Redesigning the organizations middle for a new innovation shape.

managers-choice

Let’s admit it; our middle management needs a radical makeover, a new fitness regime to make us far more ‘innovation fit’.

Most organizations do need to change their middle management structures as they are far from that necessary ‘fitness for 21st century purpose’ in a constantly changing, challenging, more open innovating world.

The general argument goes and I relate to this, that the middle manager is so pressured to focus on the delivery of short-term results that all their efforts are centered far more on delivering ‘just’ an effective organization.

An organization that focuses on driving out any excess or leeway, reduce the variations, constantly dampening down potential risk and uncertainty. Today much of this being ‘efficient and effective’ is in direct conflict with what innovation requires. A space for ‘cutting’ some slack, seeking differences, exploring what variances can provide, encouraging a certain risk and uncertainty to allow for fresh thinking to emerge that leads to better things within the organization.

Yet the middle managers obsession with constantly chasing efficiencies alone, there is little ‘slack’ for innovation and new learning. Their measurement is often based on this efficiency and effectiveness emphasis and not on generating innovation.

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Finding space for growing innovation

Making innovation a constant daily task for everyone to become involved is certainly a real problem for many organizations. Innovation does not sit comfortably alongside efficiency or effectiveness as it requires a much looser structure. It constantly ‘flies’ in direct conflict too much for many within organizations to create resistence and adoption. Innovation is looking to increase variability, nearly everything else in the organization is the exact opposite. How do we address this resistence and make innovation part of the daily working routines? Where can we start?

We have to open up our thinking to a number of “possible paths” to allow it to flow. I believe innovation should not be highly structured; it should be more loosely structured to allow possibility.

For a start individuals and organizations needs to explore multiple ways to learn and find the right pathway for innovation learning as they progress. This needs a more ‘dynamic social fabric’ to allow it to flow, it needs organizational encouragement. It needs mutual adaption and mutual adjustment. The understanding of absorptive capacity framework I’ve outlined before helps structure this.

Three simple rules have great intent.

Possible a starting point is through three simple rules I came across, but presently I can’t find the reference source on this regretfully. These seem to me to have a powerful intent:

  1. Mapping organizational and project innovation processes in the context of a shared responsibility for innovation relies on the rule of taking full responsibility that allows all “to see” the space of innovation that exists.
  1. Generalizing organizational and project knowledge in the context where knowledge is a central task relies on the rule of supporting routines for getting to that space and for keeping it open for all to share and explore:.
  • -This helps people be collectively conscious of what they know and how they now, build up and having expertise in are all dynamic routine activities to become competent experts.
  • – It also fosters respect for knowing and leaning from what others know and contributes to a growing improved skillset far more geared towards understanding higher-level conceptual frameworks
  1. Spiraling across cycles of adaptation in a context of constantly looking for new opportunities relies on the rule for constantly searching for new opportunities that creates an organization in which people are used to innovation that becomes a second nature– “the chaos is that we are constantly innovating”. Also the rule provides people with vital resource of having ways to deal with inevitable surprises of innovation.

We need to find ways to combined general knowledge for wide awareness of available options, and specialized knowledge for assessing the systemic impact of specific options. We need to move towards the development of “T-Shaped skills” being available constantly, to apply to different problems. Choice can stay fluid and it gradually ‘firms up’ to allow greater exploration and evaluation, as we ‘master’ knowledge and progressively experiment.

The ability to innovate is in the people, it is not in a procedures. Our pressing need is to structure innovation activity into everyday work, to make it dynamic in capability and become the new routine work.  I feel these three simple rules just seem to make such good sense as a starting point for making innovation part of every persons working day. Do you?