Do you recognize your innovators leaders position?

Recognizing your innovation leadership style

Often innovation succeeds or fails by the personal involvement and engagement of a ‘selected’ few. Recognizing the types of innovation leadership might help you manage the innovation work a little better.

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.

Before we climb into this

I recall enjoying a book published a few years back, “Innovation Governance- how top management organizes and mobilizes for innovation”, written by Jean-Philippe Deschamps and Beebe Nelson. I can totally recommend it as it is so rich in thinking through much around innovation, placed within this governance framework. It lays out a clear improvement path for innovation to travel. I am drawing from this book on some thoughts about innovation leadership.

Continue reading

We need to shift from scalable efficiency to scalable learning.

We need to shift from scalable efficiency to scalable learning but how can we liberate creative energy, how can we achieve higher engagement?

The best way is to encourage everyone to have the ongoing experience, to get really involved and caught up in projects and initiatives that have the potential for impact. Learning from failures needs to be part of this.

Yet the very best thing is to encourage connected minds for value-creating opportunities and knowledge sharing for innovation to flow across an organization. For this, we need to think about some modern engagement platforms that have ’engagement and knowledge’ at their heart.

Let me offer some thoughts on this engagement need. It is (really) valuable to relate too.
Continue reading

Those that learn to frame the Strategic Innovation discussion are the big winners


Constructing an innovation conversation framework is never easy, we all come at it in different ways and when it comes to those strategic conversations, we feel a sense of panic and growing tension as our messages begin to fray at the edges and slip more into tactical, the more we talk.

If you just diving into innovations, this sort of strategic conversation can change the goalposts, alter the perspective, and can give the innovation a more focused framing to build propositions around. It enables you to stand out as you are able to articulate the “bigger picture”

The framing of an innovation conversation framework

Continue reading

Forget Best Practice, Think Always Of Learning Next Practice

Often you hear the request made: “Can you give us a best practice snapshot; we would like to get a sense of where we are”.

The trouble with best practice is you are looking at someone else’s practices and these are highly individual, made up of different groups of methodologies, processes, rules, theories, values, and concepts. These together have provided that specific company a level of success that others – mostly competitors – begin to notice.

There is no such thing as what they have it, you need to copy and have the same.

We all get caught up in best practices, you can’t simply pick up and plug and play, as one organization’s initiative is never the same set of conditions or positioning that others can simply copy.

We desire the “one-size fits all” as a comfort blanket, it makes our innovation lives easier. Many consultants love this request, as they do not need to apply the real skills of discernment, subject matter expertise, and the difficult challenge of peeling away a client’s practice to understand how they can rebuild them to become unique, into a leading practice that cannot be copied.

Continue reading

There are no easy innovation answers.

Inspiration and InnovationIn response to a recent post of mine, Tobias Stapf on the Social Innovation Europe LinkedIn networking group, pointed me to a really good report “Innovation Is Not the Holy Grail” and I really have appreciate it. I wanted to draw out some useful learning from this report and useful reminders here in this post that there is no easy answers in innovation, social or business related.

The report outlines the difficulties of enabling innovation in social sector organizations. In this review the authors undertook exploring what enables organization capacity for continuous innovation in established social sector organizations, that operate at an efficient scale, delivering products and services.

Three oversights that conflict in working in the social innovation area

First, innovation is often perceived as a development shortcut where pushing innovation is often at the expense of strengthening more routine activities, which this ‘push’ might actually destroy rather than create value.

Second, social sector innovation has little external impact to show when it is enacted in unpredictable environments. Proven innovation can often fail when transferred to a different context and there is equally an undervaluing of the positive internal learning impact that comes from these ‘failed’ innovations.

Third, the power of negative organizational factors, such as bad leadership, dysfunctional teams and overambitious production goals as examples, makes the innovation task extremely difficult to succeed in difficult social conditions

This report helped me rethink the value of incremental in social innovation

I have been constantly complaining about incremental innovation needs to become more radical, more disruptive, more breakthroughs and what this report provides is a totally different slant on incremental innovation.

Also I have talked often about the knowing of the context of innovation and this report offers a brilliant reminder of this.

Over-rating the Value of Innovation.

Value PropositionThe report offers this thought within social innovation: “Most of the value that established social sector organizations create comes from their core, routine activities perfected over time”. It is the efficiency being produced in providing standard products and services is the place that creates tremendous value, particularly in places of widespread poverty.

The organizations involved have found a working model in a particular context requires predictable, incremental improvements and lots of them to generate superior outcomes over time.

The authors cite the Aravind Eye Care Hospital for their focus on continuous improvement of practices and investing any profits in building additional capacity. It is the dedication to standardization that drives operational productivity. They spend their time eliminating variation to build constantly capacity to make an impact at an increasing scale.

The important point here is “constantly building capacity to make an impact at an increasing scale” and it is in finding the contextual linkages is where incremental has its greatest value potential.

Perhaps I push for different types of innovation within business far too hard and this observation might argue for a better viewpoint on the pursuit for incremental innovation. It brings my own pendulum into a better position perhaps of valuing incremental improvements?

A few ‘call out’ points here

  • “Unpredictable innovation activities always compete with predictable core routines for scarce resources.”
  • “Poverty-related or persistent problems may not need innovation solutions but rather committed long-term engagements that enable steady and less risky progress”.
  • “Innovation is not triggered by change but progress and impact may come from dedication and routine work” and that this can challenge the argument for more innovation.

Recognizing the value of productive innovation.

The report uses as their innovation type “productive social innovation” and argues the need to rely heavily on trial and error and constant organizational learning to make this truly productive. To yield improving results where scale is critical.

The value of learning from failed innovation.

Power of LearningIn the world of complex social issues the innovation actions are inherently unpredictable, often placed in hostile environments, where you need to understand local power structures and the many root causes of the situation you are attempting to solve through innovation.

The call out for me here are the emphasis for systematic learning and building the knowledge base provides the capacity to innovate or not. Also each situation needs significant evaluation before any adopting of practices from other places

The impatience with making fast progress

The report touches on “doing the right things” but it is within the unique dynamics and contextual factors that often innovation is prevented from happening. Innovation relies on a constellation of many enabling and contextual factors fueled by excessive optimism of the ones pushing for innovation solutions. There is so much that can stifle innovation or derail the process.

The recommendation is for greater critical diagnosis and evaluation of all the negative factors and hurdles that set about unearthing a large number of cognitive, normative and political factors. You simply can’t reply on “simple recipes” as a prevailing dogma or well-meaning recommendations, it boils down to exploring the factors, complexities, challenges and realistic time-scales involved in dealing not just with the poor but all complex social challenges.

My call out here: I find this such a timely reminder for all innovation, as business leaders constantly express their frustrations with innovation failing to deliver. The learning for me here is from the report is this increased emphasis on understanding all the negative factors that constantly block innovation and these are different from one situation to another. The environmental analysis becomes vital.

A summary within the report gave me these thoughts.

  1. It is time to move from innovation as an ideology to innovation as a process—a transition that might be less glamorous but will be more productive
  2. These recommendations should enable social sector organizations, their stakeholders, and researchers to develop analytical models and tools to unearth negative factors that prevent productive innovation.
  3. Similarly, funders who carefully think through the implications outlined in the report may find ways to escape over-supporting fashionable innovation initiatives and under-supporting promising but difficult innovation efforts, particularly those in complex environments where formulas for social progress have not yet been found.
  4. Finally, the process approach they are recommending to social innovation is an attempt to swing the pendulum back from the supply side of social innovation to the demand side of social innovation.

The authors finish with “Our hope is that an increased emphasis on innovation as a process will help avoid bad social sector investments and thwart unproductive debates about quick fixes to entrenched social problems.

This report gives a useful reminder that there is a lot to keep constantly learning about the differences within innovation

Ideas for InnovationThis report gave me a shift in insight by explaining many of the enabling factors for organizations already established, that are searching to operate at scale within specific social contexts. Incremental innovation is where they might create more social value through focusing on continuous ongoing improvements to extract learning, reinvest this into scaling improvements to then build this into further capacity.

Also we can’t take anything for granted, the context, the environment, the application of different types of innovation all are unique and simply ‘applying’ general solutions just don’t work. I have argued this consistently but this report deals in understanding the specific conditions for a ‘given’ type of innovation as being essential to be really alert too.

Again, this report is “Innovation Is Not the Holy Grail” and well worth your time to read.

Seeing innovation from a specific social perspective has some very useful learning from a business perspective. By understanding the value of incremental improvements can be more valuable in certain contextual situations than simply applying additional innovation without understanding all of the factors behind the challenges that are being tackled.

Thinking about scalable engagement

I wrote a piece sometime back on “people don’t buy product they buy meaning” and was prompted on this again fairly recently. See for this. It is funny how this triggered a series of different thoughts which I’m going to try to explain here as I struggle with some disconnects on where we are going on engagement.

I first start out with engagement

There is an awful lot of disruption occurring all around us. Old behaviours, many well established ones that we were somehow seemingly comfortable with, are being suddenly replaced. We are being pushed far more today to search for achieving a greater personal meaning through a different set of connections, more remote, arguably more empowering and get offered in this deal the technology to make this happen, with ease and convenience in its place. What are we losing in this grand deal?

These shifts are changing our behaviours, they  are seriously challenging many of our (past) accepted practices, because as we suddenly feel more in charge, to do the things we want to do, simply when we want to do them, we depend less on others. We suddenly adopt new habits because they are better for us as individuals; they fit within our changing lifestyle. They “enable us to do”- they actually transform the way we work, think and interact. Old habits don’t die hard any more, they seem are replaced fairly quickly once you see the change in the value, and technology simply keeps prodding us down this changing road faster and faster.

Clearly it is technology that has given us this ability but understanding what is needed in scaling these engagements in sociable ways has not been as well thought-through, we are still experimenting and exploring the alternatives. We are becoming far less sociable yet more social in how we communicate. We need to bring the art of face to face conversation back into our lives, not one way monologs.

We don’t travel down to the bank branch any more, we don’t go and browse for books in a library or book shop like we used too, and we stay rooted in front of our screen for more hours than ideal, be this on a mobile, tablet or screen to complete the tasks that seem to grow not decrease. We reach out remotely when we need to, by simply asking a question or searching the data base. We stop making phone calls as these are often non-productive and we get really steamed up waiting in some queue only to find you are talking to someone in the Philippines or India waiting to go through countless security questions or simply not understanding the simplicity behind your question. Often as they have not shared in “what makes up your experiences.” We are making less time for physical interactions.

Then we go to scalable

Scalable has been rather painted into a corner in recent years. It is the way we can scale a business is dangled out in front of us like a carrot, it is implied it is material to success, as with scalability comes profit, as the tantalizing reason to buy into those projects that scale . I wish it was that simple. Does scalability alone mean achieving success?

No, scalability allows for greater engagement that has growing (social) impact and for countless millions that is important. Scale in the more developed world, through greater technology reliance and increased complexity required to deliver this into our lives is carrying higher risks associated with this. We are less dependent on people around us, more dependent on the technology and structures.

As we benefit from scale, there is this risk we are becoming more self-sufficient, more disconnected, opposite to what you might expect. We are missing the value of different avenues of possible productive engagement as we increasingly scale reliant only on technology. We need more depth in connecting into others, to regain real association and identification, not more of the ‘superficial’ stuff we undertake today stilting conversations, cutting off deeper evaluation or contribution.

So I come to the question are we improving our lives?

Technology is certainly changing our behaviours. It is offering us greater “utility and convenience” but it is shifting us from being sociable (the face-to-face part) to just using ‘social’ as our media, as our source and outlet. It is not lightly that those that are embracing technology or simply growing up with it, who know nothing else, are being called the “digital natives”.  A native indicates where or what we were born into, being part of a ‘certain’ race or tribe but is the digital world such a good place to reside, to inhabit? Will it really provide richer engagements? Eventually it can alter us all and how we interact.

We are at a sort of cross roads to what we mean by engagement.

If we stay ‘remote’ and increasingly hid behind our screens we loss the art of engagement as we have known it; in all our human existence – humans are or should be sociable animals. If we withdraw from the physical communities increasingly into virtual ones, we are radically altering our behaviours and until our heads get completely rewired we are in for more inexplicable moments of sudden confrontation, we are witnessing more and more. Hostile reactions increase, unreasonable behaviours surface but increasingly as the new norm, society begins to accept this as a price to pay,  should we?

We see this in small ways. For example you see this increasingly in sending over an email to the person sitting in the next cubical, or the student texting someone sitting yards away with a question instead of walking up to them and engaging.

I saw one recent comment: “It’s sad to know that we can’t have a decent conversation with each other anymore.” Or another one: “I went to text you just now and decided against it. Probably a better thing if we didn’t talk ever again unless we’re in a social situation where we need to. No big deal, really. I’m not going to make a big deal out of this”. A social situation where we need to? Are these the new norm, if so, we are seriously changing our social behaviours.

This is simply because it is deemed as becoming inefficient, to time consuming, not necessary but is this really the case? We are cutting of huge chunks of experience, of interactions, of humour, fun, and serendipity. We are actually becoming increasingly anti-social. Can technology and its entire array of amazing “apps” make up for this? I’m not laying blame at technologies door but we are being pushed in a direction of a very different social engagement. We need to concern ourselves on this and its longer term consequences.

Living in increasingly complex times

Our lives are certainly more complex, we seem to have increasing “friction” points, we can multitask better than the past generations or so we (mistakenly) believe. The issue is technology is ‘fragmenting’ more and more before our eyes, the more it offers new solutions, the more we get deeper into complexity and using all of our ‘spare’ time in learning anew and managing this.

We are actually becoming more ‘ubiquitous’ in ourselves not just “living in the cloud,” where all our information is increasingly sitting, but we are seemingly needing to be everywhere at once. This is a different form of engagement and one we are all learning to understand and scale too. We are constantly being challenged, to be engaged but in radically different ways than the past. Innovation is struggling to catch up with this in new helpful ways to keep us all sociable, not just social.

The issue for innovation is how to scale engagement?

As we engage in different ways, far more remotely, far more instantaneously for “all” to see, to prompt reaction, to gain instant feedback, we are shifting the way we engage with the world and others on an personal level. We are working hard at personalizing the message, the experience, the connection but it often is leaving a very hollow place, a space that engagement of the face-to-face type can fill.

I believe we need to have greater affinity, a great sense of kinship in our daily relationships otherwise our ‘interactions’ will be utterly dependent on technology and that alone is not sociable engagement. It still needs to be sociable, full of relationships that give that deeper, lasting meaning.

We need to learn to scale engagement that gives us “meaning not just products and apps”. We do need to buy more meaning that enriches.

Authentic, distributed, involved and scalable

Professor Katie Truss, at the Kent Business School, University of Kent has spent an awful lot of her time on engagement in her research. Check out some of what she has focused upon, it is important. She has mostly focused on engagement within organizations bit I do feel much of what she has researched also applies to all our lives and how we need to treat engagement.

Engagement should be a feeling, a mindset and a way of behaving where there is connection between the tasks we undertake, our role, our interactions but where we value the opinions of people and communities.

We do need to be insightful, to be better informed and raise our engagement not just in activity in the new ways we are all working and engaging today. It is not just for the sake of it, to be seen and active, but it is to be more being affective in gaining both our personal satisfaction of jobs being done better (and faster) but having as well that feeling we are being valued far more. We need to achieve far more positive emotional outcomes and deeper connections, we need to seek out being sociable.

As Professor Truss suggests it is in valuing performance, valuing opinions, valuing people and valuing (our) communities and we do need to scale these up in how we are engaging today. Innovation needs to work on this part of the engagement process before we lose the art of socializing. Engaging insights allow us to share and build more.