Approaching innovation through fitness dynamics needs a structured approach.

This post follows on from my recent one of “the Innovation Journeyman.”  We do have a real journey still to travel to understand the dynamics within innovation. Here, I want to lay out a possible path that might advance us towards achieving this. This includes a fairly ‘intensive’ nine step approach outlined below.

The innovation fitness dynamics

The innovation fitness dynamics

What we do need to do is constantly evolve our innovation capabilities to perform in more dynamic and flexible ways. We need to acquire that consistent aim of achieving a more adaptable and adjusting approach to innovation in all its parts. We need to meet the changing circumstances and challenges  we are all facing to regain the real growth needed from our economies and organizations, making what we do at the same time, more sustainable. Delivering better innovation outcomes is central to this task.

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The Innovation Journeyman

Continuing the innovation journey

Continuing the innovation journey searching for the framework to deliver the dynamics of innovation by focusing upon achieving a certain innovation fitness.

My  personal innovation journey started way back in 2001 when I got ‘hooked’ on innovation and what it could deliver in it’s impact into a business; for greater engagement within the organization and increased identification through their people, with the potential for learning and improving their capabilities.

Progressively I learnt about innovation, studied it as part of my Master’s degree and began to practice the parts others were prepared to pay me for, either to listen too, or offer advice.

This innovation journey took on a shape that eventually became 100% of my focus within my advisory practices at Agility Innovation Specialists and Hoca Consulting by systematically building my understanding of innovation and providing this knowledge to others through advisory, coaching, writing and mentoring services.

It still is a long continuous journey twelve plus years later.

I’m constantly learning, reading, absorbing and interpreting what I understand and then attempting to provide my thoughts to others, those willing to listen!

I’m comfortable in much, totally restless in so much more out there to explore and work through, so as to achieve potential solutions, through experimentation and prototyping until they become recognized as relevant and applicable.

Investigating, researching and reading all required a significant amount of time, all alongside needing to practice innovation, working to clients’ needs or pushing for their attention to changes taking place within the field of innovation management and what they needed to do about it.

Dynamic capability applied to innovation gained my increased attention

One area that caught my attention, many years back was the notion of “dynamic capability”, the organizations capacity to change its operation and adapt them to the environmental requirements in systematic and fruitful ways. Academic papers by Teece, Pisano and Shuen, by Eisenhardt and Martin and finally for me, Zollo and Winter, all fuelled my thinking at that time.

Winter suggested that organization change happens in two ways; the first is ad-hoc problem driven in our searches or the second is through the action of “stable patterns of activity aimed at creating or changing operating routines in pursuit of enhanced organizational effectiveness” offering the initial definition of dynamic capabilities. I’m up for the second, most organizations still often practice and treat innovation in ad-hoc ways.

What are dynamic capabilities?

These are the skills, processes, routines, organizational structure and disciplines that enable firms to build, employ and orchestrate intangible assets relevant to satisfying customer needs and which cannot be replicated by competitors. Enterprises with strong dynamic capabilities are intensely entrepreneurial, they adapt around business ecosystems, and they shape them through innovation, collaboration, learning and deep involvement.

I was really hooked. This started me on my hardest journey that began in 2008 around my pursuit of building a way to understand what makes up innovation capability and capacities within organizations. I needed to find a way to build, to integrate and configure internal and external competencies to address rapidly changing environments.

Much as Teece, et all, had outlined some years early the notion of this, there continues to lack decent, coherent solutions. Any suggestions I researched were often a little thin on the ground, in practical application but some of the concepts had a richness about them to sustain real interest in my continued pursuit to find a practical, enduring commercial solution to managing the dynamics within innovation. So this became part of my challenge and growing interest.

Moving from intent to cognizance and then application

So I was looking for designing something that gave a sustaining competitive in innovation advantage, that was shaped by the individual organizations specific asset position and where it needed to go and develop to get it to that stated strategic goal they required. This hinged on identifying the value points where resource configurations needed advancing once the gaps could be identified.

This journey has taken me all over the place. I have studied increasingly dynamic capabilities, innovation landscapes, absorptive capacity, where open innovation fits and then increasingly in this more open environment the need for collaboration, for networking, for orchestrating innovation to deliver what is needed, into the markets advancing on existing offerings.

My often interrupted journey was partly by design but also by lacking essential parts.

Since  the 2008 and 2009 period, where I had an incredible burst of energy into this whole area, I found I had to leave it, put it to one side for eighteen months or so. Sometimes you have to stop your searches and reflect a little. Any journey you do need decent resting and reflecting periods.

In 2011 I took up this quest again, yes quest is the right word, as it has both been long and a difficult search. I designed a framework, the innovation fitness landscape model and set up a dedicated web site for managing this at innovation fitness dynamics. This has bubbled along but was not the platform I expected or able to launch in the ways I’d ideally like. Something was still missing.

In this time I’d concluded that to identify the “dynamics” needed for innovation I’d need at least two levels of evaluation – the internal one where it seemed nine descriptors gave the necessary ‘thrusts’ to find the critical internal related aspects and the external one – more as the level of ‘degree’s’ of engagement for evolving the external related need. I was happier with the internal part, not so much with the external one.

I’ve completed some limited testing but by no means feeling I’m yet ready to really push out on this so a short period of digestion and thinking led to another hiatus until a few weeks ago.

So in mid 2013 I have taken up my innovation journey again, relating to innovation dynamics and fitness landscapes. There was a realization I was missing something. The innovation system I had been focusing upon was simply made up for the single organization and although I was consciously working on the external environment and recognizing their degree of importance, I was not  actually reflecting the really big changes going on in innovation today and in the near future, as I should have been. The changes taking place through more open, collaborative innovation. I was writing about it but not taking it fully into this dynamic framework of mine.

My recent ‘trigger’ has been the one word of “Orchestration”

I had not recognized the incredible power of “orchestration” needed in innovation. Of course it was there but it was not as ‘loud and clear’ in my thinking as it should have been. The blind spot had been my focus on pursuing this continual need to organize around innovation within an organization. Although this is as essential today there has been continued and rapid shifts taking place outside the walls and I was not capturing the dynamics of this well enough .

When we begin to want to orchestrate across external innovation networks we not only need to know ourselves extremely well, we also need to know what others can bring and what is missing. Networks are dynamic, the flow of knowledge, of capabilities and competencies all need somehow capturing. Recognizing this shift in my thinking, allowed me to pick up the baton again and begin to conduct all the different fragments and pull them together, into a different result.

I learnt also that innovation needs this growing orchestration, due to this increasing move from firm-centric to network-centric innovation. In my understanding of a orchestrator, he needs to manage the tempo, knowing where and when to cue in the different players (learning) and to inject the intensity into the performance. I was back on my journey recognizing the different passages and movements I’d been on, where all contributing into a final result. “Something” was coming together and I need to work through the new ‘score’ being played out.

We need to learn to identify, assimilate and exploit far more than ever, the value of knowing your innovation fitness, your dynamics and the terrain you wish to traverse in new innovation activity becomes even more critical. To create and to extract does clearly need to understand the what, why, where, when and how it needs to go about this.

The orchestrator needs to orchestrate.

To do this you must orchestrate the capabilities, to purposefully build what is needed to deliver the final result. I have reconfigured my thinking around what will influence the evolution leading from internal innovation capabilities to a whole ‘network’ of these. It still lies in how you purposefully build these capabilities and competencies up. Orchestration is fundamentally dynamic, full of uncertainties but the need is still to connect the parts.

The four dimensions for building capability to innovate are at the individual level, within teams, within the organization and within the dynamic set of networks needed at given times to solve innovation challenges. These capabilities need to possess mobility, appropriability, certain stability and the willingness to learn and build on the existing dynamics. Internal capabilities still need building but we also must work to identify those complementary capabilities across a fluid set of stakeholders to deliver a more complex innovation challenge.

Orchestration has for me become very important to my ongoing work on the dynamic innovation capabilities for recognizing your innovation fitness landscape and the gaps. These become even more of a challenge when different perspectives and competencies enter the mix.

We urgently need to understand the ‘dynamics of innovation’ even more. What is the local maximum, what can we work upon in transition, what we need to bring in for any future co-creation and what needs working upon within specific networks within the innovation capabilities and capacities needed to be applied.

The dynamic view of orchestrating is needed

The orchestrating of open innovation challenges is dynamic and we increasingly need to know the critical factors and their dependencies for delivering a collaborative innovation success. We need to not just know the appropriate resources, we need to work on the skills, processes, routines, organizational structure and disciplines that enable firms to build, employ and orchestrate intangible assets relevant to satisfying customer needs and which cannot be replicated by competitors, that delivers the new innovation needed through collaboration efforts.

My journey continues and I plan to outline in two separate and future posts, my journey approach for organizations to build dynamic innovation capabilities and a deeper outline of the growing importance of orchestration within managing innovation today and the future. Then I need to re-test my innovation fitness landscape framework to see if it does deliver the ‘dynamics’ in capabilities needed to extract better innovation outcomes.

At least I see an end in sight or is it a false ‘peak’ hiding the further journey I have to travel? Let’s see.

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.