Leaders are feeling the effects of Innovation Vertigo says GE

GE have just released their latest Global Innovation Barometer survey and they are strongly detecting “Innovation Vertigo” from the survey conducted through more than 3,000 senior business executives in 25 countries.

This ‘dizziness’ for many is being caused by a growing unease with the continuing changing dynamics of today’s business landscape and uncertainty over the path forward. This is forcing leaders to think differently about how they will achieve growth. The good news though is it does seems that many are beginning to embrace this complexity by exploring new and sometimes unexpected opportunities to innovate.

According to Beth Comstock, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of GE, “leaders are betting big on more unconventional approaches to innovation to unlock growth”. It seems GE are trying to stay ahead of the pack in unlocking innovation by exploring different markets, partnership structures and business models. Big data is accelerating up the inside as we have seen both GE and P&G, placing increasing emphasis on this, as a potential source of innovation insight they feel is presently missing.

The most important point comes back to these tensions or vertigo being felt, that is showing through in this report, between the desire for globalization and protectionist temptations that organizations sometimes tend to favor. It seems as our leaders are being pushed outside their comfort zones they are having this uneasiness with the pace of change and confusion over the best path forward.

I’d hazard a guess  on what they feel as ‘vertigo’ does go beyond the usual symptoms of light-headedness and dizziness and is possibly far more: that of a chronic lack of solutions beginning to creep into their  psyche as their worlds are spinning out of their control, to stay managing in the ways they have been. Perhaps welcome to our world Mr Leader.

As many of them will be gathering in Davos, Switzerland between 23rd to 27th January 2013 (http://tinyurl.com/afde4w5) I think the higher than usual altitude, will not help their brains or nervous systems as the whole economic system is still out of balance, so having “Innovation Vertigo” is part of a bigger malaise I would expect.

Still, here are the top line summary points of the report

The protectionist debate

There seems a growing undercurrent of wanting protectionism but making sure it works in their favour. This could be trying to get Governments to prioritize promotion of domestic innovation rather than imported but many others continue to feel markets need to be opened even more to promote the imported innovation and attract the (domestic) investment that goes with this, or should.

A growing number of leaders see growing challenges for innovation within local economies, believing that the increased competition and accelerated pace of technological advancement has a negative impact. So this is a growing set of policy paradoxes, leaders want clearer decisions through local governments to determine this and bring it under control.

The wish to go beyond just product innovation

There is also a growing recognition that incremental innovation is simply just not enough as organizations are suffering from this lack of growth momentum, causing much of the “vertigo”. Business model innovation is becoming more and more the solution with a growing view that a new business model may offer businesses a less risky and resource-intense path to reach customers over the current ‘traditional’ methods.

I read an awful lot into this but top of mind does come the word ‘naivety’ and a chose this word due to its definition: “being naive is often lacking developed powers of reasoning and criticism.”  They might look far more at the “within” and come down from their often lofty heights and recognize they are the ones that inhibit and constrain the existing structures to perform in so many ways, far too many to start to outline here.

I welcome new business models of course, I teach the methodologies associated with them, so they are needed but are these organizations equipped to design, construct and execute new business models?  Also what happens to all the resource-intense ones, do they continue, only to wither and die as new ones are pushed by their own leaders?  No, this might be fanciful but it needs a far more robust debate and thinking through.  Of course focusing on the right forces for growth mentioned to master innovation is the real need for innovating successfully, business needs to master customer and market insights, talent and technology development.

Grasping new business models alone does not change that inherent weakness seen today in existing organizations. Theory and desire might be one thing, reality and sunken investment might be another –  maybe more vertigo then?

Collaborations continue to feature

According to the report, it is the belief that collaboration between businesses is emerging as a means to surpass competitors, enabling faster access to new technologies and markets particularly in emerging markets. Yet despite global acknowledgement of partnership’s power, concerns over revenue sharing, IP protection, trust and talent poaching pose barriers to action. Germany, China, Brazil and Sweden seem to have the most experience at partnerships.

It does seem collaborative innovation has plenty of global appeal as a key to business success, and momentum are accelerating in developing markets and seemingly slowing down in developed ones. The reasons for collaborations are given as access to new technologies, access to new markets; improve existing product and service and speed up time to market. The downsides are a lack of trust and policy protection underpins much of the anxiety over business collaboration and the continuing “old chestnut” of IP protection, which all fit with developing country lag issues on legislation protection.

Government as stewards of the innovation environment

This one also gets me intrigued – stewards – umm. We are in such a “fog” from lack of dynamic leadership at government level, partly due to the complexity and tangled knots we have got ourselves into but also the underwhelming mandate delivered at the ballot box leaves the politics of politics in stalemate. I always get the sneaky feeling business leaders keep pushing government to lead and make policy and then scream and shout, another vertigo moment, if they don’t like the decisions that go with this.

Of course policy environments affecting innovation are caught up in this and the usual call to safeguard business interests adds to the tensions. Business worries over the lack of talent, of loss of knowledge, in IP issues and fear bureaucracy (besides their own) and over regulation (beside their own again) but often we can’t see our business leaders heading the charge to hang onto talent already in place, reduce the knowledge we all have by insisting on many brain-numbing daily activities, called specialisation and filling in information called for by the “system” etc.

Our business leaders want to see “a stronger entrepreneurial culture in the education system through stronger linkages between students and business savvy individuals” but sitting on their hands and wallets until this comes through any changed education system does not solve our immediate and next ten years of problems –  does it? I suspect more vertigo moments for them.

Lastly, guess what, talent is not in the right place

Leaders want to have access to the creativity and technical prowess within their workforce but the lack of preparedness and access to this ‘talent’ is holding them back in “unlocking innovation”. I find it hard here to not become a little cynical on this. Matching jobs and people is hard, no doubt and lining up the right skills to meet the economic needs required today is correct but if all the millions of messages of caution in the past about investing in people, in nurturing what you have, holding onto what you have in experienced people, instead of simply letting them go, many on early retirement packages or just leaving out of continued frustration, I do have a hard time on their concerns. They made the bed……..

Perhaps another symptom of “Innovation Vertigo” is “Innovation knee-jerking”, turning it off and on for the short-term needs and abandoning the notion of continuous, sustained investment in the skills, along with developing the experience base through challenging environments and leading edge investments. Well at least if new business models come into serious ‘play’ then the skills, experience base and challenging environments will all equally be in ‘play’ but not in the controlled ways they would want to see but at the edges of much discomfort for some white knuckle rides.

Thanks GE for providing this, it is certainly helpful to see inside leaders minds.

I enjoy the GE Global Innovation Barometers they often do raise the blood pressure and that of course is a certain tell, tell sign that I might be suffering “Innovation Vertigo” as well. Can I go to Davos as well, please? I do live in the country but more at  solid ground(ed) level, I’d like to be a little light-headed above the clouds.

The report is at http://www.ge.com/sites/default/files/Innovation_Overview.pdf

or with different views here: http://www.ideaslaboratory.com/projects/innovation-barometer-2013/

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Putting the “R” into Innovation

Shellfish poisoning, have you ever suffered from it? There is rule that when there is not a “R” in the month you should be more careful on eating clams, oysters, mussels or scallops. Today with more commercial harvesting that risk or rule has been greatly reduced. I gather in the months of May, June, July and August- the northern hemospheres (usually) warmer months- there is higher potential where algal blooms and also in European climate, some shellfish are less palatable as oysters, for example, are spawning at this time. This raises the risk that can spread toxins and lead to a possible poisoning.

Now you might be wondering what this has got to do with innovation? Well, I’m off to Singapore for ten days in early May and I certainly will be ‘hitting’ the shell-fish buffet but really innovation is top of my agenda for this visit and one thing that I will remind people about is to focus on the “R” in innovation.

What do I mean by focusing on the “R” in innovation?

My three “R’s” are Revitalise, Renovate and Regenerate, all often ignored within innovation. How often do we push on regardless, ignoring a number of warning signs and don’t take the time to stop and take stock to see what we can shed and simply get rid of.

I wrote a piece early last year (http://bit.ly/eOuO82) about “Writing off legacy within your innovation systems” as we tend to layer on to existing systems and processes instead of taking the chance to step back and see things from the current or future perspective, we stay locked in our past learning and approaches. Well I certainly feel we all need to re-think that for shedding legacy. We also need to find those three “R’s” hidden within innovation.

Revitalise

Firstly you need to challenge your vision and where innovation is required to fit. Often by simply resetting the vision and how innovation fits within your (evolving) strategy does make a difference to everyone’s understanding of the purpose and direct from their innovation efforts. We do need to constantly change, to challenge and to revitalise on a regular basis. We need to redefine what we are wanting out of innovation and then take that fresh look at systems, processes, cultures and capabilities. We need to produce a revitalisation ‘action plan’ that restores and refreshes the ‘impact’ points that innovation can offer. Restoring the value of innovation needs to be constantly rethought at corporate and operational level.

Renovate

Organizations are constantly searching for continuous improvement; it often comes in many different guises. Innovation should equally have a clear renovation programme, no different from all the other organization activities that need improving. Putting in place a consistent industry or even cross-industry benchmarking programme, or focusing on more material enhancement, knowledge learning and seeking out changes makes significant difference in your performance, should all be part of this. We often get ‘stuck’ in our own ways of doing things and often it is only when a crisis ‘hits’ we suddenly seek difference positions but that can often be too little, too late. I think there is a need to be constant on improving innovation, we need to renovate innovation continually or we risk the case of often missing out or letting our competitors slip away and move ahead in the lead.

The other part of renovation is to review the ‘content and context’ of innovation. We need to update, modify, change, drop and merge these and that is an essential part of the renovation programme, to evaluate the content and the context constantly.

Regenerate

There are always design considerations within innovation. We need to constantly seek simplicity, motivation, involvement and improving the existing culture. We need to regenerate ourselves. Our people need to constantly upgrade their competencies and skills, they need to engage within teams, seek out diversity of opinion to stretch their own thinking and they need to form or generate new connections and deepen external relationships to learn more of what is going on in the world.

Those that stop learning are the losers and those around them feel the frustration of this. To regenerate constantly makes for a learning organization. We need to undergo spiritual, moral and physical renewal for improving our culture and climate to innovation so much more than we do, we often leave this to chance and not thoughtful design.

Innovation and Impunity

Each of the above “R’s” is vital to build into your innovation plans. So you need to make sure there is always an “R” in your innovation, not only will it be ensuring innovation remains fresher but it will also help rid you of those harmful toxins that can poison your best efforts if you did chose to ignore the “R” in innovation.

I loved one comment about eating shellfish “whether it is January or June, you can eat these plump beauties with impunity”. So let’s hope the combination of (hopefully) fresh seafood in Singapore and my worries that so many organizations  may  have forgotten to heed the “R” in innovation, does get heard by everybody who cares to listen, and I don’t suffer any punishment or unpleasant set of consequences from this.

Believe me your innovation efforts do benefit by recognizing that these three “R’s” do need to be constantly at the forefront of your innovation eating thinking. By the way, innovation with impunity sounds very intriguing.