Why Are We Making Innovation So Complex?

It always amazes me how we limit growth by not investing fully in innovation. While most large companies want to become more agile and innovative, many of them fail to turn this wish into a reality.

There is this consistent need or pressure to grow, yet that specific needle stays stubbornly stuck in low growth numbers, even with all this innovation talk and desire. Why is that? We know you simply grow a business by choosing a mix of investing in innovation, merger, and acquisitions or releasing your resources into more profitable activities. Innovation as a dedicated activity still sits uncomfortably within many organizations.

To try and catalyze growth, companies undergo perennial reorganizations, often to revitalize themselves. According to a Deloitte report, 50 percent of companies are undergoing an organizational transformation, yet only 11 percent think they will succeed. What’s worse, 70 percent of transformation programs do fail. In these failures, we only seem to continue to layer on complexity as a further stop-gap measure.

It is no wonder we’re growing increasingly pessimistic about making a positive change to a different transforming model within organizations. Without innovation taking a more leading transforming role, most of our established companies will continue to struggle to break out of their existing approach to business. Far too many are mired in a past business mindset. Continue reading

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Innovation is like a tropical rainforest

Innovation is like a tropical rainforest

Innovation is like a tropical rainforest

Recently I have been asked about my innovation activity ‘going forward’ and I described it like a forest needing some fresh attention. There is my need to cut down certain trees, clear away a lot of the floor covering to allow the sunlight in and permit those ‘selected innovation tree’s’ to be allowed to grow stronger.

We all have those times where we need to choose, to pursue clearer pathways we believe are better for us. To be more selective in what we do, to be more focused and hopefully achieve a better, lasting result that hopefully offers a more satisfying set of outcomes, to both clients and to ourselves.

Within this comparison I am presently making of innovation being like a forest, I really began to see so much more of a connection in what is happening around in innovation that it can be compared to understanding a tropical rainforest. There are many comparisons, let me outline some of these here.

The ecosystem within the rainforest is also needed for innovation to work effectively  

Firstly I would argue that innovation, to be managed well, needs to operate like an ecosystem, the same as a tropical rainforest. Ecosystems to flourish need to experience critical feeds, in the rainforest this is high average temperatures and significant rainfall. Well innovation to thrive needs equal attention; it needs a real focus, above average and significant attention to be well maintained.

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Are you a business model innovator?

I think nearly every significant business consulting firm has written about their thoughts on business model innovation. I was reviewing the number of articles I have collected about this and it is becoming mind-boggling how so much advice can be offered and can still make sure it leaves you in deeper conflict and confusion than before.

I’m talking here more about the larger, more established organizations confusions on approaching business model innovation, not the start-ups or the younger businesses. We struggle to get an established well defined approach to approaching business models in these more established organizations. I think there are multiple reasons and I’ve touched on some in past posts.

Is help on the way or are we about to layer on more confusion?

I know there are plans on there way where the combined minds and efforts of Henry Chesbrough, Steve Blank and Alexander Osterwalder are entering the fray even more, in a new educational offering at UC Berkley in late October. I think there is ‘stand-alone’ modules as well in their respective works, especially over at Strategyzer, Alex’s mix of tools, software, academy and on- line resource around the BMI.

Their focus at this Berkley short course will be on developing new sources of growth, by helping companies figure out ways to drive the development of new business models within their company.

They are acknowledging that this isn’t the same thing as a crafting a business model for a brand new start-up, working with a clean sheet of paper.  http://executive.berkeley.edu/programs/corporate-business-model-innovation. Instead, they will examine how to get the most out of the parent company, while avoiding the traps that “help” from the parent company can entail.

The plan is to be introduced to new concepts in business model innovation, open innovation strategies, and applying start-up models in a corporate context. The program will guide participants to reshape their thinking, assumptions and business strategies, to create and restructure teams to inspire innovation.

I have to be honest here; I’m a little nervous that this might just be adding more confusion but let’s wait and see if this does the job. I hope it does not rehash what is already available. A two-day course can be incredibly constraining or equally done well, I mean really well, then it is just the opposite, liberating and defining.

Business Models should be about explicit choices.

Before we get into thinking about new business models, there is a lot of essential links or decoupling to be thought through within large organizations. Do you ever have blank canvases in large organizations? Maybe but the majority of decisions based on new business models might come with some form of organizational baggage.

My blank canvas moments in large organizations always held some constraints. These come in many different guises: there are both clear strategies (or should be) and much conflicting interpretations at each level within organizations, there are significant heritage and legacy issues to evaluate, there is a current set of operating models that might conflict or compliment any new business model design and then we can never ignore the detailed organizational design itself.

Here I’m talking about the make-up of IT, structure options available or achievable, the processes, governance, metrics, cultural, talent available and the organization-wide clarity on its priorities. Many of these actually ‘hold the business to ransom’ and if the CEO or board are not totally comfortable and have not thoroughly discussed it, new business models have a very hard time to work within the constraints known as well as hidden.

Then you have the outside forces at work, the ones that are most probably forcing the re-think or need for a new business model. These are the forces at work, have the context of markets changes or likely too, what are our present or emerging competitors doing differently than we are, what new capabilities and competencies are coming to bear and the whole context thing (macro, trends and technologies).

So the CEO or board are central to BMI’s to get off the ground and this must be the primary focal spot for discussing and educating around the Business Model. The vital message here is designing the pre-work to BM’s is the ‘sweet spot’ to get well designed and recognized, then more into the actual BM constructs and what is needed.

So what motivates change by considering new business models?

IBM conducted a survey some time back of the CEO’s ranking for exploring new business models. These were four ‘stand out’ ones of 1) Cost Reduction, 2) Strategic Flexibility, 3) Focus and Specialization, and 4) Rapidly Exploiting New Market or Product Opportunities. There were two more but these were the big four. These four certainly have huge scope behind when you think about them and can start any business model development discussions.

One way to explore these four ‘stand outs’ regarded by the CEO as the most important

If one takes a concept from a A D Little report on their view on business models I like their idea of their archetypes approach.  A launching point within any business model discussions within large organizations is to apply these ‘archetypes’ to the above four CEO needs.

The five outlined in A D Little’s report were asking open questions to see potential or not:

  • Share the cake differently (novel ways, challenging traditional approaches, partnering)
  • Supplant someone (they suggested the middleman in the report)
  • Shift the cost curve structurally (deploying different asset bases)
  • Redefine the customer experience (exploiting uniqueness and new values)
  • Convert product into service or combine them.

Now I think  possibly working through the four needs of CEO’s and the five archetypes you really can get into exploring new business models in meaningful productive ways. A 4 x 5 matrix perhaps. The emphasis points within these discussions changes and the depth of conversation determines next steps.

Getting the framing right is the best argument for change

CEO’s and boards I believe always listen to well-argued cases where you can pin point failure or lost opportunity or new sources of potential revenue and growth. Getting this framing right in the first place, knowing what and why you believe you need a new business model becomes more valuable, a real catalyst to change and this is the powerful enabler to unite behind.

Surely this going back to getting the ‘need for’ is far more valuable initially to lay in the foundation than working through the principles and typical pros and cons of one design or approach over another. I think we can get caught up with this rush to justify and validate one specific business model or another? Is this the ‘cart before the horse?’ Or just enterprise kicking in?

Sell the compelling reason for making change by identifying a real need, work through if this can or cannot be completed through an existing design, and then throw yourself into all the ‘delights’ of  what makes up the components of business model design.

Are we starting in the right place or diving in by layering on more BM design?

Just a bit of a Monday morning reaction perhaps, but reading the different activity going on within cracking the business model code for adoption within large organizations that seems to be buzzing within the Business Model Community at present. I would suggest there needs to be some great care, otherwise we kills the goose, not fatten it up by building the right thinking and value proposition for what it could really offer large organizations!

Are we stepping back far enough and giving this the ‘helicopter’ treatment before we launch into further solutions, courses and seminars, maybe just fitting the existing frameworks into something  without the real stepping back this might need?

Making those increasing connections

I am always looking for innovations connections. This last week I’ve been working around some different themes that grew in interest the more I investigated them, both in their importance and messages.

I’m undertaking a rather exciting approach to describing innovation, within a collaboration venture, that gets more exhilarating and inspiring as we explore, clarify and document. Regretfully I can’t share this here at present but I certainly will when it gets to that point of ‘release’.

Some of the different areas or themes I’ve been investigating have flowed from one set of enquiries that have taken me into another and then yet another. These simply get my innovation juices flowing and really are allowing me to make so many new connections. Here is just a few of these in this last week that have emerged from some of my researching that provide a host of thoughts:

Leaders & Laggards

In this group of investigations I started in trying to gain a better perspective of the discussion of leaders and laggards and what differentiates them. Timely to these investigations has been some recent studies by Capgemini Consulting and IESE Business School with a recent leadership study “Managing Innovation: An Insider’s Perspective”

I’d suggest the slideshare presentation is well worth taking some time out to view and understand as it covers views from those leading and managing innovation in their organizations and how they think about the innovation function http://tinyurl.com/c9o7cuw

Then I have been reminded of the continued great work of Chris Zook and James Allen, both partners at the consulting firm, Bain & Company, in their article “The Great Repeatable Business Model” http://tinyurl.com/d483eqq

The message of differentiation and the level of focus on clear specific areas of innovation and its management makes a real difference for separating leaders and laggards.

Those that endure and adapt

In the article by Chris Zook and James Allen they speak of differentiation that tends to wear with age and often the real problem is internal. It is complexity and in this a complex organization forgets what it is good at, it proliferates, it losses key people, it moves away from its core business, it losses focus and it begins to have that ‘great disconnect’ between upper management and the front-line employees. It seems to me the organization just simply begins to break down and lags even more in performance and returns.

They go on and suggest a lack of consistency begins to kill the economies of scale and equally retards the organizations ability to learn that adds up to them struggling with increasing complexity and fading differentiation.

I was looking for some of the enduring points of what needs to be put into place. This was offered “When a company internalizes a set of principles, the message no longer gets garbled. A shared point of view, core beliefs, and a common vocabulary improve everyone’s ability to communicate and foster self-organization.” They go on and suggest “this increases the speed of business, you capture more growth opportunities ahead of competitors and accomplish more per unit of time.”

I also liked one comment they made that “up and down the organization, information slows and grows distorted.” I would suggest without a clear knowledge capturing and dispersing structure for information this is not the only thing that gets distorted, often it is the real values of the innovation activities themselves. Those products or concepts that emerge eventually as completely out of shape from what was intended initially, due to this complexity within the decision and approval process, become totally different before something eventually gets ‘out of the door’ in finished design. So much gets lost or ‘distorted’ along the way and the end result becomes far too compromised on the customer need it was intended to resolve.

Innovation effort may not be worth it

Equally I always enjoy the thinking of Vijay Govindarajan and in a recent article along with Manish Tangri entitled “Why that innovation effort may not be worth it” http://tinyurl.com/847ah4c they discuss two key factors of motivation and competence and how you can put your organization and its leaders to the test.

They ask two great questions “How hungry are you for innovation?” and “Is the initiative set up for success”. I did like the point made of “a leader provides direction under ambiguity” and how many of our leaders would be truly comfortable in doing this?

Looping back we need to ask  how far are you from your core?

We come back to increasing complexity, straying from our core, communicating mixed messages, showing a clear lack of decisiveness.  If your innovation message is not sharp and convincing up and down your organization, or even understood by your customers you eventually lose out, you become even more of a laggard and allow others to slip away into clear leaders.

Part of our need in organizations is to stop breaking down the parts, layering on that increased complexity. We should be designing the innovation framework and system to clarify and inspire more. We need to reinforce more on where the key differentiation points are. We need to be sharper in our understanding of true differentiation and stick to this.

The key here is the real need to simplify and focus down within organizations.  Also we need to seek consistency wherever we can, in communications, in our strategic intent and in our dialogues to clarify. We tend to do the opposite, we make it too complex and this is killing innovation, killing growth, killing organizations. Above all we need to work up and down the organization with some clear, compelling messages that give clarity, allows for the necessary linkages and make sure the parts reinforce one another.

The last part of my walkabout in my research was “Creative Destruction”.

I recently wrote a blog “The Innovating Era: Creative Destruction or Destructive Creation?” http://tinyurl.com/dyy964s and in particular the destructive creation part and how this was destroying more than what was coming in its place. I finished with this comment: “All I hope is it will let us make sure we put the emphasis back far more on the “creative” innovation part and not the ‘destructive’ nature we have moved towards recently”.

Chris Zook has just written on this “When Creative Destruction Destroys More than it Creates” in the last week in an HBR blog http://tinyurl.com/7pe8qvf and makes an important point (in my mind) that “the extinction of once-great innovators is less often caused by technological or market evolution, and more often by self-inflicted wounds and slow cycles of decision and adaptation.”

He brings us back to the point “it is internal complexity that turns companies into lumbering dinosaurs.” The suggestion is, if we can’t keep ourselves clear on simplicity and focus and really tackle complexity as this is the “silent killer of profitable growth,” and “the greatest inhibitor of adaptability”.

Leading the way does falls to leaders.

My last extraction was from another lead and laggard viewpoint:  “A leader doesn’t tell people what to do. A leader helps people understand what needs to be done and brings the people and resources together to make it happen”

We need to focus on our greatest strengths but to do this we do need to understand them. It seems to me, so many leaders surprisingly don’t have a clue on how and where innovation can contribute in lasting differentiation, where the growth should be coming from or how to galvanise the organization to be simply on the same page to make sure it can happen.

We need some consistency in how we set about innovation.  Sometimes what simply scares me is that this basic task is often missed off the leaders agenda to actually make sure it is happening, often because they has not been fully involved or understood their role in this.

Orchestrating the new dynamics of innovation fitness

In my work investigating different aspects of innovation activity one thought tends to dominate my thinking: “How do we achieve a better understanding of the dynamics of innovation within our capabilities to be more successful?”

I’ve already written in previous blogs about the need of “constantly checking for the pulse of innovation” ( http://bit.ly/c3G0Ta) and suggesting the way to “open up your thinking to dynamic capabilities for innovation success” (   http://bit.ly/bxTeYO).

I’d like to take this one step further in this blog and outline my thinking on innovation fitness landscapes and why they are essential  to understand .

Each organization needs to know its Innovation Fitness Landscape- why

There is a pressing need for a firm is to consistently build and reconfigure internal and external competencies and capabilities to address rapidly changing environments. It is the mastering of this ability to achieve new, more innovative forms in rapid changing market conditions that will enable certain organizations to emerge as the winners of the innovation race.

This view requires a more ‘dynamic’ set of capabilities. Often the question becomes one of “which are the critical ones to focus upon to improve the chance of greater success?

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