Seeking engagement for innovation change

I’m right in the middle of a launch of the Executive Innovation Work Mat approach, a series of seven blogs outlining a framework and structured approach to this.  During the seven days these will document seven important “domains” that determine innovation success or failure.

Each domain creates innovation potential, but sustained, successful innovation requires a unified “framework” in which all of these domains are appropriately engaged and aligned.  The development of this framework, which we call the Executive Innovation Work Mat, is the responsibility of the CEO or senior executive.  They can deliver alignment by engaging and providing this leadership required in innovation.

Introduction to the Series of the Executive Innovation Work Mat with image credit: opening curtain image from bigstock

If you have the opportunity, do go over to the www.innovationexcellence.com site to see the first two blogs, the foundation document and whose role it is to design this and why.

The first document is called The Seven Essential Domains for Innovation Leadership – the Work Mat Approach and the second The Critical Role that Senior Leaders must fill for Innovation Success

As this is a collaborative effort between Jeffrey Phillips and me, we see this opening series as the engagement to the innovation community. We are looking for feedback and thoughts to take this forward as we clearly believe it is an important problem within innovation to break down

Seeking reactions, searching for the barriers and issues is critical.

On my previous blog on this site Leaders need to engage and drive innovation I receive a really encouraging set of comments around many of the issues and barriers we seem to have when we want to engage our leaders in business on innovation. Go and take a look, add more comments if you would like- I’m open to listening on this as I believe it vital to ‘crack’. I have ‘pulled out’ three that strike at some of our issues in getting the concept understood and adopted. Three comments I want to highlight here

Comment 1-  the risk-adverse top executive

One comment was from Joachim von Heimburg who is certainly a very experienced practitioner of innovation. He commented: “Top executives are risk-averse. But innovation is scary. Most senior business leaders made it to the top of big companies because they were successful as (current) problem solvers, not as innovators. They are not that interested in considering a new business model or going after an amazing yet high-risk breakthrough when that may undermine their current profitable business. And who wants to risk having a major innovation effort fail on their watch?”

My reply was partly: You strike at the heart of the problem. Getting the senior business leader looking more towards innovation, it will happen as you say if one targets the wider community (investor and Shareholder) even the end customer voting with their feet. Thankfully survival is changing as tenure reduces and something will eventually ‘give’ to alter their risk appetite. In some ways we do not want to change their behaviour, more change their engagement and alignment to innovation that goes on.

The link between strategy and innovation, if we can reduce this gap then it begins to ‘appeal’ to the leader as one less problem for greater utilization and tighter performance -which does play into their short-term performance mindset. If they can set the frameworks more, still stand back and make the necessary judgement calls then we have shifted the ground. If they engage even more and become more comfortable with increasing risk by increasing their understanding, again there is a real gain.

Comment 2- the fear of disruption

For my second comment was offered by Drew Marshall who runs his own practice Primed Associates, LLC and one of the founders of the weekly innovation chat under the hashtag  of innochat. He offered the view  “Too many leaders are distracted by the simple solution and frustrated by the fact that their complex problems are not resolved. For many the notion of inviting disruption into the systems and processes that they have often spent careers building and protecting is anathema, and the risk acceptance and resilience capacity necessary to embrace it is too often missing in action. There is much work to be done”

My reply to Drew was: Drew, it is such a persistent problem, as we say, it has become a boil on the back of our neck, and it needs to be ‘lanced’. Of course there is so much to distract leaders, they are pulled in so many different directions but you don’t delegate growth, new wealth creation, your future to others. Presently many of our leaders simple do that! There is much work to be done, I call this the new work of this decade and this only comes through innovation. Leaders need to get it!

Comment 3- the lack of industry participation in discussions about innovation

The third comment was from Jack Hipple, who is without doubt very well-respected in TRIZ and its practice and who has written continuously for years on the subject of innovation. His comment that I picked up upon was: “all the participants in these discussions are by consultants and no one from industry ever participates. Why?”

In many ways this is the most disturbing, because Jack is right that across so many suggestions on innovation (good and bad alike) there does seem to be this absence of the industry practitioner themselves engaging and participating with their insights, knowledge or counter observation.

I replied to Jack: “It is frustrating that the actual community that is working innovation stays silent on so many forums or discussions on innovation. Notable exceptions are where leaders of innovation initiatives have their own blogs or deliver ‘thinking’ pieces into some of the established innovation knowledge sites. I know many read the articles but feel often ‘constrained’ by who they work for and not feeling they can participate, even if the views expressed are theirs, or feel sometimes a little daunted entering into areas they feel they lack that broader experience, both constraints are a great pity.

Perhaps the number of consultants or ‘experts’ drown out the voices from industries and often provide conflicting advice that can leave many simply confused, it is better to just get on with what you are doing. Equally they feel they don’t have the time or intellectual curiosity and simply just get (stay) within the bounds of what they can influence to apply their energies. Not an easy one to resolve”.

Making it happen depends on you wanting it too

The engagement that is required to make innovation happen is demanding.  Deloittes Centre for the Edge has looked previously at the connections between passion and engagement and found that only 20% of the sample regarded themselves as “passionate” about their work. That begins to point to a lack of real engagement and just passive interest that seems to occur within many knowledge communities. Secondly there were marked differences in employees in large firms and those self-employed with higher scores of disengaged,and passive for firm employees.

Unless the environments change in large organizations where the feeling of having a “safe place”, not always needing “permission” and one where people can “think out loud” and have “ownership”, not precise goals underwritten by tight measures but by suggesting “broader parameters” we might see a re-engagement, a reactivation and “sense of pride” but it lies in the hands of the leaders to construct this. Where those within the innovation community they need to push back up the organization a different view, one that offers a different “construct” to manage innovation.

We are trying to offer that thinking through this present series and in the final framework we are suggesting. Why Jeffrey and I feel you need an integrated innovation framework approach as we are outlining this week, is critical to innovations long term sustaining future, let alone the immediate term of boosting quarterly results so often the judge of organization effectiveness and management.

The Seven Domains for Innovation Alignment within the Integrated Executive Innovation Work Mat

The need of collaborators and champions

Turning prisoners from being captive within organizations into “partners, collaborators and champions” that grow in their identity with what innovation provides to the cause and mission of the organization, is powerful. It unleashes much.

Why do I call them prisoners?

Well today I was reading a short paper from Richard Merrick, the CEO of Inspiration Engineering on Engagement and Innovation they suggest from studies on engagement the average workforce is divided on something of an 80/20 basis between the ―Instigators (the passionate and enthusiastic), ―Willing passengers (who turn up and do as asked) and ―prisoners (who would rather be somewhere else, but are afraid of leaving). It could be described in a similar way to Rogers adoption curve: (% for illustration, based on Centre for the Edge)

The challenge it is suggested, in rather same way as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in ―Tipping Point, is to enable the ―instigators, enthuse the ―Adopters and convert a good number of the ―Passengers to ―Adopters. Prisoners may be more problematic and longer term issues.

So will we get the adopters to “push” the Executive Innovation Work Mat and gain conversions, not just in colleagues who would like to get more engaged but find the way to place this series of blogs under the noses of the leaders, that all crave for improving innovation performance but perhaps did not recognize the essential role they should play?

We hope we can say “welcome on board” and “sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride” to many within the innovation community and we can achieve a better all-round service performance because the leaders of our organizations finally do get to understand their role to play in the innovation sphere, as outlined in the Executive Innovation Work Mat series.

A role that can help unlock all those prisoners that are currently residing within organizations, who can offer so much more, if they are given the encouragement and the organizing framework to guide them back into being engaged employees seeing innovation for what it is, a place for identification and pride.

We see the CEO has the ability to:

  • link innovation to strategy, and
  • create focus, engagement and passion for innovation, and
  • direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
  • speed good ideas to market as new business models, products and services, and
  • ensure defined innovation processes and metrics exist so innovation is sustainable.
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Hacking away in the undergrowth, moving towards innovation

So you have your trusty machete, sharp, well-balanced and honed to cut through all the undergrowth that presently ‘pins you in’ and move towards the innovation land. You plan to beat a path to the promised land where you have heard it is full of milk and honey from the occasional traveller that was passing through and telling you wonderful stories.

So you begin: you chop, you clear, your slash and you burn. At the end of the day you feel proud of what you have cleared, you put your machete away for another day. Tomorrow you will again attack the undergrowth that holds you back from innovation, the promised land.

Sadly when you awake in the morning, you wake up with an aching back, tired muscles and a realization that for all your hard work, you seem to have made such little progress. You look around and you feel a little inadequate with all that hard work you had thought you had put in, yet it seems so little in achievement. You certainly spent a lot of energy but seemingly for such a little return or so it seems, one little cleared patch still in the same forest you have lived in for years.

You face a critical decision. Do I go on, with yet another day, upon seemingly day of equally hard work, of back-breaking endeavour in the belief that this ‘promised land’ is going to be worth all this effort, or do I return to my present existence that has got me to this point so far?

Innovation it seems is just hard work. Simply awfully hard work. We can all stay where we are, working the existing land, extracting out the very best the land can offer, knowing each year the yield gets smaller and smaller that is really pushing off the day where you get no yield at all. Equally, you can ‘acquire’ and be forced to move to another part of our woods with some minimum disruption to sustain your present existence. Not a bad option, just some minimum inconveniences, some need for some simple adjustments but you can quickly go back to ‘business as usual’. But, what of this alternative that seems so far away?

The alternative, told to us by strangers from a promised land and nicely described in an article by@ovoinnovation : bit.ly/JXIyTw is learning to begin to  speak and operate in new worlds. Do I really want to travel to that new world, it does seem like so much hard work and set about to learn a new language, practice different customs and maybe have to work under new laws and ways of doing things?

It is such an easy decision, lets stay a little longer. Only when it is often too late we suddenly realize the world we know has changed, the land is barren, it yields no more and we are in crisis. Many don’t survive, we heard of that strange illness that inflicted itself on others, even though they worked and worked, they just simply got weaker and weaker as the others from this foreign land invaded and destroyed. They were not equipped to fend for themselves as their tools were out of date, fashioned for a previous period and the invaders seemed better equipped.

The alternative, hard as it seem, like it or not, we are forced or just simply decide to go while we can, while we have still have some force and opportunity to gather our resources. We expend it all in that back-breaking energy to attack that undergrowth that has grown up around us. So we can begin a tough, exhausting journey where that promised land we think lies. It means massive commitment.

Do we trust those strangers, do we believe there are places that will give us a better future or do we return to tilling our existing ground?

It is never an easy decision to make, to rip up much of the ways you have been producing but when you have spent some weeks, some months cutting away the jungle, you look back and you can see the distance you have already travelled. You realize you are gaining another perspective, you see things differently.

Amazingly some of your neighbours joined in and now you have ten, sometimes twenty machete’s cutting away at the undergrowth. You can already hear a different roar, a different sense of purpose and you can sense  in a new set of sounds, of people excited, that they have equally decided in undertaking this venture. It is still far away but they feel that new excitement and you redouble your efforts to  push on.

Innovation is a journey, when you make fresh steps full of uncertainty as it is made up of a type of energy that raises fear but it also raises your pulse, gives you fresh impetus. It is how you channel this, where you direct it, will make it worthwhile or not. The simple message is if we don’t start the journey we will never experience the ‘rush’ and achievement of recognizing the decision was the only right one.

Are you hacking away at your jungle, moving towards places that seem to offer more? Does the sounds of innovation heard in the stories of others, make you want to seek them out?

I hope so, listen not just to the strangers but venture forth with more confidence and listen to your own heart and head that the innovation pathway does simply makes sense.

Innovation, is it the land of milk and honey, who knows until you explore it. There are no guarantees but perhaps  it is far better than the thinning gruel on offer if you stay ignoring the value of innovation and stay caught up in less options to manage in this challenging world.

Simplicity drives Adoption

This week I had the pleasure of attending a Brightidea (https://www.brightidea.com/)  “Birds of a Feather” event in Zurich.  A pleasure clearly, why, simply because it turned out differently than I had expected. Let me explain.

I have a tendency to be weary of claims or statements like “global leaders in innovation management” and “driven more success than any other innovation management solution provider” as it is hard to validate that from simply what I can read on Brightidea’s website, or through verification of independent research. What can be said as a growing validation though is that they are clearly being increasingly recognised by many global customers as an important platform contributor to their collaborative innovation process.

Brightidea certainly have a growing list of major companies using their product and recently must have benefitted hugely from hosting General Electric’s Ecomagination Challenge, (http://challenge.ecomagination.com/ideas). It is a global challenge that seeks ideas from the public for the next big Smart Grid innovation. That has had huge publicity value I’m sure but it is often “the quietest voices”, a comment by Matt Greeley, the CEO, “that are most probably doing the most interesting things” in innovation activities. Brightidea does have an impressive list of companies using their products across Insurance, Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals, Publishing, Hardware, Software, Banking, Electronics, Telecommunications, Utilities, Consumer Products, Financial Institutions, Manufacturing.

The Birds of a Feather is not (thankfully) a sales event. It was and is a good peer-to-peer set of conversations structured around different innovation issues, that the attendee’s could gain from, by taking different perspectives away to simply add to their own thinking. It helped mine. It is set in an informal environment where you could touch base with a broad group of innovation doers, thinkers & practitioners. All we had at the end was a really brief overview of the next step in the Brightidea Product Roadmap, simple, logical and bite-sized well stated by Matt Greeley.

This is not a blog endorsing Brightidea, that is not the intension. It is pointing out the value of the way Brightidea went about the day. I was able to use their product before, it is quick and easy to navigate around to understand and for the event you can suggest ideas that might be considered for discussion, others didn’t do that, which was a pity as it gave me a certain feel that I felt was useful. I was able to listen, to participate and to talk around the subjects that were led by invited speakers at this event which mostly were coming from the suggestions open to us on the idea platform.  As one speaker suggested as essential to any flow is “having fluid resources around the ideas”. We achieved that in the diverse discussions. Nicely put together to ‘form’ opinion around with such a diverse group.

The host for the day was UBS, a client of Brightidea, and I got an awful lot out of their presentation about the present state of UBS, in its recovery after some recently damaging times in the banking crisis. Ideas are a good barometer of contribution to the health and well being of an organisation, and listening to their recent really healthy uptick in employee’s engaging on the idea generation site was excellent to hear. The team led by Reto Wey have been through some tough times but as they took the grass roots approach to this introduction within the organisation.  I can begin to see the benefits from all the seeding that needed to happen to get the eventual traction they seemingly are and it is good that ideas are really flowing again. They have plans to take this beyond the internal organization through partners and clients and I got the impression the value to UBS will begin to be seen increasingly. My only worry is the engagement at the top of UBS, so they can understand the real value of this in its potential value. This needs grasping some more from my impression but increasing positive results will always get ‘higher’ attention. The team have learnt ‘quietly’ about the culture needed, the structure and how to communicate in a large organisation, largely at a time of enormous volatility and uncertainty. They are well equipped to reinvigorate the value of ideas coming from engaged employees and partners and that augers well for UBS.

Within one breakout session I was part of, we were talking through the value proposition for crowd sourcing, what are the different roadblocks and the potential levers to remove these roadblocks. Some of the contributions made within my group I really liked for developing the value proposition to help give it personal meanings and needed involvement by all within organizations, let me share them:

  • “WE are smarter than ME”
  • “The dynamics are inside the mass”
  • “We are all creative beasts, we need to release it”
  • “We need to harness beyond the daily job”
  • “There is a necessity for (fullfilling) a greater potential”
  • “A sense of identity and personal contribution”
  • “Ideas are not just simply asking form something more, it is asking for something different”.
  • “The gain for all is leveraging our diversity”.
  • “To harness the ‘mass’ of people to make change”

I did like some of these. Each of the groups gave different views on their own thoughts to resolve these challenges and it is always interesting what does come out of these breakout sessions, as well as in the discussions that followed directly from  these different view points.

The whole day was certainly a positive one for me, I came away positive that it was a day well spent, a day nicely put together by the Brightidea team in a format that worked. Of course what I would have liked was more time to chat, explore, discuss each of the areas we touched upon as we struggled to stay on the time schedule set all day. It was only by the contributorss being flexible and still achieving a good balance in this constant flow and adaptation without any sense of pressure, to allow both the speakers as well as the attendees to have their say and simply let the dialogue simply flow.

Good ideas were certainly exchanged at this event and from my point of view Brightidea can add a further feather to their cap in creating the ideal environment to allow ideas to flow, perhaps ‘quietly’ in their low key approach but showing that a diverse set of collective voices can come up with some interesting things to exchange in this type of relaxed atmosphere.

I certainly left with a very positive attitude, if they lead through engagements like this one; Brightidea can be well positioned to be a good force in accelerating innovation and justify some of their claims in leading.