Take Away 10 and Add 6 For Innovation

 

Preparing for a monthly webinar on intrapreneurship has led me to literature searches for resources that represent thought leadership on intrapreneurship and innovation. Most of the literature recognizes the inherent dichotomy between organizations wanting to be cutting edge for the sake of competition, but not wanting the risks and change necessary to go there. Consequently, many stumble in their pursuit of innovation. The book, The Innovative CIO: How IT Leaders Can Drive Business Transformation (CA Press/Apress), addresses practical suggestions to overcome some common barriers to successful innovation. Dennis McCafferty writes that “it also demonstrates how to take advantage of your human and tech resources to effectively evaluate, track and “sell” the value of innovation within your company. The Innovation CIO coauthors Andi Mann, George Watt and Peter Matthews discuss the following 10 Ways to Kill Innovation:

 

1. Unhealthy Internal Competition  Healthy competition encourages achievement. But when employees focus more on beating each other than benefiting their organization, it’s unhealthy competition.

2. Inconsistency in Rewards  If workers feel there’s no rhyme or reason in performance awards, they’ll grow demoralized and stop trying.

3. A Culture of Intimidation  Bosses who ridicule “dumb” ideas to present themselves as “the smartest person in the room” ultimately choke innovation through fear and ridicule.

4. No Organizational Framework for Innovation  Without a companywide framework for fostering innovation, it’s difficult for lower-level managers to leverage innovation as it happens.

5. The Pursuit of Perfection  Perfectionists tend to “hide” work until they feel it’s 100% ready. But innovation thrives from collaboration and dialogue while work is in progress.

6. Protection Obsession  Company “protectors” are often guilty of shooting down any proposals that they feel will harm their organization or department.

7. Inbox Overload  A relentless barrage of emails, meetings and phone calls–many of them unnecessary–keeps CIOs and their teams preoccupied with the mundane and urgent instead of something fresh, new and valuable.

8. Voluntary Isolationism  IT teams will often “go dark” and bury themselves in projects while closing off contact with stakeholders, customers and others who can help greatly via feedback.

9. Clinging to Legacies  Outdated IT systems and processes hinder innovation. However, too many CIOs stick with them because they cost money and/or they don’t want these deployments to be perceived as “failures.”

10. No Strategic Focus  Innovation teams must always keep concrete, business-benefiting goals in mind during collaboration. Otherwise, it’s just a fun but ultimately pointless “creativity exercise.”

What is true in IT circles is true, to some extent, in any kind of business. The environment and culture have so much to do with successful innovation. Agility Innovation and Ovo Innovation, in a joint whitepaper, provided a list of 6 key capabilities needed by executives to foster the skills and capacities for innovation in their companies:

  • creating alignment,
  • deploying trusted methods and tools,
  • effective communication and engagement,
  • empowering people, providing skills,
  • refocusing attitudes, perspectives and rewards ,
  • defining a corporate “governance” for innovation

The whitepaper authors argue that  these skills or capabilities can be developed in an appropriate strategic manner when applying the Executive Innovation Workmat (shown below).  They believe that executives can be trained to both understand how to innovate and how to acquire and inspire the skills requisite to do it well. Beginning with establishing a language for innovation, complete with agreed upon definitions of key terms, a systematic approach serves organizations best. When corporate strategy and innovation have linkage, the likelihood of success goes way up!

Executive Innovation Workmat

 

 

anti-Innovation Sentiment and Intrapreneurship Collide

In order to stay current in a subject area that is constantly changing, one must be well read and, beyond that, follow the bets though leaders around. Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss intrapreneurship in person with one of my favorite innovation bloggers, Jeffrey Phillips. Tonight, I read a blog post by one of my other favorites, Gijs van Wulfen.

Gijs tackles the subject of anti-innovators in his recent post.  His writing echoes some of what Jeffrey and I discussed last week. As we  looked at different models for commercializing business ideas last week, we camped out for a while on what stultifies innovation. While many leaders acknowledge that innovation is a top priority, they would also be quick to add that implementation of innovative practices can be a challenge. The consequences, according to Phillips, include: 

 Poor execution of innovation goals
 Failure to achieve strategic goals
 Limited organizational design to sustain innovation
 The growth of disbelief or cynicism when innovation isn’t pursued.

Stubborn personvan Wulfen describes personnel as a main hindrance. He writes of employees who “are stuck in their habits.. ignorant the world is changing fast and (thinking) they have nothing to fear.” He goes on to describe the anti-innovator as a (negative) contributor to team culture:

There are often quite a few anti-innovators. Everybody knows this extravert guy or woman who is anti-everything. They have “the biggest mouth” at the lunch table in the company restaurant. Their influence on the company’s culture is often quite substantial. Don’t underestimate their impact. The herd goes as fast as the slowest animals. If the anti-innovators lean back nothing moves. So how do you get them up and running. That’s the question.

You can try to convince them. Unfortunately that often fails because they are experts in coming up with idea killers like: “We are too small for that… There is no budget… We need to do more research… We don’t have time… It’s too risky… That’s for the future. Everything is OK now.”

You can try to do it without them. But that won’t work either. You need an awful lot of colleagues and bosses to share your vision before a big change can truly take place. You need R&D engineers, production managers, IT staff, financial controllers, marketers, service people and salesmen to develop the product, produce it, get it on the market and service it. You can’t do it without them: you can’t innovate alone.

The way to get anti-innovators up and running is to respect them, to understand them, to connect with them and to let them experience change is necessary. They will only change their attitude if they get new insights themselves. So, you have to give them a chance to discover what’s happening out there. Invite them to join your innovation team and take them out on an expedition to discover how markets, customers, competitors and technology are changing.

If they, as the slowest animals of the herd, find out there’s a group of hungry lions following the herd they stop leaning backwards. They start running too as necessity is the mother of invention. They will spread the urgency to innovate among their colleagues. And that’s good news because If the slowest animals start running, your organization’s innovation power really gets up to speed.

Think about the anti-innovators in your organization. What motivates them? Do they travel in herds? How can innovators infiltrate their ranks yet respect them and build bridges for collaboration? As a mentor in an upcoming venture challenge competition, I will be working with teams that must have creatives and analysts. Often, including an anti-innovator on your launch team can bring helpful perspective. Stew on it!

 

Leadership Mindsets to Foster Innovation

When lively conversations abound on the subject of innovation, invariably, the matter of culture emerges. Does the organization have a suitable culture to nourish innovation? If not, why not? Often, management is held up as a scapegoat for the lack of innovation. Karl Ronn recently said, “Companies that think they have an innovation problem don’t have an innovation problem. They have a leadership problem.”

Scott Anthony, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog and managing partner of Innosight, took note of Ronn’s recent comment. Anthony  had featured Ronn in The Little Black Book of Innovation, and considers him to be “thoughtful, widely read, a seasoned practitioner, and a great communicator.” Anthony wrote of him in a recent HBR blog post:

Ronn’s basic idea was that four decades of academic research and two decades of conscious implementation of that work have provided robust, actionable answers to many pressing innovation questions. Practitioners have robust tools to discover opportunities to innovate, design, and execute experiments to address key strategic uncertainty; to create underlying systems to enable innovation in their organization; and to manage the tension between operating today’s business and creating tomorrow’s businesses. Large companies like IBM, Syngenta, Procter & Gamble, 3M, and Unilever show that innovation can be a repeatable discipline. Emerging upstarts like Google and Amazon.com show how innovation can be embedded into an organization’s culture from day one.

Pixar innovationIn Building a Growth Factory, David Duncan and Anthony suggested why many others have not been successful: too many companies use point solutions to address a systematic challenge. They may offer an idea challenge, ideation session, growth group, corporate venturing arm or incentives for innovation…

(writes Anthony,) “None of these is bad, but point solutions don’t solve system-level problems. Duncan and I suggest working on four systems — a growth blueprint, production systems, governance and controls, and leadership, talent, and culture. It isn’t easy to do all of that, but it is what is required to really make innovation work at scale.” (continuing:)

Ronn agrees, but notes that the responsibility for such systemic work ultimately rests with a company’s leadership team. And it’s absolutely necessary. Research by Clayton Christensen, Rita McGrath, Richard D’aveni, and Richard Foster make very clear that we are in a new era where competitive advantage is a transitory notion. (McGrath’s forthcoming book is provocatively titled The End of Competitive Advantage.) Any executive that doesn’t make innovation a strategic priority, ensure there is ample investment in it, and approach the problem strategically is committing corporate malfeasance.

Further, leaders can’t just set the context and hope that innovation happens. Innovation is enough of an unnatural act in most companies (which were built to scale yesterday’s business model, not discover tomorrow’s) that it requires the day-by-day attention of the company’s top leadership team or it simply won’t stick.

The leadership challenge facing executives today is to balance today’s needs versus tomorrow’s. In the current environment, productivity and risk management are priorities. In the longer run, being able to anticipate market needs and adjust one’s go-to-market strategy are critical. Leaders must now be good at both to create and sustain competitive advantage. 

Anthony acknowledges that, to justify why innovation is a struggle, leaders mention factors such as “short-term pressures from investors, talent deficiencies, the challenge of implementing innovation-friendly rewards structures, the still fuzzy nature of innovation, and, in candid moments, their own discomfort with the different mental frames required to lead innovation.”

Most importantly, the paradigm shift needs to occur whereby the goal moves from being most innovative among a peer group of companies to being cutting edge like some of the upstart organizations known for redefining the playing field. 

Leaders Instill Vision and Creativity

 

“Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.” 

– Stephen Covey

Vision cogAs a management consultant of 25 years, I have had the opportunity to interact with a variety of companies, their leadership teams, and employees. What Covey describes above is the missing ingredient in many businesses and the critical success factor in others. Jeff Orr, who coaches executives and their organizations, has this to say about Covey’s quote:

Vision. A key component of leadership. The ability to see what doesn’t exist…yet. And then to communicate that vision, so compellingly, that anyone who hears it can’t help but jump on board. This is the stuff of great leadership.

I have found that one of the most challenging aspects of vision casting is not the actual speaking of the vision, but what the person receiving the message actually sees in their mind regarding that vision. I have discovered that I can verbally paint a vision for a group of people and, depending on their experience, upbringing, etc., each person can have a slightly different picture in their mind of what the vision looks like. They also have a particular view of how they play a part in that vision – which may or may not be what I had intended. This has led to miscommunication and missed expectations. So how do we as leaders cast a compelling vision that is caught by our audience as we intend it to be caught?

Know your audience-their background, personalities, language and culture; (then) you can (better) craft your message to connect with them. If your audience is diverse, you may need to use multiple word pictures to say the same thing to different people. This takes a bit more time, but can be an eye-opener for you. Learning how to convey your vision in multiple “languages” will make you a better communicator.

Once you feel enough of your audience has “gotten it,” you still need to continually cast that vision. As one great leader has said, “Vision leaks.” Imagine a bucket with small holes in the bottom. As you fill that bucket with water, some of it leaks out the bottom. If you don’t continually fill the bucket, all of the water will eventually empty out. People are no different. The concerns of their department, projects, and life in general, all compete for their attention, crowding out the vision. It’s up to you as their leader to keep “filling their bucket” with the vision so it stays top of mind. As you utilize various methods of delivering the same message, you will see your team gain energy, synergy, and momentum.

What applies to leadership applies to intrapreneurship especially well. Organizations that lack visionary leadership often stagnate in their business performance. As the followers sense that the leaders care about creative capacity and are doing something about it, they become very motivated to produce.

When the workers are unable to see beyond their current reality (and not encouraged to do so), they can become disheartened. Being able to envision a better day with more positive outcomes fuels the fires. Given the opportunity to be creative, to look for what lies beyond the obvious, most will work harder with less need for exterior reward because they are motivated by what they can contribute. Seek to be an organization that values vision!

 

Dissimilarity Creates Innovative Thinking

How often does your organization examine ways to apply a concept from one part of the business to an entirely different component? I’d like to suggest that you do it far more often. Many innovative ideas flow from simultaneously considering two thoughts that, on the surface, seem to have little connection. For instance, what do you think of design mixed with meeting planning? Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at INXPO and author of the book “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events,” thinks this juxtaposition is an interesting one. After watching a 60 Minutes episode recently that featured an interview with David Kelley, founder of both IDEO and Stanford’s d school, Shiao was inspired:

Overview: Design Thinking
The design thinking process can be broken down into three components: inspiration, ideation and implementation. To quote a design thinking article co-authored by Mr. Brown:

  • Inspiration: “Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions.”

  • Ideation: “Ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas.”

  • Implementation: “Implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.”

Corporate events

Incorporating Design Thinking into Meetings and Events

I’ve (Shiao) taken a look at the tenets and methodologies of design thinking and considered how they could be applied to meetings and events. Let’s consider some.

Attend Your Own Event (Empathy)

Meeting and event planners should take off their “planning hats” and attend one of their events solely with their “attendee hats” on. That means that you can have no part in planning the event. Go through the entire cycle of registration, travel, sessions, workshops, social events, etc. Practice further empathy by understanding how fellow attendees are experiencing the event.

Deepen (and Broaden) Your Team Roster

Design thinking introduces the notion of “multidisciplinary teams,” in which people of assorted backgrounds (and schools of thought) ideate, iterate and collaborate. You need a group that creates divergent thinking, which, according to Mr. Brown of IDEO, “is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation.” I’d recommend adding folks from Finance, HR and Engineering. 

Where No Idea is a Bad Idea
If you make an early judgment on the quality of an idea, you may have just squashed a “germ” that would develop into a breakthrough. The ideation process is critical in creating the next breakthrough event. Instead, design thinking teaches you to build upon each other’s ideas, sort of like the “yes, and..” methodology in improvisational theater. 

Meeting and Event Prototypes
Recall that part of the ideation phase is “testing ideas.” It’s an iterative process in which you deploy a prototype, collect “real user feedback,” determine what you learned, then ideate on product refinements (repeating the cycle all over again).

Let’s say you’re planning next year’s 5,000 person sales kick-off meeting and you have innovative new ideas for it. Create a prototype using 50 sales people and actually implement those ideas in a “real prototype” (event). Determine what worked, make adjustments, then plan another prototype. When the “real thing” comes around, you’ll have a much better “product.”

This type approach is both novel and holds promise for adaptation to a variety of other tasks, disciplines and situations. What dissimilar business processes can be combined in a brainstorming session to help you approach your customers, employees, or suppliers differently? What may be the outcome of such crazy thinking? Does your culture support such “frivolous” exercises, or disdain them? While the temptation would be to apply the concept only to new product development, the value is cross-functional!