standard thinking through for innovation providing it works under the creative commons license it has.

For far too long innovation has been left to chance. We are interested in explaining the many facets that make up a successful innovation endeavor but it can be extremely tough to capture and explain the complexity of innovation. Innovation is dynamic and throwing open this set of models allows for it to be constantly improved for all to benefit.

Four Critical Slides

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The thinking behind creating an open collaborative innovation framework

I often get very frustrated at the huge loss of energy by many organizations on piecing together a more robust innovation structure.Somehow they lose it. They forget to think it fully through, rush to build some of the component parts and then spend a lot of their time, back filling or bridging the gaps they created in the first place.

I really would like to reduce this diffusion of spent energies, so these efforts are directed at the critical points of understanding within the innovation process, to drive through new initiatives in a sustaining way. If we can gain this depth of understanding by all, then there is this greater identification to the whole. Also we gain a better appreciate of the parts we are playing within the system to make a more positive contribution to growing your innovation activities in a clearer environment. It would improve innovation identification and outcome results.

So with this thinking behind us, Jeffrey Phillips at http://www.innovateonpurpose.com and my organization through http://www.agilityinnovation.com, we began to talk through and exchange ideas and concepts for building a collaborative innovation framework. We wanted any end result to be open and freely shared with anyone. We wanted others to build on these early attempts to move, if we can, to a better standard. We recognized whatever we produced needed adapting to meet different circumstances but was generic enough to be recognized.

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A beta version of a Collaborative Innovation Framework

Jeffrey Phillips of Ovo and Innovate on Purpose fame, based in the US and viewed on http://www.innovateonpurpose.com , and I have combined to share a view of an innovation framework that aims to reduce many of innovations mysteries. We describe and prescribe to a set of innovation methods that we believe can greatly simplify the innovation process. Here we lay out the beta version of a collaborative innovation framework.

Jeffrey has commented on his blog http://bit.ly/eBGKS5, “We believe that framework can help reduce the mystery and develop a “standard” for innovation which enables more firms to innovate and accelerates adoption of innovation.  This is not to say that the model we are developing will be a “cure all” for every situation.  Any firm starting an innovation effort will need to adopt the model, then adapt it to its needs.  But by exposing the model and examining the different innovation “types” (business model innovation, open innovation, design-led innovation, service/experience innovation, etc) we can establish the validity of the approach and demonstrate that the model is a starting point for any kind of innovation effort.”

Over the next few days we are unveiling the approach at InnovationManagement.se , with the article opening this discussion at:  http://bit.ly/ee8ID7 and also at InnovationTools.com coming out later in the week.

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