Bringing New Innovation Together Is Stretching the Mind

merging-for-new-innovation-central-pointThere is a profound shift taking place, relating to innovation. Increasingly we are seeing a growing dissatisfaction on the impact that innovation is having; in growth, in returns, in market and customer impact. There is a search for new solutions.

One of the implications is this growing recognition that innovation is rarely succeeding in isolation but it is growing on a more highly dependent type of complementary innovation, a collaborative network, working around this new emerging innovation to deliver a more connected, radical experience, requiring innovation ecosystem management.

This dramatic change we will all be undergoing will have a significant impact on organizations innovation management design and it requires new connecting’ thinking. Continue reading

We need the engagement platform for translating big data learning

Knowledge BuildingBig Data is knocking very loudly on our door, how are you going to let it in and manage it?

How can we liberate that creative energy we have within our organizations, how can we achieve higher engagement?

How can we learn, share and transform the knowledge that is all around us, simply flooding in? How can we translate the data flowing in with the knowledge insights and innovation outcomes expected? How are we going to unleash the creativity that goes with new knowledge?

We need to actively encourage connected minds for value creating opportunities and knowledge sharing for innovation to flow right across all the organization. All the raw data needs connected and engaged minds.

“For this we need to think about installing a modern engagement platforms that has knowledge and learning as its beating heart”

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Building Collective Agility for Innovation

Collective Agility PostAgility is important to me. For me, agility and innovation have needed to always go together. I named my company Agility Innovation Specialists and at its core, we state that the value of this focus can offer a real “intensity in innovation” that we believe reflects today’s world of need.

We encourage you to disrupt the accepted, to constantly challenge the current ways and push into uncomfortable territory. We suggest you seek out customer’s unmet needs, unexplored opportunities to give a new diversity to any thinking, and then we set about accelerating these ideas to fruition. Those all need abundant and constant agility.

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Learning favours the brave

Knowledge and learning 4The challenges we are facing today seem to be coming faster at us, more complex to decipher and then re-evaluate how we should respond. To achieve faster response we certainly need to educate the organization more than ever.

We need to absorb more, we need to encourage learning more especially to pursue innovation. We need to actively set up learning ways within our organizations to establish their abilities to recognize the value of new, external information (knowledge), to assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends.

Innovation within the organization needs not just greater recognition of its vital parts, but also of its status as a value enhancing and organizational life-changing event that we need to move towards increasingly in more organized ways. Innovation needs to be recognized as a clear discipline, a new expertise that is as powerful as Marketing became some decades ago.

Seeking out knowledge that feeds our innovations

Knowledge and learning 3The more we embrace change and recognize innovation demands more of our time, the more we seek out knowledge that ‘feeds’ innovation. And the more we ‘push’ for learning, the greater chance we have of thriving in a challenging world.

The expectation ‘bar’ needs to be raised from those practicing innovation, I feel the constant need is for those working within innovation they have this real need to raise their game significantly. Innovation needs organizing but it also needs a better understanding of its contributing parts.

Learning and Education should always start at home.

The earlier we learn, have open interactions and form linkages, the more we will be ready to advance innovation into what it must become: a discipline highly valued for what it contributes with in terms of wealth and growth potential.

We need to find the determination to underpin the capacity for innovation, lying within us all, and that comes from knowledge and education through collaborative learning. So what is your capacity for innovation really like within your organization? Is the learning required for innovation set up in structured ways or left to individual learning and experimentation?

Do either structured or informal ways feed back into the organizational learning system to benefit others? Or is the knowledge gained just left ‘resident’ in the person, not being put to that greater use?

Knowledge exchange is the way forward but we need to avoid the easy paths.

Knowledge and learning 2Organizations need to move well beyond their lazy reliance on best practice comparison and they need to find better ways to explore emerging practices. But that takes many into the realm of increasing uncertainties, and most people and organizations are not trained for this exploration and experimentation.

It is easy to copy but we often fail to recognize all the contextual factors that went into making it that one specific organizations good practice, and I guarantee these are not yours!

Best practice has their comparable uses but it is your focusing on the good and emerging practices within your own organization is the area to focus, for learning and wanting to improve into those that make your practices really work. Then applying, experimenting and learning from novel practices that provide growing confidence in creative thinking.

Also give some thought for next practice, those practices that prompt reinvention. They start such totally fresh thinking, they challenge existing paradigms and move you towards considering new business models.

Organizations constantly anticipate risk by reducing all the variables within risk and play safe with just being incremental. Is that wrong? No, as long as we have our reward systems geared to short-term performance, while we measure leadership success the way we presently do, and 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 our organization and we are not advancing ourselves either, we are destroying much in our current approaches. We do need to focus more on the competence-enhancing not competence-destroying aspects.

We need to re-balance the “risk and opportunity” to push our use of new knowledge into fresh innovation that ‘advances’ on the existing. To recognize the difference we need to encourage knowledge to be ‘freely’ exchanged, and then provide the environment to encourage a re-educating on ‘seeing and exploring’ new possibilities that allow us to grow.

Shifting the knowledge needle takes real commitment

Knowledge and learning 1Can we recognize that choosing the tougher pathway of building our own distinct capabilities, learning block by learning block, is the right one to follow. This allows us to build capacities that are ours, seeking out the knowledge to build the absorptive capacity that acquire, assimilate, transform and exploit, so as to give us greater chances of finding new innovation that is valued and allows us all to grow and gain from this dedicated learning.

I can’t change our prevailing system but I can point to alternatives and suggest we have other options, ones pursued by the few, which are more visionary and brave and often disrupting the accepted. These are building on novel and unique practices, extracted not from others best practices but from emerging practices learn by deliberate design and our own personal experiences, formed within our organizations unique view of the ‘take of and place in’ the world.

Finding our own way relies mostly on us to find the answers. We grow by seeking out knowledge as it feeds our minds to find our unique ways to contribute and share.

Absorptive Capacity, Knowledge Management and Innovation

Source : Haas Leadership Initiative

Let’s start with some defining statements. Innovation is totally dependent on becoming aware of external ideas and the knowledge that is needed and then translated for it to become new innovation.

We can ‘fall over these ideas’ or we can find ideas or concepts through explicit search. Then to translate these and turn them into something new and different we need to have established some sort of diffusion and dissemination processes.

Having this established as a sustaining system provides an essential source to building organizations capabilities and competencies.

The more we work external knowledge the more we potentially enhance and multiply its value from a single idea into the potentials for multiple innovations. Having a systematic framework can be dramatic for generating new knowledge and gathering ideas for new innovation potential.

Throughout this post I’ll link into previous posts that you might like to explore but this is not necessary.

The issue is how we set about adopting and adapting new knowledge.

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Seeking a new middle management’s innovation perspective

It is often claimed that the middle manager seems to the ones holding back innovation. I tend to subscribe to this as well although I feel the circumstances and ‘blame’ might lie elsewhere, more than likely further up the organization. Irrespective of where the culpability lies we do need to change this perception through altering the current dynamics.

The general argument goes that the middle manager is so pressured to focus on the delivery of short-term results that all their efforts are centred far more on delivering ‘just’ an effective organization, that drives out any excess or leeway, reduces variation, constantly dampening down potential risk and uncertainty that is in direct conflict with what innovation required.

By the middle managers obsession with constantly chasing efficiencies alone, there is little ‘slack’ for innovation and new learning. Their measurement is often based on this efficiency and effectiveness emphasis and not on generating innovation.

Resources are often in conflict when it comes to innovation. They are being stretched far more, pushed hard on being involved in multiple tasks and with the prevailing mentality to keep their focus on generating the immediate short-term results. This not only squashes out opportunity to explore, it is actually squeezing the middle managers ability to build a more flexible, responsive organization. Innovation is in direct ‘tension’ with much that is being undertaken at middle management level.

This does result in working towards a well-tuned and efficient operating system but it seems one that is not capable to allow innovation to move from a collection of ad hoc activities into one that builds progressively that more sustaining innovation structure, establishing a deepening set of capabilities that this requires.

Although organizations claim to be innovative often the very people that we are expecting to manage the ‘dynamics of innovation’ within organizations, the Middle Managers, are seeking the very opposite, doing everything possible to keep the environment as stable and consistent as it can be. They are taking away the ‘vital essences’ that innovation needs – a fluid, agile, open, diverse and flexible environment and putting consistent constraints and barriers in the way in their pursuit of efficiency and predictable effectiveness.

So how can this change? How can we move the needle and tilt it more towards innovation becoming more central without inflicting a more radical overhaul, one that is unlikely to happen in most existing organizations.

Let’s turn the existing core competencies needed for middle managers on their head and offer a new mix of primary, critical and core capabilities that are the measuring point for the MM’s new core competency set that provides for a clearer  innovation focus as essential to master.

1.       Core competences need to be changed – we should flip the requirements

We all recognize that the dedicated middle manager holds the organization together. They are often the glue that connects the organization with the leadership and enable the ‘forces’ to flow, yet do they allow this for innovation?  In traditional Chinese culture qì (also chi or ch’i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as “life energy”, “life force”, or the energy flow “and innovation is the same vital need within organizations.

Let’s flip the thinking

Flipping the thinking on capabilities around for the Middle Manager

Flipping the thinking on capabilities around for the Middle Manager

  • ·         Primary becomes the base not the pinnacle. What they do in efficiency and effectiveness remains as their primary capability – you don’t alter this, it is too engrained. This can only change over time and through their inner awareness and recognition that innovation needs to be embedded, alongside the existing ‘fixation’ on efficiency and effectiveness. Don’t try to radically change, make progressive step changes. Efficiency and effectiveness clearly remains the inventory repertoire of solid capabilities so as you set about to build a new platform, based on innovation, it layers and interlocks
  • ·         You target selected critical capabilities to learn and explore. You provide the MM a clarity of the new and emerging critical capabilities they need to build up. These are the capabilities that will provide the greatest impact for competitive advantage, not internal but external in all its orientation.
  • ·         At the top of the pyramid is the core capabilities they need to have. This cluster of capabilities is centred on the critical capabilities to make innovation main stream, to be a daily part of their thinking, their make-up, their intent to ensure happens. These differ according to the role, area of focus and contribution.

2.  We need to focus the middle manager on different learning concepts

Peter Senge and his learning organisation concept is helpful in establishing an innovation learning organization. His five main characteristics are system thinking, personal mastery, mental models, a shared vision and team learning. In summary these are:

Systems thinking – the idea would be to introduce a distinct innovation system thinking approach that needs to be in place within their organization. Overtime it will help measure the performance of the organization as a whole, and of its various components, and the organization shifts in the very ground for middle managers has to manage within.

 Personal mastery – the commitment by an individual to the process of learning is known as personal mastery, so it is therefore important to develop a culture where personal mastery is practised in daily life, based on clear innovation capabilities and capacities needed to be practised.

Mental models – the assumptions held by individuals and organizations are called mental models and these are seemingly, stuck more in the efficiency and effectiveness ones at present. To become a learning organization, these models must be challenged.

Shared vision – the creation and constant development of a shared vision on innovation and its place within the organisations activities, to make it a core and so create that essential common identity and sense of purpose. This sharing and identity gives real focus and energy for learning and exploring what ‘makes up’ innovation.

 Team learning – the accumulation of individual learning constitutes the last aspect, into team learning. The value of the middle manager in bringing people and their contributions together is vital, this is done in innovation efficient and effective ways through increasing experimentation and shared learning to explore and understand the aspects that work and can be honed more.

The emphasis in learning needs a more radical shift in encouraging boundary crossing and openness and seeking out a more networked, relationship environment that draws in increasing external perspectives to compliment the internal knowledge already built up.

3. Then we need to work the innovation learning ‘muscles’ through the three learning loops

Reinforcing loops 1

Reinforcing loops to strengthen the innovation change management  (Peter Senge)

So the middle manager has to begin to think through a new agenda for innovation change and the organization has to ‘fully’ provide the necessary support and structure for them to move towards this (radical) change in their managing within the middle.

The value is the middle becomes our connector for innovation

Middle managers tasks should increasingly become more about performing the role of connectors and facilitators, not the guardians and gatekeepers for the decision makers.  Their work should include the encouragement that everyone is engaged in innovation work, for each person to constantly go back and check against this integrated innovation framework to work out their place to relate to this and become aligned.

The middle manager carries through connection and identification. Making sure everyone has a ‘sight-line’ and identification into their contribution for any organizational innovation framework so they stay well-connected and engaged.

Communication and relationships becomes the key. We need to find that new high ground for middle managers to be seen as the real connectors and enablers and not the current view as more often than not the blockers on innovation.

All we need to do is convince the top they need to provide the Innovation framework for this to work and that can come through the form of the Executive Innovation Work Mat no less.

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.