Putting some dynamic tension back into the innovation system

I have been having some writers block recently and I was not sure how to unlock some random thoughts I was having in the past weeks, then in a great conversation I had today, with a fellow innovation colleague, it started to “reveal itself” in where I needed to go to give a new sense of repurpose.

A collaboration is being mooted between us but until there is a point of common understanding much stays under partial wraps until we both get to a more comfortable point, where we feel it can go for us but it certainly triggered this post as a starter.

The thinking hinges around the state of innovation today, how it is fragmenting in  a myraid of parts, all seemingly contributing; yet it seems learning has been replaced by personalized experience and the chase for individual knowledge. Mostly this does not get embedded back in the company, the ones who are paying for this exposure.

I was wondering if there was a decent ‘return on investment’ being made by the company or was it just being front-loaded on the individual, so they gain and then can take that understanding elsewhere, or simply set up their own shop of ‘innovation expertise’. The ROI and the Return on Learning seemed to be mostly heading out of the door, leaving the organization that made the investment, devoid of a return.

My feeling is this should change and we firstly establish a “System of Record” for innovation that brings the individual learning into a collective one, a “system of collective engagement” that enables all within the system to gain from and design innovation solutions, from a more ‘whole’ system thinking perspective, that gives innovation sustaining power connecting the individual to the organizations needs. Continue reading

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Dealing with Your Darwin Effect through Innovation

IFD 4

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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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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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.

Designing appropriate tension into the innovation process.

I’ve always loved this: “appropriate adaptiveness is not a natural tension- it has to be designed.” OK, I can hear you quietly sniggering.

When you are dealing with the innovation process you naturally have tension. Often if you have no tension or simply too much slack built into the process, you don’t end up in achieving a good result, it falls well below expectations. it is often this lack of designed-in ‘tension’ that is not appreciated like it should be within the innovation process. The wrong tension is left to eat away at the innovation process.

Firstly a cautionary warning here.

Now this is about to get into the realms of theory but I hope you stay with me on this. Why? Well knowing why innovation does fail can be useful (to your future) and what you can design into it, so as to reduce this risk has some value, I would think. So tune out or hang in- your choice. Continue reading