Dealing with Your Darwin Effect through Innovation

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I have been working away, as my labour of love, frustration and sheer determination, on my thinking through the ‘harnessing’ of the dynamics within innovation, to offer organizations their innovation fitness and future landscape design, so as to radically alter their present capabilities and capacity to innovate.

The aim is to relate these to where your organization is in their existing capabilities, where they need to go, in identifying and clarifying the necessary capabilities they need to have, so as to achieve certain strategic goals and then, “we”, together, collectively prioritize the critical ones as ‘must have’ and then set about filling the gaps. This is the innovation fitness journey needed to be travelled.

The building of those more ‘dynamic’ capabilities and competencies are the ones you need so as to provide for a more dynamic innovation environment and deliver unique capacity for your ongoing strategic goals.

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Building a Core into the Capabilities of Innovation

I think most would agree there is a continuing need is to build the management of innovation into a clear organizational capability, where innovation becomes a continuous effective innovation process. If you don’t agree, then I’d suggest you don’t bother to read on!

The struggle to date is that innovation remains hard to manage well; we strive to systematize it and then attempt to replicate any success we then have achieved. Often this does not work as the variables that make up innovation can be different for each innovation event or activity.

The make-up of innovation

I think we all recognize that innovation is made up of both tangible and intangible assets. It is the marriage of these two that makes innovation a unique capability to manage in well-structured ways. It is the people engaged in innovation activity that make it work.  Everything else, the process, structures, technologies and management systems are just the contributing enablers.

The important point though is successful innovation has core elements and processes regardless of industry, form, or type of innovation, we are pursuing.  Much of the difference though is in its varying degree’s based on these core elements.

Our search must be to find those core elements that make up the dynamic capabilities within our innovation activities to leverage and strengthen them. We need to build an organizations ability to innovation continuously, making it a sustaining competence.

We as organizations strive to achieve distinct competitive advantage, and innovation is one of those real contribution points this can do this. The need is to make the innovation capabilities and capacities a distinctive, not easy to copy, unique set. These are shaped by the context and content of innovation, the organizations position and its choice of evolutionary paths it has decided to take or needs to take.

This is an area of serious under-development at present, when you compare this with the continued focus on investing in physical assets or the consistent building of many other skills required within organizations. Yet innovation, the source of fresh growth remains significantly under-invested in, within the majority of organizations. This needs changing. Let me put forward my suggestions on why:

Shifting away from the accepted norm

Innovation understanding and building strength in competencies and capabilities takes an organization beyond the accepted norm of managing efficiency, just quality, being responsive and reacting with speed, all challenging within themselves. Innovation represents today’s competitive advantage statement that should be supported by these other requirements, they become subservient to allow new concepts to meet market needs and exceed customer expectancies.

Within any transition we must avoid dysfunctional consequences and think through why the existing systems and structures do have to ‘fold into’ new innovation based ones. We need to plan how to do this. Innovation cannot be buried in the established ways of doing things, it needs to lead and drive the engine for new growth and wealth creation. It can’t continue to take a back seat, it needs to take over the wheel.

Organizations need to shift from the one often still found today, of a higher focus on stability, efficiency and effectiveness, looking simply to maximize the short-term for profitability. This locks then into their current preoccupation with performing routines and formalised structures, as they strive to cut risk and manage the fear of the unknown.

The world is dealing with increasing complexity

The challenge though in today’s world is so different. It is so volatile, potentially disruptive and full of risk. Organizations are simply struggling to shed their clothes of the 20th century and find a way to smoothly manage into becoming more adaptable and agile in form. They are adjusting to offer consistent responses to instability in the most effective ways, to keep adapting to the consistent market challenges,and in so doing profiting from meeting that latest challenge or disruptive opportunity.  The problem is you simply can’t manage this smoothly, it will be highly disruptive as the organization re-equips itself and learns, often in the hardest way possible, through failure .

Innovation in itself is also a force of instability and we need to find ways to embrace much of its uncertainties by understanding its dynamics. We need to have a major shift in our organizational thinking, needed to find the appropriate new balance within those dual ‘tensions’ of ‘stability’ through efficiency, with its opposite, ‘change’ driven by innovation. It is these dynamic forces within the world we work that require us to respond by building that capacity for managing those ‘dynamic’ innovation capabilities, that today’s markets are requiring and organizations are needing to master.

The emphasis needs to point more to building dynamic innovation capabilities

Dynamic capabilities emphasise management capabilities and the inimitable (unique) combinations of resources that are constantly at work across all functions to make them distinctive and valuable.

Distinguishing innovation capabilities that are relevant are based on the type of knowledge they contain. Functional capabilities allow development of technical, practical knowledge. Integrative capabilities allow firms to absorb knowledge from external sources and this is where absorptive capacity and its structure comes into our required thinking. Innovation requires us to constantly learn, develop, mould and manage from multiple situations and challenges. This requires the integration of critical capabilities to successfully stimulate innovation for effective and improving performance.

Many of the identified resources in capabilities have some level of complementary, improving one triggers improvement in another. Equally ignoring one can impact negatively on others. So each component, on their own, have limited effect, it is the combination effect that generates the improving performance. Equally, the needs do change over time and you have to constantly ‘refresh, challenge and stimulate’ these, otherwise you can have core rigidly set in.

Integrating back or making anew

To this end I have produced a conceptual model of what I believe is the ‘make up’ for providing an ongoing innovation performance engine – the innovation fitness landscape and the dynamics of core capabilities. I felt it needed a dedicated website to be the ‘go to’ source of reference. It is a work-in-progress so please recognize this when you visit it here: http://bit.ly/wX5q8R

The need for all of us is recognize and embrace the need to build an organization-wide innovation capability, that should pervade all aspects of the organizations existence, forming its new core innovation value.

What is your capacity for innovation really like?

In a series of articles I’d like to explore the value of knowledge and education for innovation.

Part one –  an opener to innovation change

How do we advance the learning needed for innovation? In my last article I wrote about the need to prepare ourselves for some forthcoming standards for innovation. In a number of  earlier articles, I have also written on a range of contributing factors that will advance innovation in its learning and adoption. In this series I want to go deeper – an emerging treaty for innovation advancement.

I have to be clear here, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the seemingly lack of advancement in our understanding of innovation. Today we have a real challenge, all of us, in boosting our capacity for innovation. We need to achieve this ‘boost’ as the outcomes we can gain and are required are both economic and social in the potential value. We need to move beyond the existing and tackle the blockages to the preferred, when it comes to innovation achievements.

We face many challenges within a highly competitive world

As we seek out fresh opportunities, locally and globally, we are becoming increasingly challenged. The world is highly competitive. The key driver to meet these ‘twin’ challenges is innovation, not just for the short-term results businesses are so obsessed about but the critically important need to simply find the pathway to sustainable development through re-occurring innovation activities.

Sadly today we still marginalized innovation, we rely on incremental activities to pull us through the short-term and seemingly just keep putting off the longer-term. Much of management within organizations is mortgaging the future for today’s immediate gains. I loved this thought, although it may not contain much original thinking but it does offer what I felt reflects on this point: “we are simply kicking the innovation can down the road.”  This needs desperately changing for these economic and social reasons that are increasingly looming down that same road. Innovation needs to be better understood in what constitutes it and all the different ways it can be applied. We do need to understanding it better for its significant contribution potential to what we need to solve as social and economic problems.

 The role of education and learning for innovation

The role of people within innovation can never be overstated. They make it happen, everything else is their enablers. We do need to understand what makes innovation truly work through increasing the comprehension of “combining” its many myriad parts. Innovation skills need an innovation friendly environment and we need to reform much of our existing approaches to innovation as practiced today.

Actually we need to really speed up our reforms and we need to achieve a clear consensus of what better frameworks and activities can deliver this. Of course I would offer a shameless plug of the Executive Innovation Work Mat to be part of this, why not? I do believe it is part of the emerging solution. In my opinion the work mat helps educate, frame and to learn from in it’s combining the critical aspects, so as to improve on our existing performance and build from this.

It is increasing recognized we are all in need to follow the lifelong learning track, as organizations are increasingly insisting on increasing human performance yet constantly reducing the ‘bodies’ to assist in this. We need to keep relevant or we also become caught up in this marginalization if we don’t and have a poorer potential in our future.

Technology can’t stand alone, it needs actively working.

Organizations are presently mistaking the promise of technology alone and this will not work; it needs people, their knowledge and experiences to apply the technology. Far too often we are not finding the time as increasing complexity is layered onto dwindling human resources. We are adding more pressure into the system by taking out the very solution we need to keep in place and utilize far more, that is our people.

We are pushed to keep up and to stay relevant; we have to bury often our personal grievances because if we surface them, then we might get singled out in the next round of often mindless people cuts. We do need to reverse this board room mentality and cutting out the diversity of opinion that should be valued not thrown away. We need to make our performance potential to be stretched even more, encouraging and sustaining these different opinions. We must find ways to break into this ‘boom or bust’ mentality in board rooms by reducing the very friction that stimulates greater innovation thinking.

So how can we achieve this? Openness, trust, partnership, valuing diversity is ones that readily spring to mind here. But more importantly we need to build an innovation road-map to scope out the innovation landscape and the dynamics.

Building real education into an innovation road-map

One place to start is to design a more comprehensive road-map of innovation made up of its integral parts. The more innovation is seen and the people that enacted this are recognized, not buried in plain sight, the more it will be valued. The more we see ‘it’ and what it contributes the more people become essential to their place within this mutual value proposition we need between the organization and its employees. The overarching plank of offering education on innovation is the real ‘glue’ as this is where the value of knowledge is central, in my view, to the way forward.

Knowledge, innovation knowledge, is made up of an awful lot of different things and this is where the real education comes in, front and center in developing new practices, in training, in educating, in translating this knowledge into lasting value. The more people are valued, the more they become ‘sticky’ and the more they use their knowledge, then it becomes mutually re-enforcing as their organizations grow to appreciate their worth. We need a new social contract between organizations and the people they employ and that should be on mutual appreciation of the ability to translate knowledge into new value-generating outcomes together. The more we identify the educational parts, the more we appreciate innovations complexity but then we can equally see the rich potential in the rewards that become achievable in taking this new route. Education leads, it provides the appropriate focus and this we can derive the training and knowledge to be applied, so we can improve results and innovation outcomes.

Knowledge Exchanging is our way forward.

Organizations need to move well beyond their rather lazy reliance on best practice comparison as they actually need to explore emerging practices far more but that takes many into a different realm, the realm of increasing uncertainties, and most people and organizations are not trained for this. They anticipate risk by reducing all the variables within risk and play safe with just being incremental. Is that wrong? No, while we have our reward systems geared to short-term performance, while we measure leadership success the way we presently do, while the shareholder just expects consistent dividends as their part of the equation, and is quickly mobilized to force change if it does not meet this immediate aim we head down the wrong path. We are not sustaining, we are destroying. We need to focus on competence-enhancing not competence-destroying. To know the differences we need educating on recognizing what makes up the difference.

I can’t change our prevailing system but I can point to alternatives and suggest we have other options, pursued by the few, which are more visionary and brave and often disrupting the accepted.

We need to start by reducing ambiguity.

One real key for the few seems to be the ability to reduce ambiguity, in the concepts, in their visions, in their focus. This reducing of ambiguity improves the chances of a successful outcome that everyone involved can understand the challenges, relate to the possibilities and constantly tracking back to this vision to obtain and advance the evidence of its possibilities and potential with a meaningful contribution. They do this mostly through knowledge exchange.

I’ll discuss this and what this means in the next article, then we will delve deeper into how knowledge is ‘made up’ and can be delivered to achieve a greater openness, convergence and capacity for innovation to take hold and thrive through its mutual dependencies. I’ll cover the ‘coupling’ within the innovation system, convergence and the dangers lurking in innovation. I’ll delve even further into where absorptive capacity builds our knowledge capacity and a pathway to apply fresh learning so we can all innovate better. Finally I’ll explore further on how we need to recognize the layers within innovation that do need to shear against each other to generate positive innovation tension and ways to find the space to allow innovation to grow differently through an innovation learning process.

Orchestrating the new dynamics of innovation fitness

In my work investigating different aspects of innovation activity one thought tends to dominate my thinking: “How do we achieve a better understanding of the dynamics of innovation within our capabilities to be more successful?”

I’ve already written in previous blogs about the need of “constantly checking for the pulse of innovation” ( http://bit.ly/c3G0Ta) and suggesting the way to “open up your thinking to dynamic capabilities for innovation success” (   http://bit.ly/bxTeYO).

I’d like to take this one step further in this blog and outline my thinking on innovation fitness landscapes and why they are essential  to understand .

Each organization needs to know its Innovation Fitness Landscape- why

There is a pressing need for a firm is to consistently build and reconfigure internal and external competencies and capabilities to address rapidly changing environments. It is the mastering of this ability to achieve new, more innovative forms in rapid changing market conditions that will enable certain organizations to emerge as the winners of the innovation race.

This view requires a more ‘dynamic’ set of capabilities. Often the question becomes one of “which are the critical ones to focus upon to improve the chance of greater success?

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Opening up your thinking to dynamic capabilities for innovation success

As someone who runs a small, independent consulting and research business that is 100% focused on innovation, I am always grateful for the continued involvement of the bigger consulting companies in producing sound, relevant and topical research issues on innovation. They ‘stoke the innovation fire within’, they confirm what you felt you knew but needed it to be validated. These great sources include McKinsey, Bain & Co, Booz & Co, Monitor, BCG, ADL and to a lesser degree Accenture for innovation research. There are others but the ability to have access to C-Level thinking is this groups real strength and so they come more immediate to mind.

The emphasis is on distinct capabilities for innovation success.

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