The Innovation Word within the World Economic Forum

I was reading through the World Economic Forum’s agenda for this year’s meeting in Davos, taking place between 23rd to 27thJanuary, 2013 and saw Innovation is back on the agenda, big time. The agenda is a collective ‘innovation tour de force’ to solve all of our current ills for our leaders to work through, to begin to find all the solutions necessary.

The three programme pillars of the 2013 session are in themselves a statement of where we are economically and socially and what we need to work though: “Leading through adversity”, “Restoring economic dynamism” and “Strengthening societal resilience”. The themes are all placing the emphasis on the building, improving, unleashing, rebuilding reinforcing, sustaining and establishing which tells us exactly where our present business and economic woes need to go to be on the economic up.

The rise of innovation

So let’s take a peek at the rise of “innovation” within the preliminary agenda available, it is actually used 47 times within the document but in very specific ways that take it beyond the buzzword into something that has substance.

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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.

Innovation Empowerment Is So Elusive

Looking across a sea of faces you feel that certain resigned feeling, that lack of empowerment, you press on, encouraged by the movement, not within the eyes but the clock. Is that the only thing ticking? You shudder.

How many times have you felt that ‘wave’ of oppression when one colleague looks nervously at his boss just sitting across from him in the same workshop or conference, hoping to gain some new, fresh glimmer of hope? None comes, just a stony, empty blank face staring straight back.

It is really sad but with all that is written about innovation, discussed, offered as leading, best or emergent practice, the majority still simply don’t get it and if they do, they often are forced to keep quiet about it. It can be depressing to witness.

Often you get that feeling the different (and latest) innovation message simply rolls over, a little like the mist rolling in off the sea on a foggy wet day, slowly clawing itself up over a wet rock to suddenly stop and hang there, waiting for something to change.

Will ‘getting it’ change for the many or does this resigned feeling wait upon the boss suddenly waking up and getting innovation, so it all suddenly changes and the innovating sunshine comes out. Empowerment needs enactment

Why is it so?

Here’s a vital question to answer:  who is the most important person when it comes to innovation?  Many people will argue it is the person with the best idea.  Others will argue that it is the person who can make the idea a reality.  We believe the CEO or another senior executive is the most important person, since they have the ability to:

  • link innovation to strategy,
  • direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
  • accelerate good ideas to market as new products and services.

In mid-sized and large companies, CEOs and senior executives are vital to innovation success.  What’s more, these leaders want innovation to happen.

“Hope springs eternal” perhaps?

    “Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Jeffrey Phillips and I have been working on a collaborative ‘white paper’ on this real leadership gap when it comes to innovation. We are still moving this back and forth between us but it does seem from these exchanges from our own independent experiences we have one awful yawning gap to plug before we get that ground swell of innovation empowerment. More will emerge in the weeks and months ahead to get the message of hope out.

If we cannot get this vital message out to the one person that matters for making innovation happen then we will continue to look out and see this sea of faces, who are really wanting to engage. Deep down they do know the problem but can’t seem to influence the way innovation is managed. Just simply knowing that yet they are not in the position to change it. It can’t be ‘released’ until they have been  given permission which so often seemingly falls only at the highest levels within the organization, so they wait. They wait so they can safely extract from all the environment and tools that can be easily available to make it happen, if they have this feeling of confidence and given belief and lasting support.

How can we bring “innovation into every persons life?  Jeffrey and I are trying to construct some different ways to get the message out there and make a more meaningful connection to the leaders than can ‘allow’ empowerment.

Wrapped in a belief helps me

All I know is that ‘relief’ when you come back in from that walk on the cliffs, you shudder from that damp cold and are just grateful you can feel the sunshine just beginning to clear away that mist. We need to organize the winds of innovation change at this leadership level.

We simply need to find ways to unlock and unleash that incredible latent energy waiting to come out of many organizations, locked in their yoke of innovation oppression.

Empowerment should not be so elusive, it needs to be demanded, so innovation can really change our lives and allow “great things to happen” that we can all find hidden within ourselves.

In the US, they are entering the political season again but I feel we should offer “the yes we can” one up for innovation this time as a movement of change, as it offers the pathway towards real engagement and growth, surely that is empowering for us all, leaders especially.

Moving towards a more distributed innovation model

How are we going to really unlock the true potential of frontline managers, middle managers and the whole workforce for ‘seeing’ and engaging for their contribution to innovation?

Far too many organizations still don’t provide the opportunity for everyone to contribute to innovation. I think as open innovation moves from the labs and research centres then OI will be one of the ways for a shift in thinking to take place, not just with the outside world but within the inside organization for a number of reasons.

Critical needs of open innovation are the trust, the behaviors and the relationships that need to be at the forefront of thinking when you engage in more opening up to fresh avenues of innovation thinking. I think this changing mindset of how to manage within will permeate throughout the organization more and more as these (often dormant but available) skills get put into practice more.

We struggle to get rid of the ‘command and control’ approach to encourage more distributed sharing and exchanges to reflect the need today of being more agile and fluid in how we meet rapidly changing market conditions and counter threats or seize breaking opportunities.

How can we influence leadership in everyday contexts?

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