The Innovation Bunker – Avoiding Cognitive Traps Part Three

Often we forget to look back as we constantly get into that habit of always wanting to simply keep moving forward. So, sometimes I would recommend we stop and reflect. I, for myself, keep returning to great thinkers in innovation to remind me and these can often bring me back on track in avoiding certain traps.

Part Three of the Cognitive Traps we find ourselves in. Go here for Part One and Part Two

Signal AmplificationI’ve always valued one terrific observation of Professor Clayton Christensen (of many thoughts) where he talks of the core theories of innovation. One small part:

He states “theory helps to block out the noise and to amplify the signal

So I looked back at a theory to go forward to reduce our cognitive traps

If we link back into Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovation for much, it is not a bad place to go. He firstly offers us his five stages of adoption or the decision stages of the innovation-process of Knowledge, Persuasion, Decision, Implementation and Confirmation.

Within this five stage approach he raises the issue of cognitive dissonance, where people do have the (eventual) motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of these dissonant elements

Rogers also teaches us that knowledge acquisition, risk evaluation, value acceptance, social/economic/political constraints, adaptation to specific situations, time, money, and the expertise of change agents all influence the adoption of an innovation.  We need to bring these far more into our thinking so they can, over time, alter our cognitive biases to allow for ‘greater’ innovation.

In his work it is suggested we must encourage more comparisons that allow us to make greater connection, attempt to understand the innovation-decision (thinking through) process, encourage all around us changing attitudes, different behaviours and supporting structures and finally mitigate the risk and consequences when we push for adoption.

Isn’t there within all these connections a cognitive resolution pathway?

The more we share, the more we learn. The more we participate in open communities the more we can gain. The more we spend time in seeking new knowledge the more we see fresh alternatives.

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations can be a more than useful frame for our learning strategies for gaining adoption that we are presently struggling with. In our board rooms the cognitive bias is partly because much of the thinking is based on their past experiences, often gained in different times and circumstances. They are often more uncertain than you are, due to these increased complexities and volatiles, feeling less equipped to deal with them, so our role is to increasingly bridge these anxieties.

The challenge we have as innovators is to convince those within the boardrooms that there are new tools, new ways, new approaches that do not place the core business at more risk but can provide the foundation for experimentation, for exploring in new ways. If there is no pushing of our thinking and staying within our comfort zones, well it leaves us at greater risk.  So  we need to have a clear approach to allow this wanting to experiment but for it to occur in ‘concurrence’ and support by those that are around us.

We need an adoption process to take into the boardrooms

If we agree still with Everett Rogers characteristics of innovation then perhaps we can start here for raising change in our board rooms more often. To overcome these cognitive traps spoken off by Henry Chesbrough and others, then we do need a framework to unify around and use. We need a thinking through process to work through to reduce these cognitive traps. One that engages others in this agreed structure.

I think we have a terrific one offered up by Everett Rogers to tackle cognitive traps.

To get anyone out of their own thinking trap we need to associate it to what would be valued. We can offer an uniformed path based on Everett Rogers five steps principle

  • What we must always offer in any conversation is a clear relative advantage to what is presently available, so we can gain permission and set about to explore better alternatives, to clarify this and gain general acceptance.
  • If we can offer compatibility with our own and other people’s existing values, and explore a migration path from their past experiences we might get more space to experiment. We need to draw others in and so we have to align ourselves to their experiences to frame it to their thinking bias. This becomes a job-to-be-done on unearthing unmet needs or the needs that can be improved upon.
  • The new tools, methods and techniques can certainly help us to explain complexity to reduce the perceived difficulties of adopting new practices. The whole gambit of gaming, the canvas techniques, visual mapping, design thinking all help considerably here.
  • We then can offer new ways for trialability to experiment in safe and limited risk ways. Lay out a clear path of experimentation and result milestones to manage expectancies and gain increasing support commitment. Steve Blank’s contention of “getting out of the building” and his customer development process offers one of many ways to learn, pivot and progress in bite-sized steps.
  • Finally, we can provide observability, so others can see the results we can make progress. By keeping this open, it can be clearly challenged and blocked in many ways but openness and transparency does eventually reduce resistance. If we can clarify change and our progress in learning we give others understanding. It is when we fail to communicate what they need to hear, we are more likely to be blocked or our project cancelled. We need to ‘demonstrate’ progress and show its value.

Everett Rogers five steps might offer up a possible pathway to unlock much within innovation and reduce our cognitive biases we all have that traps us often not to move forward.

We need to break free of our personal and collective cognitive traps.

To innovate differently, we need to open our thinking to as much of the diversity that is going on all around us as possible. We need to unlock innovation in new, imaginative ways. The more we open our minds, our organizations and allow new tools, new thinking in concepts, experiences and ideas, then the more we permeate and change existing beliefs. We need to start looking around us and see the multiple ways we can get out of our traps and biases in thinking.

Our rationale and reasoning change progressively as we expose ourselves to new experiences and new knowledge, then innovation can surely follow.  I think we do ‘play’ into to many innovation bunkers. We can’t ignore the cognitive traps all around us but if we become more conscious of them I do believe with constant practice we can easily  avoid many of them with the right mind frame, the right approach and the awareness of what others are seeking within the collective frame we need to work through.

Avoiding the cognitive traps  needs consciously working upon in discipline and resolution.

Cognitive traps are not good for any innovation, especially transformational work. They are vital to understand if we are reliant on others. We can work far more consciously at surfacing differences but within a clear, open and transparent approach. A cognitive bias is a mental error that is often consistent and predictable. We can often anticipate them and be ready to offset them, in ways that ‘appeal’ to those with these biases.

So by making innovation a process where we work on reducing all those places of variance where we might not have a clear process, structures and design for innovation we might get less (cognitive) resistance. Equally if we can work more consciously being open, showing ‘increasing’ evidence, talking through probabilities, risks and returns and finally working harder on understanding the pressures, uncertainty and needs of others we might reduce many of the (hidden) barriers and ‘draw out’ those that have reservations.

Open conversations based on mutual knowledge can go an awful long way to reduce these cognitive barriers. Irrespective we need to be constantly aware of others and their opinions.

So we need to consciously  craft the alternative.

I leave you with this final contribution of “we need to craft an alternative path” a visual by John Hagel. It sums it all up at the end: “our actions individually and collectively will determine whether opportunity or challenges prevail“.

For me, innovation needs the challenges of working collectively together, so we all can move towards the opportunities, We need to avoid those cognitive traps and play out of the innovation bunker well and the best way to do this is to learn to seek out knowledge.

We need to recognize, value and exploit together in open and collaborative ways to reduce these personal biases and cognitive traps we can often fall into. We need to leverage all of today’s cognitive structures all around us that include mental structures, mental tools, and patterns of thought offered to us in new exciting ways with a little bit of older theory perhaps, thrown in.

The Innovation Bunker- Getting Out of Cognitive Traps Part Two

Help seems to come from new quarters – unlocking our minds and breaking free from our cognitive biases.

Part two of the Cognitive Traps we find ourselves in. Part one is here

Breaking Free from our Cognitive ChainsSo how can we break free from what holds us back? As we have these cognitive biases then we have to consciously work on reducing their effect in our judgements, decisions and actions. We need to break out of those cognitive chains that can hold us back and limit our innovation thinking

I think there is so much help at hand

If I take www.innovationgames.com, as one example, of where Luke Hohmann and his team are taking us.  I think there is this important emerging ‘rush’ into games-based tools partly because they can significantly help offset cognitive bias. They allow us to become more engaged in collaborative thinking.

On http://www.innovationgames.com site they offer this as their value statement: “our on-line and in-person games help organizations solve problems across the enterprise by using collaborative play to tap into true innovation”. “Games bring your ideas into Action” in our ability to come together and then actively collaborate, helps you discover market opportunities and uncover customer needs and challenge your thinking in new and stimulating ways. Engagement in imaginative ways allows you to break free of some of your cognitive traps.

Have you explored the different books around games, for example Gamestorming: a playbook for innovators, rule breakers and change makers.  They state “we’re hardwired to play games. We play them for fun. We play them in our social interactions. We play them at work. That last one is tricky. “Games” and “work” don’t seem like a natural pairing. Their coupling in the workplace either implies goofing off (the fun variant) or office politics (the not-so-fun type)”.

The authors of Gamestorming, have a different perspective. “They contend that an embrace and understanding of game mechanics can yield benefits in many work environments, particularly those where old hierarchical models are no longer applicable, like the creatively driven knowledge work of today’s cutting edge industries

I’d suggest that in any industry there is this pressing need to open up the thinking to see ‘things’ in new ways. The challenges are becoming more complex, faster paced and needing far more agile minds. These game storming approach are allowing us to alters our cognitive biases in new ways.

Have you read the article by Jordan Shapiro on “How gamed-based learning can save the humanities” where he discusses example of game-based learning platforms that uses the magic of interactive storytelling–video game design–to bridge the catastrophic gap that undervalues the humanities in education. He goes on to suggest “Metaphors, signs, and symbols are useful. As the building blocks of language, they let us articulate our experiences through a shared system of meaning-making”. Any shared language reduces personal bias.

Take a look at this slideshare “Building a sustainable innovation ecosystem” for exploring translation pathways to new ways of learning in the 21st century. Game-based learning is significant to alter our perceptions and challenge our thinking.

The Blank BM Canvas

Following the success of Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas we are all getting more comfortable in building off a ‘blank’ canvas our new business models. Since this canvas there are countless other alternatives that can help us to overcome bias and prompt different thinking around most of the aspects of business design.

Collaborative and visualization tools are equally making a difference

We are seeing the art of storytelling, of taking part in simulation work, making better use of the different visualization techniques and we are opening up in allowing ourselves more time for strategic and concept conversations.

If we take the Heath brothers suggest in their book “Made to Stick” I certainly believe this can help in ‘chipping away’ at cognitive bias. It reduces bias though drawing out, more often than not collectively and giving time to debate. This shifts our personal perspectives and allows us to see things differently as ‘I’ moves to ‘we’ in association and assembled knowledge of the broader community engaged in the conversations and exploring.

Can we use the tool from “Make It Stick” for reducing cognitive traps?

For example in their book “Made to Stick” they (Heath brothers) lay out the critical elements of a sticky idea of Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, Stories. This encouragement makes for more conversations, both within our own minds and in greater participation with others. This idea for structuring conversations will be great offsets to our cognitive bias in my view. It certainly can become a great starting point.

So taking the Heath Brothers suggested acronym of ‘SUCCES to reduce Cognitive Bias

  • Simple — find the core of any nascent concept and allow it to permeate.
  • Look for the Unexpected —let it surprise us so we can see its possibilities
  • Concrete —Grasp it and its potential effects to share this new insight with others
  • Credible — work on the association to give it ‘growing’ believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of this to achieving innovation that transforms.
  • Stories and Narratives — for crafting a compelling narrative to change our cognitive biases into new logic and value propositions.

Knowledge diffusion I believe can reduce cognitive bias also

For me the more we can diffuse knowledge, the better, for recognizing its potential new value in enabling innovation to be translated into “exploitive learning”. I’ve previously suggested absorptive capacity as a help in knowledge adapting. I wrote a piece called “Moving towards a more distributed innovation model” can allow your thinking to absorb and have a greater flow.

Envisaging different states for innovation needs clear application.

Scenario thinking is a more than helpful place to go for changing our perspectives. What we have to guard against is that these do not become another cognitive trap where we want scenario thinking as long as it is on ‘our terms’.

I believe if we only ever construct scenarios in one ‘mindset’ we miss so much. As many who have been reading my posts I strongly prescribe the three horizon methodology for approaching innovation. Take a look at mapping innovation across the three horizons to see where this can ‘shift’ our thinking beyond accepted present day thinking norms for innovation to be advanced more effectively.

Langdon Morris wrote in a book called “The Innovation Master Plan” there are four devious mindset traps of 1) fixation on the status quo , 2) short-term thinking dominates at the expense of longer term, 3) too much incremental innovation and 4) ignorance of the real meaning of change, its rate and impact. We need to radically alter these traps. Fixation, biases simply do have innovation consequences.

Seeing across multiple horizons ‘frees’ us from many cognitive traps

I believe we can go well beyond the present value of ‘just’ fitting your existing innovation portfolio and directional management into a one-dimensional framework, viewed in our present ‘here and now’ mindset. You can see opportunities completely differently beyond the existing mindset and activities, if you think in different time horizons. These different thinking positions take innovation from tactical to strategic, then into foresight in your three different mindset evaluations. This three horizon approach challenges your cognitive biases as you really do just have to let go and open your mind right up, to see and that is in different thinking frames.

Perhaps I can go one step further, a final step, by reflecting back.

So in my final post coming up (part three) on the Innovation Bunker – Cognitive Traps I offer a simple framing technique that I think has value. One that we all can relate to it, not so much to each others cognitive biases but on how we can manage innovation and its progress in a ‘common’ approach- It can reduce differences and allow for better results.

We certainly do need to encourage adoption and decrease the rejections in innovation.

The Innovation Bunker – Our Cognitive Traps Part One

I suspect we are all cognitively trapped most of the time. We are all more ‘hard-wired’ than we would care to admit too. That cognitive bias that ‘permits’ us to make constant errors of judgement, ignore often the advice around us and certainly gloss over the knowledge provided or staring us in the face. Innovation does need us to break out of these cognitive biases if we want to really develop something very different, more transformational.

We should all recognize this constrain we all have, it might help our innovation activity. We are often guilty of being overconfident, actually staying nicely in a rut. Just how many times do we offer ill-framed challenges from lazy thinking or fail to offer the proper context into the discussions early enough, to avoid conversations that wasted our times or reduce the recommendations based on inadequate information. We also simply allow poor idealization because we did not prepare enough or we want to immediately link back something new into our realm of experience, screening out emerging alternatives. We do these, all of the time.

Have you ever checked out the number of cognitive biases we have? Do, it is staggering. They are everywhere, in our daily decision-making, in our belief systems and of course our behavioral stances. We have social biases, memory error ones that are just within us. We simply want to make sense of the world and you  take it back to your experiences, your rationalities, those specific conditions so you can replicate it, map it back to something.

We all end up in the worst innovation bunkers

Innovation Bunker the Cognitive Trap

For innovation we often fall into the equivalent of the worst bunker in a round of golf and then what happens next can often make or break your day (like your golfing round). We firstly try to make sense of the situation before deciding on the course of action or do we simply resort to our past experiences as our norm? Often we quickly fall back and rely on past experience, and ‘blast’ away, in our wishful thinking that we are all Tiger Woods, not recognizing the need for a certain detachment and more rational assessment by having the right combination of experience and the tools to do the job. We end up in even worse traps.

Recently for me cognitive thinking has been triggered twice.

Firstly, the first trigger was one comment made by Henry Chesbrough at the recent Business Design summit. He suggested boards of many large organizations are “cognitively trapped” when it comes to opening up to new Business models and different thinking and approaches. Often it seems, that our leaders ignore new ways to do things,  to understand, claiming either no time or the approaches look complicated. They chose to not explore new business models as they are often simply cognitively trapped.

Henry Chesbrough has written about this in his books, one being “Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape” and how the prevailing wisdom is so entrenched, it looks only to fit existing logic and simply filters out any variance or alternative. This dominating logic becomes their trap, in not recognizing the changes taking place before their eyes, dismissing all the growing logic of exploring new business models. They are in the locked-in innovation trap. They ignore what is actually going on around them and then get caught out. How can we change this?

The second was in an article written by Andy Zynga, the CEO of NineSigma International on “The Innovator Who Knew Too Much”. Here he brings out the ‘curse of knowledge’ and cites the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath on this ‘curse of knowledge’ leading to communication failures.  In an article they offer this thought “The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”

I wrote back to Andy: “The curse (of knowledge) goes well beyond that of a particular industry, it is the curse of specialization in a given field, subject, research topic, etc. Cognitive bias sits in the boardroom, throughout organizations holding innovation back. The barrier for open innovation is to not be allowed to challenge this – the increasing difficulty is that determination to structure an appropriate brief, set screening targets that dismiss everything looking “left field” is placing constraints in our thinking, evolution or engagement processes”

So we are both equally cognitively trapped and cursed with existing knowledge. Not a good place to be when it comes to innovation.

Also we seem to “lock-in” our decisions far too early

I’ve offered up before that much of the “fuzzy front end” seems to ignore or downplay so much that could be more than helpful to us in exploring innovation that ‘makes a real difference’. In a past argument of mine I have suggested we need to extend the innovation funnel back before we bring it into the more traditional innovation funnel process. In an article on this “the New Extended Innovation Funnel” I am suggesting we spend far more time in the depth of (alternative) evaluation, well before even the idea stage. It can offer up a different richness of thinking.

We need to start thinking more in ‘concepts’ where we can explore as so many of the different connecting points that we can come across from our increasing open networks that can offer such a variety of trigger points. Today we screen these out as the brief is encouraged to be ‘tightly written’ or the time we have been given is ridiculously limited. If we could only open this up and use the open innovation principles more in ourselves being more receptive in thinking and possibility, we might see different innovations emerging that offer a more ‘transforming’ effect on our innovation activities..

If we could allow our minds to be open to possibilities that whole lot earlier, being less fixated, to explore richer possibilities that might be far more transformational, we might have less incremental moments. We lock in to ideas that ‘simply’ aligned to what we already do they ignore real innovation breakthroughs . We need to open up our thinking to these nascent concepts. Ones that show early signs of where there might be some ‘weak signals’ that should be picked up upon as offering promise if we work on them and make the different connections to make these transforming to our business.

We often allow our fixations, bias and the consequences to make it all intensive on the incremental, this huge bias on the ‘here and now’ for the necessary delivery within the existing time horizons. My very argument for seeing innovation across three horizons is this lack of breakthrough in products, in our thinking, that organizations need and eventually this leads to the innovation deficits that catches so many organizations unaware.

We need to open our minds to possibilities

We need to challenge our cognitive bias far more. Hopefully in that less pressured early concept stage, to allow the ‘forming’ idea to ‘percolate’ before it enters the established and traditional innovation funnel. You know the one, that magical place, where it has to perform in jumping the hurdles, crossing the barriers that we have lovingly set up to make us more efficient and productive in our innovation processes. Sadly those that often give us even more self-inflicted wounds where logical fallacies take hold to win arguments.

Why do I suggest trying to make connections so early on, doesn’t that conflict with cognitive bias and that aspect of our need to make our necessary connections? So as to relate it to our experiences so that we can filter and judge it. No, because we do suffer from this ‘curse of knowledge’, the more we know, the more we make a personal judgement, that can often be so wrong or just outside our existing experiences.

How can we overcome cognitive bias? Tackling this differently.

We need to fight those very cognitive traps as the more it is like something we know the more we will shape it to this. That is the very reason we must open our minds, to allow a new fresh thinking to emerge into something more transformational, more new to the world and challenge our existing thinking.

I believe there are ways we can tackle these traps, solutions are actually all around us if we can make some new connections.

In my next post I’ll attempt to tackle some of my thoughts that might reduce our bias traps and allow us to get out of our innovation bunker in better ways.

Is innovation within the consulting sector under enough pressure?

In a recent study (see below for details) it seems innovation activities need to change within what consultants are offerings as services to their clients. The study makes for fascinating reading and answers a number of questions I’ve been recently having. Let me expand on this:

One: there is increasing less time available within the mid to large consultants to train, research and development for their services so as to differentiate themselves in innovation, in what is actually becoming even more of a crowded market. Focusing on maximising utilization and containing overheads and costs leaves less time to think and develop.

Two: equally the cumulative experiences of clients in dealing with consultants, especially through the practice of more central procurement, has added more pressure on consultants not providing ‘added extra’s’ or to take more radical approaches to innovation solutions for the risk of being compared badly, not offering clear returns and then screened out of the bidding process.

These trends are pushing it seems more incremental innovation in my opinion, but to overcome the concern that the often provided ‘one-size’ fits all that clients seemingly are wary of, what is increasingly happening is having more joint initiatives between clients and consultants. This gives the client more control- in my opinion where it should always be– and gives the consultant the potential for reducing overheads.

So it seems innovation consulting is being managed through some constraining issues. My concern here is it can limit the potential that external advice can contribute and  so it can fall short on stretching thinking around innovation that might actually, limit the final result the client is looking for out of their innovation activity.

The study was conducted in the UK

In the UK there has been an excellent study looking specifically at consulting and innovation, published in October 2011 entitled “Management innovation in the UK consulting industry”, by Dr. Joe O’Mahoney, a Fellow at the Advanced Institute of Management and a Lecturer at Cardiff University and commissioned with the Institute of Consulting.

The aim of the report is to stimulate consultancies to be more innovative and therefore add more value to their clients. For me, this is an objective I would really welcome looking around at all the ‘safety first’ approaches going on in this area in many consultants, big and small.

The report can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/tQdeld

I’m sure many points are equally applicable to innovation consulting globally.

For some time I’ve been puzzled on where the bigger innovation consulting projects have gone and this report points to one logical reason. The main conclusion in the study was: “more sophisticated clients, the need to share costs, higher utilisation levels and the increasing role of procurement mean that innovation tends to be client-specific, shared and based around improvements rather than large-scale, industry-wide innovations.”

Some of my initial reactions from reading this study raise real concerns

It seems the increasing internal ‘invented here’ approach has been at the expense of seeking the external contribution and the belief that tailoring innovation to meet unique needs is more prelevent. Is this actually good? Are there other constraining factors at play here? Are clients simply reinventing the wheel, actually spending less efficiently?

I would also suggest external advice is being used ‘selectively’ as it is more a lagging advice and not leading advice as in most cases of consulting. I get the impression within innovation advice that this client- consulting relationship is actually being constrained. Let me explain.

I would argue from reading this study we are seemingly downsizing collaborative innovation between clients and consultants, restricting the potential for pushing out innovation.  The consultancies as restricting their innovation practices and don’t make the type of investments that would help advance thinking? If I am right then we are actually constraining innovation. Consultants are possibly behind the game and are learning from emerging practices within the client and can only then provide limited support. Consultants are seemingly not providing “thought leadership” just reporting on best practices and what they are learning from this to apply it elsewhere. So consultants are reduced to supporting subsidiary roles. That is a pity if this is the case.

Identifying constraints and applying imaginative solutions

This report helps identify the constraints to current models and allows some excellent insight for others to think through and see if they want to explore the potential and seize a different value proposition by restructuring differently around the depth of their innovation services and ‘jump ahead’ in the innovation learning curve.

There are plenty of imaginative ways to do this restructuring that can continue to contain costs in the early stages that fit with these economic uncertain times and then apply the ‘gas’ as the recognition and value can be seen by present day reluctant clients. I would argue many clients are actually desperately seeking a more robust set of innovation activities to get more growth back into their businesses and good external advice can shorten the learning curve considerably if this is recognized as such.

The perceived issue: a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.

For me these constraints have some potential opportunity. I focus 100% of my time on formulating the innovation path in different ways. I do honestly struggle to attract the bigger clients as they often tend to look for certain big consulting brands to give them that certain ‘security’ and if something then goes wrong they can always claim in defence of their decision, “well X consulting co” recommended this approach.

Often the selection process is one of the constraining dynamics smaller service providers have to work hard to overcome and balance. Expertise and outcomes has to be seen and valued for the potential to justify delivering ‘great value’ from any work done very much more upfront.  Specialists like me, can and do invest far more in focused innovation knowledge. I see this in many areas where specialisation can really score if the client ‘see’s the value but there though, is often the rub, getting them to ‘see it’ and ‘engage’ early enough is difficult particuarly if you go through a central procurement proceedure. It becomes often an onerous route when you have limited resources to go through the selection process, often not getting into meaningful discussions with the person charged with implementing the solutions.

Also within innovation much of the emerging work simply has rawer edges to it as innovation itself needs to be explored. Clients want to push innovation ‘out’ and achieve real competitive advantage but reluctant to do this through the smaller, less known consultant, they look for the ‘reputation tag’ yet the bigger consultants are failing to invest in leading edge thinking, offering a ‘catch 22’ situation.

I would always argue if any innovation is managed thoughtfully and piloted well in its introduction the ‘risk’ is no different than thousands of other decisions made within organizations on new adoption of technology, changes in processes or launching new products, actually much less.

Also smaller advisory firms can be far more personal and collaborative in far greater, more flexible ways, and often at lower costs. Just don’t expect them to underpin those internal weaknesses often encountered with hordes of young consultants that implement the solution and then leave and the association with innovation leaves with them!  Smaller firms usually want to be there at the implementation outcome but in different ways than the bigger guys, looking more to be judged on the results and sharing in the ‘vested’ outcome, as they are wanting a far more lasting relationship built on good value, commitment and trust, a valued advisor.

Certainly some of the conclusions from this report I have drawn out have some potential opportunities but also provides much cold comfort for innovations future, as it does seem to be constrained, if these findings are right. In some ways it offers a bleak future for innovation consulting unless things change.

Some key finding in the study

I think pictures tell a thousand words, in this case four tables from the report.

Table taken from the Study "Management innovation in the UK consulting industry" by Dr. Joe O'Mahoney.

I really feel the ‘modifications to existing practices’ serves up much of the same, with the costs spread out across multiple clients is not great consulting practice. Equally  tapping into existing other practices for making ‘changes to internal processes’ utilizes Six Sigma, BPR and other consulting practices but this is not innovation. Innovation is hanging on the coat tails of other pactices, more often around efficency and effectiveness. Also relying on conducting (often) COO surveys to provide often the ‘thought leadership’ leaves a lot of room for improvement from what I have been reading where many leading consultants do not underpinning suggestions or observations with solutions. The client leads, consultants follow, it seems in what I take from this table.

Table taken from the Study "Management innovation in the UK consulting industry" by Dr. Joe O'Mahoney.

For me, selecting innovation consulting is not so much in the way they differentiate but in what they can clearly deliver in depth of understanding, that comes more in demonstrating this knowledge and excellence. Thankfully this table has the two as the most important but I’d suggest demonstrating knowledge leads to differentiating when it comes to innovation, or should. Demonstrating knowledge leads, differentation comes out of this.

Also with a centralised procurement, at many of the clients that seemingly hampers according to the report, are playing an increasing role in the final decision of which ‘bid’ to accept. I really wonder how procurement officers can assess results for managing innovation, as much of the standard critera is on assessing  the returns on investment. Innovation is far more longer term, sometimes speculative and tougher to quantify.  This must cause problems for wanting to ‘push out’ on bigger innovation with consultants for those responsible, arguing for more imagination (and risk) around greater disruptive thinking and business models yet struggling to provide procurement the result criteria to validate this?

Table taken from the Study "Management innovation in the UK consulting industry" by Dr. Joe O'Mahoney.

If you have clients taking ‘minimal risks’ and you have a lack of time to think about ways to innovate you are certainly in a constrained market. Then add in clients (lack of) budgets for innovation and low demand for services it really adds up to a grim picture of seeing how you can lift the innovation consultants lot from just providing incremental support in my opinion.  I also think I’ve got some answers to this but those are more for my opportunities to offer a ‘decent’ alternative, if wanted!

Table taken from the Study "Management innovation in the UK consulting industry" by Dr. Joe O'Mahoney.

So seeing that the constraints are increasing over time in this table is worrying for me. Without the client demand for going beyond present more incremental and collaborative innovation, except for sharing joint initiatives that are sometimes likely to be mutually exclusive, the consultant has no real incentive to ‘invest’ in expertise and break out of this cycle. A lack of ‘bench strength’ of innovation specialists, a reluctance due to uncertainty and consulting in innovation (often intangible and not solution specific without serious work) the consultant industry is reluctant to make deeper investments really concerns me.

To finish on the foreword may seem a strange place but the right one.

The Institute of Consulting council chair, Judy Craske, offers in her foreword the challenges that need to be addressed as innovation consulting will remain constrained unless it makes some radical changes based on changing economic conditions.

She remarks: “As international, national and even local economies change and react to markets in turmoil; our clients’ outlooks reflect these changes, often defensively. Consultancies need to identify and respond to these factors, and then modify their responses to fit their clients’ changing needs and expectations. Developing creative capital within the industry will remain essential”.

She goes on to state: “Whether lone practitioners or multi-disciplinary practices, consultants need to become more innovative and adaptive in their proposals, methods and solutions, while traditional client/consultant boundaries need to be challenged, stretched and even broken”.

Her most important point from my perspective was the following: “Consultancies may also need to be more open to partnership working with other agencies, such as academia or even competitors, if they are to respond effectively to the pressures of the current high-cost, low-resource business environment”.

This point on collaboration is for me the most potentially potent- if only larger consultants learnt to collaborate more with others within the provision of ‘services’ – it not only spreads costs, allows for greater potential for fresh thinking but brings into play a richer ecosystem platform of innovation advice to offer clients and that is where we should be heading I feel.

I certainly drew out a lot from this study, by Dr Joe O’Mahoney.

There is much to ponder from my own business perspective deriving from this study and I feel it does gives us all involved in providing consulting or  advisory services some real food for thought involved on providing innovation services differently.

Innovation does needs to advance, consultants can help in this. I believe this can be far more than it is as at present and perhaps the CEO who consistently laments about his innovation performance might raise the game by reducing one of the constraints perhaps holding innovation back and reflect on this constrained client- consulting relationship around innovation.

For all their sins, consultants and advisors should be really rich sources of external advice on innovation but it needs greater investment and recognition of mutual value and potential to break into this current relationship. This report lifts the lid well for reflecting on the challenges and offers some sound advice to move forward.

One big issue for me is “should the current client/ consultant consulting model for innovation services change for these tougher times?” I for one, believe it should be changed- not just for personal reasons but I believe you cannot ignore any ‘unturned stone’ when it comes to wanting to manage innovation well in such volatile times where innovating successfully has plenty of uncertainly but still really does hold out the promise for a better future.

It does seem both consultants and clients are acting defensively, it’s a little the opposite of what you would expect in ‘pushing’ for innovation in leading practices and many clients and markets desperately seeking growth. This growth does comes from pushing at the edges not staying in the comfort zone  .

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