All things considered for Innovation Thinking

Source: Rikke Dam and Teo Yin Siang

When we are designing innovation for the future, the search is even more centered around strategically connected value creation.

The task of searching to resolve more complex problems allows Design Thinking to step up and become a far more visible component on how we can go about this.

Design thinking needs to work in harmony with many other thinking skills to make its contribution. Here I outline some of my “must go to” frames or tools.

The need when you “cast out” and look into the future we need to make a lot of connections, these can be really different, seemingly disparate in ideas and approaches. The whole search for diversity can generate so much fresh thinking if we open our minds to the alternatives.

We need to draw on insights, creativity but most importantly have a growing sense of the context we are thinking through to search for new ideas, concepts, and eventual new innovating solutions.

We often get caught up in data far too early, looking for the real nugget that can transform our thinking. I would guard against this, we always need the “larger” context. Never allow the “narrow prism” to dominate until any concept is getting clearer in its final design. Continue reading

Are you dependent on other’s best practices?


I often wonder if “best practice” is actually a hidden drug within our organizations that everyone simply craves to be taking.

Why do so many advisory organizations promote best practice? Simply because those in the organization constantly feel under pressure to demonstrate why they are falling behind or keeping ahead of their competitors.

They crave knowing best practices, but tell me what really is the best practice of others really achieving?

If you are behind, best practice informs you and you go into a frantic mode to try and catch up. By the time you have achieved the best practice, it is simply out of date as those practicing this have most likely moved even further on.

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Understanding Challenges Within Innovation Complexity

Complex adaptive system 1

Termite colonies are a complex adaptive system

We need to think differently about innovation and why it needs complexity and adaptive thinking as part of its design.

Complexity within systems challenge us to think differently, it pushes us to think outside often our normal experiences, to confront and understand and then restructure, often the unordered, into a new ordered.

Organizations are in need of understanding the complexities within their systems far more.

Complexity within innovation is always adaptive.

The challenge with managing complexity is that it is made up of many shifting and connected parts, that form much around interactions and relationships. These new ‘connections’ are shifting and challenging much of our previous understanding, built often on past practice and entrenched thinking.

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The Use of the Cynefin Model for Innovation

Cynefin Revised 1

The Cynefin Framework is a sense-making one and is registered copyright to Cognitive Edge

Firstly a very brief explanation of the Cynefin Model and why I find it highly valuable for innovation.

Innovation has many characteristics of a complex adaptive system as I have crudely  attempted to explain here.

The three primary states within the Cynefin framework are Ordered Systems (including Obvious and Complicated), Complexity and Chaos.

Order is split into two, as this handles a key difference in human knowledge between those states, where the cause and effect relationship is obvious and those where it requires greater analysis or expertise.

Exploring a process of emergent discovery for innovation

Most innovators are working in and certainly are far more familiar with the ordered domains, for ‘obvious’ innovations that extend, enhance or evolve their existing products and services. Equally they understand their more specializes place and contribution to be growing in their comfort, in the part they play in the more ‘complicated’ domain, where expertise, dedicated focus and specialization is often required or called upon.

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Your dominating innovation design is?

Each organization seems to favour one design approach over another when it comes to how they innovate. It favours either the more comfortable repeatable zones or is determined to push the boundaries out on its innovation activities.

We often talk about simply incremental and radical, yet we do have other choices such as a more ‘distinctive’ design or one that sets out to be ‘disruptive’.

Let me offer this for thinking through on your fits on the innovation path you want to take and ‘flag’ some areas you need to consider. Each degree of innovation (or type) has considerable organization design issues to think through.

We have different designs for innovation and they have implications

Let me explain these a little more

Degree is the scale to increase the intensity of innovation- incrementally, distinctively, radically or disruptively. Each of these ‘degree’s’ have implications and aspects for the organization to consider.

Type provides the environment you are operating within. Incremental innovation is fairly predictable, it is the ‘easier’ option, and it tends to be a fairly static place to be, everything is fairly predictable; you keep refining the practice of innovation. For distinctive you are extending your innovating into good practice, you are looking to push design, to offer something beyond the existing extension. I feel design innovation fits really well within this type. Radical is more about learning, being alert, agile and experimental, preparing to take some risks but pushing beyond the existing boundaries, into emergent practice.   Lastly disruptive, a high risk approach where it is very much leading edge, self generated, self- inflicted but offering potentially high reward that changes existing dynamics and is often novel and experimental in how you handle this in practices.

Approach is the way you set about innovation. Incremental for the vast majority is often through a very ad hoc innovation process and not systematic in their approach in linking strategic with their innovations.  Although you could argue and argue well, that the vast majority of consumer goods companies have a very highly systematic process to churn out incremental products constantly but I don’t think this type of incremental innovation gives ‘huge’ additional growth value, it tends to maintain the ‘steady’ state.

I think the more it is systematic the more the innovation moves from a ‘incremental’ to ‘distinctive’ as it is the richness of combinations that separate the product or service. For instance you redesign the container, you add different ingredients that are healthier, you reposition your product in brand message, you offer a more emotive attachment- this becomes more distinctive, more enduring than incremental. Radical or disruptive is far more fluid, adaptive and constantly searching out, less reliant on a given process, more on the nature of the proposition to drive it through to translation, not on a given process or accepted methodology.

Fit deals with the space you chose to operate within. The more you chase up the degree of innovation the more you need to challenge your organizations structure, response mechanism and adaptation.

Without going into the Cynefin framework explained here it has considerable value as it offers a ‘sense making model to think through’ for you to reflect on the type of innovation and its difficulties.

Innovation is certainly complex and the Cynefin framework offers an excellent complexity model for being made more aware. It helps you to think differently and apply the necessary changed mindsets needed for these four innovation types.

Conditions are more to do with how you work. These are too a large degree the ability within the organization to adapt and how you learn. If you don’t communicate well, you don’t seek to learn from mistakes or each other the learning loops never actually happen. You need to find ways to question and re-question if you want to push the boundaries.

Where do you see your organization?

So these are my dominant design structures for firms when it comes to innovation. Can they operate across all four simultaneously – highly doubtful -especially if you have a culture, industry and leadership that stays within the incremental space or a given comfort zone. It is really hard to unlearn this repeating pattern of innovation and attempt to move into the different degree’s of radical or disruptive particularly, yet I hear so many talking about this, as a need to do but can they?

The implications of the degree of innovation does have significant implications and organization design challenges, so be warned.