The essential innovation vision

In a recent leadership study on innovation by Capgemini Consulting, one of the studies top line concerns was the lack of a well-articulated innovation strategy, and then beyond this, a lack of organizational understanding of the linkages required.

It is amazing how many organizations lack a clear innovation vision and an explicit set of statements from the Chief Executive or their designated C-Level Officer on innovation.

One great visual paints a thousand words

This visual I came across some years back, and for me, it is outstanding in providing the feedback loops that go into developing the right innovation vision. To get to a definitive end point of having an innovation vision you are faced with some complex challenges. These are well shown here. Each influences the other and constantly loop back, making hopefully an improving vision success.

The critical feedback needs for constructing an innovation vision

The different challenges seen in this terrific depiction, provide the sort of dialogue and efforts that needs to go into ‘crafting’ the innovation vision. It is hard, thoughtful work. Lets look at each of these a little more.

The Time Challenge

We get caught in annual planning cycles that often leave little time for ‘considered’ opinion and debate. The annual plans all come in a deluge and this is plainly wrong. Creating a vision needs a lot of time to consider all the aspects. The ‘time gap’ seriously impacts the visions success and clarity of purpose

The Diversity Challenge

Not only within the same board room do you have a diversity of opinion, you have that up and down any organization. Getting the views first out in the open, then managing the conflicting aspects and dealing with the ‘polarization effects’ all is difficult. This is where a dedicated focus, a Chief Innovation Officer, can really make a difference. To get people to talk about the vision, what it should stand for, what needs to happen leads eventually to a greater clarity.

The Relationship Challenge

Managing the relationships both within and outside the organization when it comes to the right thinking on innovation is hard, converting doubters, drawing out differences, improving the quality of any conversations around innovation (ideally with facts not conjecture) and raising the enthusiasm to engage is crucial to moving towards the right vision

The Vision Cap Challenge

There is a reality to what and where you are and the perceived gap that need addressing honestly. This  is something we tend to be very poor at, is, holding a ‘creative’ tension that can stimulate and create a vibrant and exciting innovation vision. We try to dampen the divergence in opinions far too early so we can (quickly) got to convergence. This ‘keenness’ to take away the ‘creative’ tension tends to replace it with potential set of ‘destructive’ ones and this often creates much of the beginnings of the barriers to innovation. People resent not being well listened too or allowed time to develop their arguments.

The Vision and its Success

If you get people to ‘freely’ talk about innovation, its importance, its impact and can ‘paint’ the future in broad brush strokes, they achieve a growing clarity and enthusiasm and that often missing critical component a sense of shared identity.

Innovation is complex; it deals with formal and informal mechanisms. There is an awful lot to constructing a solid innovation vision but believe me, it is even harder to understand the right components that make up the innovation strategy, so it does eventually become a well-articulated innovation strategy. More on this to come at a later date.

Linking innovation context to the process

Time passes extremely quickly, particularly when you enjoy yourself, or so it seems for me. I was surprised, going through some of my past blogs, the time between related entries on the need for having in place a sustaining competitive advantage framework on innovation, has been longer than they it should have been. This blog is the third entry on this subject.

Always, always and always do I see organizations struggle to align themselves for their innovation activity, why is this? Either alignment of innovation into the strategy they are (assumedly) following or shaping innovation into the context of where and how innovation can fit.

I’ve written on this often enough actually, and argued the need for building a more sustaining innovation framework.  I have been working for some time within one of my formulas on this with its given framework of II + EE + MLC + OC + RNE build towards = SCA. I somehow suspect you need nudging on what this means

Required past reading possibly needed here.

Without duplicating more than necessary you need to go back and read two previous blogs on this

The first was written in August 2010 and entitled “A formula for Sustaining Competitive Advantage through Innovation”. The link is here:  http://bit.ly/95kCI1

The second was written in June 2011 and entitled “Sustaining is Pivotal to Making Innovation Progress”. The link is here: http://bit.ly/lPLssm

Both offer a helpful introduction to the framework and formula.

The next part of the equation

This blog ‘advances’ this framework by attempting to link the context of innovation into a process to think through. I say attempting because we need to accept each building process is different, and unique to the organization and the circumstances of what they want innovation to achieve, besides the standard reply “growth and profit”. Doesn’t this always sounds like the famous question asked at beauty pageants: “So what’s the most important issue for you?” asks the compare with the reply “world peace”. Oh, I wish it was so simple.

Those leaders that talk of “growth and profit” from innovation seem to reduce it to just a sound bite, I just wish it was so simple. I do wish the majority of our business leaders would get ‘into’ innovation understanding a lot more. Innovation breaks down always outside the CEO’s executive door and it really does need them to step outside and get more fully involved as it is a major area to succeed at if a longer tenure is in their minds.

Still, I digress. Here I outline how I see a typical linking through of a context to innovation in a ‘flow through’ process that is shaped along the II + EE + MLC + OC + RNE build towards = SCA, framework.

Innovation Alignment, Context & Process

Innovation Alignment to the Corporate Strategy does need working through. It needs linking to business goals and strategy, to the role innovation plays within this, the type of innovation portfolio you wish to design and work upon and the delivery and adoption needed so the organization ‘aligns’ itself. You need a thinking-through process to align context into activity.

This takes time, it needs sustaining effort but it needs leadership to understand the critical connecting parts to do this. It needs a defining framework that I see as separate to what I’m offering here. On my present rate of outlining this it does seems sometime next year for that – not good news for those interested.

Watch this space

Actually let me share a little secret between us,  I’m working on a more radical, visually appealing and exciting way to approach this now but within a joint collaboration around this critical issue. So, who knows this might be discussed earlier than my past track record of once a year to move from one aspect to another. It needs to be and I’m sure my collaborating partner on this will be pushing me a lot harder going forward.

Designing appropriate tension into the innovation process.

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

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

Firstly a cautionary warning here.

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