Recognizing your type of innovation leader

Two personalities 1

Often innovation succeeds or fails by the personal involvement and engagement of a ‘selected’ few- they make it happen as they are the heavyweights that have the final say.

We all need to recognize the type of innovation leadership personality within our organization, the ones we are working for, as this might help you manage the innovation work a whole lot better and attract in the resources you need.

So can you recognize the traits of your innovation leader?

Are they a front-end or back-end innovation leader? Here’s how you can begin to spot the difference.

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Mind the Gaps in Innovation.

Mind the gap 1Most of us that have travelled on the undergrounds around the world and are well used to the announcement as a train pulls into the station of “mind the gap” between stepping off the train and the platform. The reminder is to make us aware there is a gap and we need to be ready for this. We need to be consciously aware.

Innovation nearly always suffers some form of “mind the gap” and yet we tend to ignore the obvious and stumble into these gaps or fail to recognize them completely. These ‘gaps’ comes in so many different ways and guises.

We are in a need to constantly “mind the innovation gaps”, these are everywhere.

Firstly innovation is meant to bridge the growth gap found in organizations, it needs to have clear plans to manage the core, seek out new adjacencies and investigate the white space opportunities for making up the growth plans, so as to meet the strategic goals and aspirations of the organization. Often the resources are not allocated to all three of these, it is often left to the same team to bridge the gaps and more often than not, they fail. We also fail to think across different innovation horizons and not allocated dedicated resources and the time to each of these.

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The weak influence of strategy over our innovation activities

All too often strategy is not influencing the behaviours and outcomes around innovation, it is simply allowing them to be left to chance. Innovation is often being ‘pushed down’ the organization for others to interpret and offer their answers. This lack of alignment and top leadership engagement is one of the main causes why many organizations seem to just simply ‘limp’ along in their innovation activity.

Then those in leadership positions start expressing their disappointment over final innovation results, yet the answers simply lies more often than not as in their hands to resolve. Top leadership in organizations needs to shape innovation and be more involved in its strategic design. We need to resolve this innovation leadership gap of misunderstanding. We need to explain what their essential place is and provide the strategic frame to allow it to be understood. Then the contribution for innovation might be ‘allowed’ to deliver far more on its potential as it achieves that greater strategic alignment.

The absolute need is for leadership to lay in the guiding principles for innovation, to make it a more explicit innovation strategy and framework. This then does not stop at this alone, it then requires a consistent re-enforcing through policy shaping, strategic guidance and the operational documents to support this. Innovation requires on-going leadership engagement.

As you might already be aware, I have suggested the Senior Executive Innovation Work Mat as a framing document to provide this leadership dialogue for that essential organization engagement. This simply gives a much-needed focus, many of the strategic delivery points, structures and guidance for managing innovation.

Innovation Work Mat Overview

A strategic framework to moderate and accelerate meaningful innovation

The framework or work mat moderates innovation and goes much towards reducing the multiple interpretations and the variety of initiatives often described or justified as innovative but significantly missing the strategic mark. I would argue that most within the organization and those partnering with them, would appreciate a greater understanding of the core concepts, principles and direction that their innovation activity should take. To understand what is valued, essential to defend, promote and improve. To clarify what is highly strategic to describe and ‘form’ around helps innovation to perform its required task of delivering new growth that aligns into the strategic needs.

By having this work mat approach you can frame a formal set of mechanisms and principles for innovation to rise in quality. For instance in articulating that the selection of high potential concepts are highly valued and prized,  and will certainly get a certain ring-fencing and special dedicated attention, does radically alter the innovation work-to-be-done within any organization.

Equally, many within organizations where innovation is left more ‘open’ do run the risk that there is an over-emphasis on idea generation. By placing the emphasis point further along the innovation value chain that it is the exploring the benefits that flow from ideas, not the ideas alone, can make a significant difference in improving the quality of innovation and reducing the belief that quantity was the important aspect.

If the leadership could provide a more comprehensive innovation framework it would make such a difference. If this could cover the guiding principles, the mechanisms and ways the top leadership views innovation for its contribution to the organizations strategy, it would certainly offer a clear statement of innovations importance. This view can then ‘cascade’ throughout the organization, searching out its connecting points, proving the essential value, the debates required and facilitates the contributions, so innovation activities can relate far more to achieving the strategic growth goals.

Outlining the strategic principles of the innovation activity is vital.

Any strategic innovation framework needs to move well beyond offering just a set of indicators, it needs a far clearer articulation of what is valued, needed and will be well supported. For example by pushing and encouraging for the delivery of a few big bets shifts thinking radically away from incremental into more breakthrough in designs and concepts,. By offering a set of formal mechanisms for this selection of high potential concepts to be assessed, supported and effectively resourced would make a radical difference for many to make that mental shift in their innovation thinking. It prompts and provides the necessary stimulus.

Today many organizations presently find themselves locked in the innovation incremental trap. Real growth needs a more radical approach from innovation. Incremental innovation, often gives a very limited degree of security as others quickly copy or push this just a little bit further, so you are ending up chasing instead of making those leaps that give clear competitive space  where that ‘advantage’ can become a sustaining one.

Most of your innovation resources equally become locked within this incremental race, sucking up the innovation energies that should be ‘directed’ elsewhere. It is for the leadership to manage the risks of de-emphasizing that just simply  competing within the incremental race is not good enough. They provide the conditions that places a far higher emphasis on seeking out those innovation activities that will simply alter the race, radically.

Signalling a more innovation-orientated organization changes the dynamic forces within.

By having this more strategic and systematic approach does give a clear ‘signal’ that we need to be more of an innovation-orientated organization. A framework that is offering  the signposts and path finding points in vision, in proving the mechanisms for a whole innovation system transformation, in documentation, by engaging in constant discussions about innovation and its alignment to strategy, you move from ‘aspiration’ into gaining that ‘attraction power.’ You offer a fresh dynamic stock for innovation to feed from.

That would be for many, a strategy that is innovative itself. The frames intent, it’s very nature, is that it promotes excitement, growing identification, the chance to debate and offers that clarification so it can significantly provide the support to the people involved in innovating the ability to execute in a cohesive way their innovation activity. It provides the framing opportunity for that elusive alignment that is often missing in today’s organizations.

Achieving innovation alignment to strategic goals should be our aim in 2013

If we can achieve this innovation strategic alignment in what we do in 2013, we have significantly advanced innovation’s performance for leading us onto a greater growth track than where we find ourselves at the end of 2102. Perhaps that place where we are doing the disrupting and not simply reacting to be the ones always being disrupted is not a bad place to go, but it does need leadership and framing.

Seeking engagement through innovation to galvanize growth

We need to become really worried over our potential to re-galvanize growth across many of our economies. There is this growing feeling that in Europe, perhaps even the United States, we are in for a prolonged drawn out ‘slump’ with the possibilities of a Japanese-style lost decade.

Crash austerity programmes are compounding deeper economic problems and we need to find ways to create more demand, yet it does seem our current approaches are placing increasing constraints on solving this growth need. Of course, the public debt to GDP for many countries is alarming but if you can’t fix the problems with achieving growth, you just get further into debt. It seems as the predicted ‘inflows’ continue to fall below the forecasted ones you are forced into borrowing more to even support the existing environment. This adds further struggles to hold onto some of the essential services we require to function and we seem to continue downwards in a collapsing spiral.

We are suffering from those evil twins, a lack of fresh investments and bold innovation, which are failing, by not doing the essential job of promoting growth, of leading demand, of creating the new wealth we desperately need.   The scale of our needs requires a different type of engagement, up and down our society; we need a new set of norms otherwise we will continue to witness some extremely painful adjustments across large parts of society.

Engagement means different things to different people

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