Taking advantage of emergence for discovery

emergence-and-discoverySo this week my research was moving around issues of complexity within innovation and I came across a great paper, written by Deborah Dougherty “Organizing for innovation in complex innovation systems”

Although she is addressing within this paper the bigger more complex social and economic challenges we are facing in healthcare, alternative energy, water scarcity, climate management, poverty and economic revitalization, she is attempting to reframe these into problem resolutions from breaking down discovery into four distinct channels. I liked this thinking.

The new innovating world we face in the 21st Century

Her opening insight is in the twenty-first century we are all requiring more reliance on social technologies that are designed to allow the different technologies to emerge and be allowed to integrate, due to the diversity and diffusion of knowledge. This is different from past practices found within organizations. Dr Dougherty points out much of what takes place today is still based on nineteenth-century practices where organizations were designed to stabilize, scale up and optimize, mostly internally, the scientific and technological knowledge into large working configurations. Continue reading

Warm and Fuzzy at the Front End of Innovation

Warm and fuzzy inside

Perhaps I have fallen into the very trap I have campaigned about in the past, in recognizing and resolving the disappointing results we achieve from all the work we put into the front end of innovation. The “warm and fuzzy” front end of innovation can make us all a little grumpy.

Let me explain. I recently wrote out a newsletter – termed a thought or two – to my innovation network. This network is split between the advisers and consultants delivering into clients and the clients themselves, that I have a connections into that have built over the years. These are mostly through knowing them, working with them, exchanging or simply connecting in LinkedIn. The subject was the changes occurring at the front end of innovation.

My argument was the results we have obtained from a disconnected set of front end activities was poorer than they should be, and this needs changing. I feel there is a real shift potential happening today through connecting technology and connected solutions to ‘transform’ this front end. My feeling is the front end is often “warm and fuzzy” and it needs to be radically redesigned. I wrote about “hearing all the voices of ideas at the front end and the “two distinct parts of the innovation funnel” building from my original post “the new extended innovation funnel“, written in 2011.

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Gaining idea engagement can be a five step process.

Having conversations 3I have been recently revisiting Everett Rogers work on diffusion and adoptions recently, evaluating if it has the same relevance in my mind in our more connected world, where speed, knowledge and exchanges are measured in micro seconds.

This reminded me of a suggestion I made some time back and I thought I’d ‘air’ this again for engaging with others.

We constantly fall into the trap of not providing our listener enough of a reason to ‘buy into’ our thoughts. We forget to either pitch it to their mental framework or we do not provide a set of compelling arguments that allows our idea a mutual recognition of its value or structure, to take it forward and transform it into something tangible and valuable.

I think using Rogers rate of diffusion principles you can end up offering a fairly powerful positioning statement. You can also offer a simple framework in this five point plan the chance to break down differences you might both hold, to build on the ‘evidence’ from a mutual recognition in the discussion on what your idea holds as potential promise. It can be transformational as a way to approach engagement.

 

Having conversations 5The five steps in engagement to map your conversations.

To get anyone out of their own thinking trap we need to associate our thinking to what would be valued by them, we have to make the value connections .

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 their permission and identification. Then we can set about to explore these better alternatives, to clarify their progress and gain general ongoing acceptance or questioning. Either way it becomes a mutual engagement. Stressing the ideas advantage by making a comparison, does allow for the chance of engage in a worthwhile conversation. Timing, circumstances and its value to the other person always need considering here. “Relative” becomes the critical word here.
  • 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 job-to-be-done thinking is a great practice methodology to achieve adoption.
  • The new tools, methods and different techniques becoming increasingly available to us, 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. Any argument, discussion or position needs to simplify complexity as the one listening quickly ‘tunes out’ if we load the conversation with “too much detail” or jargon.
  • 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 different personal biases that can trap our ideas to not allow them to be seen in their real value to move forward, and be supported by others, as they gain their essential engagement and buy-in.

What do you think? It’s worth a try to build your own engagement stories around the five principles suggested. Give it a trial the next time you want to bring others onto your side and look to construct a mutual engagement.

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.

Work to be done is innovation’s invisible hand

Back in 1776 Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations” discussed the concept of the ‘work to be done.’ This has fascinated me for what we need to do for achieving any new innovation, it is the ‘work to be done’ that generates and pushes boundaries beyond the existing.  This ‘classic’ book has become regarded as the one that described the birth of modern capitalism as well as economics.

Adam Smith also introduced the concept of ‘the Invisible Hand as a core part of his thesis, that man’s natural tendency toward self-interest – in modern terms, looking out for No.1 – results in prosperity, not just for the individual but for society.  ‘The invisible hand’ is essential for free markets and capitalism, through how it generates wealth in competition for scarce resources. By maximizing their own interest as the direct intention, this ‘invisible hand’ also stimulates those around you and in the society you belong. As you seek to leverage your own assets, you are promoting society as a whole. Today this can be more by design, or through an unintended consequence of how knowledge flows.

Arguably the ‘invisible hand’ can today be seen as realizing all our potential, individual and collective, exploiting all available existing assets for benefit and gain. We call these our tangible and intangible assets.  Often overlooked, or under-appreciated are those more intangible assets, that can significantly differentiate, are surely today’s ‘invisible hand?’

The make-up of intangible assets

There are many thoughts around what makes up our intangible assets but these can be summarized as made up of 1) human assets– the knowledge, skills, experiences, our abilities to organize these within our thinking, 2) structured capital as the pool of knowledge made up in our institutions, our rules, norms, knowledge diffusion across broad communities, 3) the social capital that forms today more around our networking that relies on infrastructure, access to knowledge, exchanges and relationships.

It is the ability to combine our tangibles with our intangible capitals that allows us to think and explore all that is around, to discover and exploit the potentials within this ‘work to be done’.

The volatile world we are dealing with today.

Today we seem to live in more volatile times where it becomes more important for us to focus on the work to be done is, not the work done. We have to keep focusing on the future. The ‘work done’ is the accumulated knowledge; the built up ‘stock’ that has contributed and been embodied in the organizations results to date, seen in the past where innovation has contributed in part to this. We have built up ‘know how’ and competencies in the ‘work done’ but this needs improving upon and challenging.

The ‘work to be done’ is where we push forward and explore greater possibilities. Part of this is focused on how we are going to adapt to change, to add more knowledge. For instance, we have operated in the past in far more of a mass production era, where systems could be designed for stable, more homogenized markets, where we could extract the maximum effectiveness and efficiencies. The ‘work done’ was equivalent to the ‘work to be done’ due to this predictability. This is not the case anymore, markets have fragmented, and we set about to design for the individual’s needs or in modular approaches for example.

We are in a ‘race’ to win

Today much has changed; we are faced with rapidly evolving technology diffusion. There is a race among nations and organizations to ‘win’ in global markets. This is causing increasing disruptive forces to come into play, where constant change is becoming more the norm and the emphasis has changed from ‘just’ efficiency and effectiveness but to be constantly adaptive, fluid and have increasing agility.

We focus far more on building in ‘tailored’ service, based on knowing the customers’ needs and understanding, on designing around new business models and in this, the ‘work to be done’ is becoming far more important than the ‘work done.’ It is the realization that it is the contribution of the intangibles assets, our growing intellectual capital, are becoming the real differentiation point to exploit the future potential.

The intangible assets provide the intellectual capital base, these allow us to react to changing demand for the required future value creation so we can effectively compete and sustain ourselves. This constant search for the ‘work to be done’ is fueling what has to be done.

Work to be done is the make-up of learning new skills, develop a greater dexterity and judgement based on what we need to ‘actively’ go out and seek. ‘Work to be done’ is searching for our future growth and well-being and this is derived through our future innovation activities. So much of this is made up of the intangible parts that can combine with what we know, what we have previously achieved, in work done, to provide the new wealth of organizations, as we participate more actively in the knowledge sharing economy of today and the near future.

We can’t remain islands of limited knowledge, we must seek out others to combine and achieve the work to be done. We are arguably in the network era, yet so many are failing to optimize their intangible assets and exploiting different organization dynamics that would greatly benefit their growth, especially when you operate with scarce resource.

Today’s need is for increasing interactions, linkages and seeking new knowledge to stay competitive in global markets.

As we rely increasingly on our growing ‘interactions and linkages’ we need a system to manage this. Absorptive capacity was introduced as an idea and first explored by Wesley Cohen and Daniel Levinthal in a 1990 article (“Absorptive capacity: a new perspective on learning and innovation”) and can provide us the knowledge learning path for building a real “knowledge exchange” process. Innovation ‘feeds off’ knowledge, they are inseparable, like twins, needing each other.

We can learn to exploit innovation, both in learning internally through the process of purposefully searching, doing and using what we gain and externally, by exploring new discoveries, collaborating, exchanging and generally interacting and so gaining fresh expertise, insight and knowledge.

As organizations seek increasingly outside their own walls, the appreciation of how they are managing knowledge, learning and interpreting this, is becoming a critical aspect of a more ‘open’ collaborative innovation to be successful. There is a growing need to absorb, integrate and apply this in new and novel ways for accelerating the innovation performance.  As we seek out more to compete in global markets, the more the knowledge increases in complexity we add more to the ‘work to be done’.

Markets are in constant flux, rapidly changing and we need to manage all the new insights. The more we are relying on knowledge flowing into the organization the more we have to strength our inter-dependence and collaboration efforts to extract the knowledge we are acquiring for it potential value. There is a consistent self-interest in doing this for our prosperity as well as others – the invisible hand.

Are organizations recognizing the value of structuring their knowledge flows?

This is the make-up of much of the work to be done in managing the knowledge flows. We need to recognize the importance of this shift from (physical) ‘work done’ to (intellectual) ‘work to be done’ and reconfigure the changing capabilities and capacities required, so as to grow our future ‘wealth’ of organizations, of nations and within ourselves to learn and respond. We needs to understand that today’s ‘ invisible hand’ is how our intangible assets are increasingly crucial and need to be actively managed, for this essential work to be done.

Forget ‘work done’, that’s in our past, it is already in the (knowledge) bank, we need to focus on the work that needs to be done so we can compete and thrive, there is so much more to understand and learn from as the challenges become more demanding to deliver on our innovation efforts.

There’s so much work to be done.

Our future progress is tied up in offering meaningful work, providing that sense of purpose. Building greater capabilities to quote Saul Kaplan “are the amino acids of innovation.  They are the building blocks that enable value delivery”. We are looking at increasing “the random capability collisions” where new innovation will happen at different intersections that combine knowledge from global markets, other competitors, different cultures and a variety of disciplines.

We need to build new capabilities that are far more market orientated, from co-creation and knowledge acquisition, from sense making, tapping into collective memories across a vast network of understanding. We need to unlearn, we need to reflect. All of these are in the ‘work to be done’ to stay ahead, be relevant and compete in today’s world. A world that is far, far different from the world seen by Adam Smith and what he saw needed doing.

The value in his observations are still valid today, the ‘invisible hand’ is as important today through our successful utilization of our intangible assets as we exploit new knowledge and apply this to innovating our future. One that combines our need with societies, not just based on growth but also on well-being as well. It is knowing the ‘work to be done’ that is so necessary for innovation and much of this remains hidden, waiting to be discovered.