Category Archives: Innovation Perspectives

Co-creating Future-fit Organizations

Co-creating Future-fit Organizations

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our second blog in this series of three, we opened the door to a threshold for a new kind of co-creative, collaborative and cohesive team spirit that catalyzes change through “innovation evangelism”. Focusing on building both internal and external talent, through empowering, equipping, and enabling internally cohesive and effective innovation teams.  They apply their collaborative and collective intelligence towards initiating open innovation initiatives co-creating future-fit organizations that are human-centric, adaptive, engaging, inclusive, collaborative, innovative, accountable, and digitally enabled.

Innovation evangelists are change catalysts who courageously experiment with different business models and processes, to crowdsource broad and deep innovation capabilities. Usually in new ways that breakthrough corporate antibodies and barriers and deliver sustainable, meaningful, and purposeful change.  Where, according to the recent Ideascale “Crowd Sourced Innovation Report 2021”crowdsourced innovation capabilities have grown and innovation output indicators like implementation rate and time to implement have improved. In fact, businesses that were able to rapidly adapt and focus on innovation(in 2020) are poised to outperform their peers in the coming years”.

Innovation teams don’t innovate

The purpose of an innovation team is to create a safe environment that unlocks organizational and its key external stakeholder’s collective intelligence and innovation agility (capacity, competence, and confidence) to build the capability to change as fast as change itself.

Where the goal is to create a high performing, connected, and networked workplace culture where people:

  • Understand and practice the common language of innovation, what exactly it means in their organizational context, as well as exactly what value means to current and potential customers as well as to the organization,
  • Develop a shared narrative or story about why innovation is crucial towards initiating and sustaining future success,
  • Have the time and space to deeply connect, collaborate, and co-create value, internally and externally with customers, suppliers, and other primary connection points to build external talent communities and value-adding ecosystems,
  • Maximize differences and diversity of thought within customers as well as within communities and ecosystems,
  • Generate urgency and creative energy to innovate faster than competitors,
  • Feel safe and have permission to freely share ideas, wisdom, knowledge, information, resources, and perspectives, with customers as well as across communities and ecosystems.

How innovation teams learn and develop

Sustaining success in today’s uncertain, unstable, and highly competitive business environment is becoming increasingly dependent on people’s and team’s abilities to deeply learn, adapt and grow. Yet most people and a large number of organizations don’t yet seem to value learning and adaptiveness as performance improvement enablers, especially in enabling people and teams to thrive in a disruptive world.  Nor do they understand how people learn, nor how to strategically develop peoples’ learning agility towards potentially co-creating future-fit organizations that sustain high-impact in VUCA times.

At ImagineNation™ we have integrated the four E’s of learning at work; Education, Experience, Environment, and Exposure with 12 key determining factors for co-creating future-fit organizations that sustain high-impact in VUCA times through our innovation team development, change, learning, and coaching programs.

Case Study Example

  1. Educational customisation and alignment

After conducting desktop research and key stakeholder sensing interviews, we customized our innovation education curriculum specifically to align with the learning needs of the innovation team.

We aligned the program design to the organization’s strategic imperatives, values, and leadership behaviors, we reviewed the results of the previous culture, climate and engagement surveys, as well as the range of business transformation initiatives. We then applied design thinking principles to “bring to life” the trends emerging, diverging, and converging in our client’s and their customer’s industry sectors.

Focusing on:

  • enabling people to perform well in their current roles,
  • building people’s long-term career success,
  • developing their long-term team leadership and membership development capabilities,
  • laying the foundations for impacting collectively towards co-creating future-fit organizations.
  1. Experiential learning a virtual and remote environment

We designed and offered a diverse and engaging set of high-value learning and development experiences that included a range of stretch and breakthrough assignments as part of their personal and team development process.

Focusing on:

  • encouraging people to engage in a set of daily reflective practices,
  • offering a series of customized agile macro learning blended learning options, that could be viewed or consumed over short periods of time,
  • engaging playful activities and skills practice sessions, with structured feedback and debrief discussions,
  • providing an aligned leadership growth individual and team assessment process,
  • introducing key criteria for establishing effective team cohesion and collaboration,
  • linking team action learning activities and evidence-based assignments to their strategic mandate ensuring their collective contribution towards co-creating future-fit organizations.
  1. Environment to support and encourage deep learning

We aimed at creating permission, tolerance, and a safe learning environment for people to pause, retreat, reflect, and respond authentically and effectively, to ultimately engage and upskill people in new ways of being, thinking, and acting towards co-creating future-fit organizations.

Focusing on:

  • developing peoples discomfort resilience and change readiness,
  • encouraging people to be empathic, courageous, and compassionate with one another, to customers as well as to those they were seeking to persuade and influence,
  • allowing and expecting mistakes to be made and valued as learning opportunities and encouraging smart risk-taking,
  • reinforcing individual learning as personal responsibility and team learning as a mutual responsibility and establishing a learning buddy system to support accountability,
  • offering a series of one-on-one individual coaching sessions to set individual goals and support people and the teams’ “on the job” applications.
  1. Exposure to different and diverse learning modalities

We designed a range of immersive microlearning bots by providing regular, consistent, linked, multimedia learning options and a constantly changing range of different and diverse learning modalities.

Focusing on:

  • providing an informative and targeted reading list and set of website links,
  • setting a series of coordinated thought leading webinars, videos, podcasts, and magazine articles aligned to deliver the desired learning outcomes,
  • outlining fortnightly targeted team application and reinforcement tasks,
  • helping the team to collaborate and set and communicate their passionate purpose, story, and key outputs to the organization to build their credibility and self-efficacy,
  • designing bespoke culture change initiatives that the innovation team could catalyse across the organization to shift mindsets and behaviors to make innovation a habit for everyone, every day.

Collectively contributing to the good of the whole

Co-creating future-fit organizations require creativity, compassion, and courage to co-create the space and freedom to discuss mistakes, ask questions, and experiment with new ideas. To catalyse change and help shift the workplace culture as well as crowdsource possibilities through open innovation.

In ways, that are truly collaborative, and energize, catalyze, harness, and mobilize people’s and customers’ collective genius, in ways that are appreciated and cherished by all. To ultimately collectively co-create a future-fit organization that contributes to an improved future, for customers, stakeholders, leaders, teams, organizations as well as for the good of the whole.

This is the final blog in a series of three about catalyzing change through innovation teams, why innovation teams are important in catalyzing culture change, and what an innovation team does, and how they collectively contribute toward co-creating the future-fit organization.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centred approach and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more

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Innovation Teams Do Not Innovate

Innovation Teams Do Not Innovate

Guest Post from Janet Sernack

In our first blog in this series of three blogs, we reinforced and validated the importance and role of collaboration. We then described the range of emerging new, inspirational, and adaptive models that lean into complexity and catalyze and embed sustainable innovative workplace culture change. Where some organizations, like Alibaba, Disney, Google, Salesforce, and GE, developed their future fitness by courageously investing in catalyzing, igniting, and leading change through innovation teams.

Innovation teams are teams that don’t innovate!

Conventional team collaboration performance and development approaches are still relevant and foundational to long-term organizational success.  And, a new range of organizational needs are emerging in our fast-changing and disruptive world, that complement conventional team development processes including the importance of:

  • Providing a unified and holistic and systemic “collective mind” focussed on adding value to customers,
  • Being agile, focused, and in charge to make faster decisions,
  • Sharing resources and insights to reduce costs,
  • Working interdependencies to improve efficiencies and productivity,
  • Shifting focus from being competitive towards co-creating ecosystems to solve bigger, more complex problems, to lead, embed, and sustain value-adding change in a disruptive world.

According to the authors of Eat, Sleep Innovate, an innovation team is formed to develop “something different that creates value” and do this best in a culture where such behaviors come naturally.

These behaviors include:

  • Curiosity
  • Customer obsession
  • Adeptness to ambiguity
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment
  • Accountability

Purpose of innovation teams

The purpose of an innovation team is to create an environment that unlocks an organization’s collective intelligence (capacity, competence, and confidence) and builds the capability to change as fast as change itself.

Usually, through providing mentorship, coaching, and learning process in ways that align, engage, enable, equip and leverage peoples’ collective intelligence to:

  • Adapt to higher levels of ambiguity and uncertainty,
  • Challenge the status quo and help break a conventional business as usual habits, leadership styles, and comfortable ways of working,
  • Provoke future “fast forward” (horizon three) thinking,
  • Support the implementation of digital and organizational transformational efforts,
  • Collectively and collaboratively drive innovation across organizations pragmatically and make it a reality,
  • Leverage synergies across ecosystems to solve complex problems and deliver increased value to customers.

Ultimately, to provoke and evoke future “fast forward” creative discoveries and experiment with new platforms and possible future business models to help guide future renewal and reinventions.

Delivering these, as smart and multi-disciplinary teams in ways that are timely, agile, and disciplined that potentially support and bring significant value to customers, the market, and to the organization.

Unconventional stretch collaboration requires connection, cognitive dissonance, and conflict

Experimenting with, iterating, and adapting new collaborative models, enables organizations and their leaders, to shift their focus – from being defensively competitive towards being creatively constructive.

Where the goal is to create a high performing, connected, and networked workplace culture where people:

  • Have the time and space to deeply connect, collaborate, and co-create value,
  • Maximize differences and diversity of thought,
  • Generate the urgency and creative energy to innovate,
  • Feel safe and have permission to freely share ideas, wisdom, knowledge, information, resources, and perspectives.

Innovation teams create discord and generate conflict

At ImagineNation™ we have found that the best way for innovation teams to perform is through building safety and trust, whilst simultaneously being safely provocative and evocative in creating discord and conflict to disrupt peoples conventional thought processes, behaviors, and habits.

To engage people in maximizing differences and diversity to generate creative ideas, and experiment with inventive prototypes, that ultimately solve big and complex problems and deliver commercially astute, innovative solutions.

By connecting, networking, and focussing on co-creation and emphasizing collaboration, inclusion, and mutual accountability, and not on being competitive.

Dealing with the organizational blockers – Innovation teams

At ImagineNation™ our experience has enabled us to understand and reduce the range of key common blockers to transformational and innovation-led change initiatives.

Where we support clients identify, and resolve and remove them by enabling and equipping innovation teams to:

  • Develop agile and innovation mindsets: building capability in safely exposing and disrupting rigid mindsets through customized mindset shifting, behavioral-based, skills development programs.
  • Understand the impact of the organization’s collective mindset: supporting teams to develop an empathic understanding of one another, then shifting how they feel and think to act differently, and cultivate the discomfort resilience when facing the challenges and failures in the innovation rollercoaster ride.
  • Enable leadership development: through educating, mentoring, and coaching leaders to grow their adaptive, collaborative, engaging, and innovative team leadership and membership capabilities.
  • Foster the development of an adaptive and innovative culture: by applying the cultural assessment and diagnostic processes that result in pragmatic culture change initiatives.
  • Ensure strategic alignment: sensing, perceiving, and developing a mutual focus, common language and understanding, and a collaborative networked way of working, that bridges the gap between the current and desired states.

Setting up an innovation team – the critical success factors

At ImagineNation™ we have also helped our clients identify, and embed the critical success factors, that enable innovation teams to drive and embed innovation-led change and transformational initiatives by ensuring:

  • Alignment to the mission, vision, purpose, values.
  • Strategic allocation of resources.
  • Leadership team sponsorship and mentorship.
  • Investment in team members and leader’s capability development.
  • Thinking big and focussing on clarifying and delivering future “fast forward” far-reaching solutions to highly impactful challenges.
  • Organization engagement and enrolment in implementing changes and creating, inventing, and delivering innovative solutions.
  • Lines of sight to stakeholders, eco-system players, and customers, taking an empathic value-adding perspective at all times.

Innovation teams – an unfreezing opportunity to co-create future-fit organizations

Embracing this type of collaborative approach creates an unprecedented opportunity for organizations, who have been upended as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, to develop a sense of urgency toward unfreezing and eliminating their corporate antibodies.

Empathizing with the range of challenges leaders are facing right now, where many are slowly waking up to a post-covid world, where there is an unprecedented and urgent opportunity to co-create a “new normal” that is well-designed to lift any of the emotional barriers to teamwork, locked-down relationships and online fatigue.

Opening the door to a new kind of co-creative, collaborative and cohesive team spirit that allows and encourages people to re-imagine, re-learn, reinvent and co-create new, fresh future fit, adaptive and innovative, people and customer-centric systems, structures, business models, and ecosystems.

All of which are mandatory for delivering future “fast forward” strategies for applying the collaborative and collective intelligence required for increasing value in innovative ways that people and customers appreciate and cherish, in ways we have not previously imagined, that connect with and contribute to, the good of the whole.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centred approach and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more

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Avoid the Addition Bias

Avoid the Addition Bias

Guest Post from Paul Sloane

Have you noticed that almost every photo that you take with your camera or mobile phone can be improved by cropping?  As we take away extraneous background details, we bring the subject into clearer view.  The same is true in many other fields – taking things out can seriously improve performance.  But there is a strong human tendency to do the opposite – to add features rather than to subtract – even when subtraction is an easier and better solution.

Nature magazine recently published a paper with the headline – People Systematically Overlook Subtractive Changes.  The study was carried out by Adams, Converse, Hales and Klotz at the University of Virginia.  Here is an abstract of what they found.

‘We investigated whether people are as likely to consider changes that subtract components from an object, idea or situation as they are to consider changes that add new components. People typically consider a limited number of promising ideas in order to manage the cognitive burden of searching through all possible ideas, but this can lead them to accept adequate solutions without considering potentially superior alternatives. Here we show that people systematically default to searching for additive transformations, and consequently overlook subtractive transformations. Across eight experiments, with different conditions, participants were less likely to identify advantageous subtractive changes. Defaulting to searches for additive changes may be one reason that people struggle to mitigate overburdened schedules, institutional red tape and damaging effects on the planet.’  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03380-y

In one experiment, people were asked to change a pattern on a grid of coloured squares so as to make it symmetrical.  Fully 78% chose to add squares even though taking away existing squares was an equally good solution.  In another study, participants were asked to improve an essay – 80% added material while only 16% cut words out.  We see something similar in the many books which could have been much more concise. They would have benefited from pruning, yet the author and editor chose to add rather than subtract.

It is generally agreed that the tax codes in most countries (and certainly in the USA and UK) are far too complex and provide many provisions and loopholes that can be exploited by clever accountants.  A simplified tax code would be easier to administer and would collect more revenue.  Yet each new finance minister tends to add new clauses and tax breaks rather than eliminating them.

Innovation efforts tend to follow similar lines.  When people are asked for ideas on how to improve a product or service, they typically add more features.  But many products suffer from feature bloat today – which makes them unwieldy and complex to use.  It is rare for people to suggest slimming down a product by eliminating little-used functions.  I dare say that your mobile device is overloaded with apps that are rarely used.

The next time you run a meeting to improve efficiency, processes, methods, products or services start by asking, ‘What can we take away?’  Crop the photo to make it better.

Image Credit: Pexels.com

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Three Actions to Become More Innovative

Three Actions to Become More Innovative‘What are three specific actions that a non-innovative company can take to become more innovative?’

Sometimes I think that people out there talking about innovation try and make crafting a good innovation process sound harder than it is and the work of making innovation happen sound easier than it really is. Whether this is self-serving behavior to try and drive people to buy their books or consulting services, I’m not sure, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s not.

Instead let’s see if we can simplify some of what we know into three specific actions that a non-innovative company can take to become more innovative:

1. Make a Commitment

  • Many organizations say they want to be more innovative, but few are willing to make the commitment. Leaders may talk about it once or twice, and then expect others in the organization to commit themselves to innovation. Talking about innovation is much easier than committing to the changes and risks required for successful innovation. Organizations that succeed at becoming more innovative commit the financial resources to discrete innovation projects, they commit to the human resources flexibility necessary to staff them, and they commit the communications resources necessary to ensure that everyone knows the innovation journey the organization is committed to.

2. Collect and Connect:

  • Innovation is ultimately all about data. Organizations seeking to improve their ability to innovate, must get better at collecting and connecting the dots. This means improving their ability to transform data about the organization’s customers into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into insight. The ability to transform data all the way through to insight is key because new and novel insights drive an organization’s ability to identify those ideas with the potential to deliver more value to their target market than any other existing alternative. Improving this transformation capability is not just about data though, but about people, and if your organization really wants to become more innovative it has get better at connecting people at the same time (both online and in the real world). Creating connections between people and data is a powerful input to innovation.

3. Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail:

  • Most organizations do a great job of planning how to succeed, but many organizations don’t make a plan for how to fail. People like to talk about failing fast, failing cheap, and failing smart. The first two are self-explanatory, but what does that failing smart look like?
  • In part this means taking educated risks, but even doing that you are still going to have failures, and so you must ask yourself:
    • What did we learn?
    • What can we use later?
    • What do we do now?

Doing these three things won’t guarantee that you will come up with a whole collection of new innovations, but it will help make your organization more innovative. There is a difference, and if you’re not clear on what it is, then let me direct your attention back to the first paragraph. 😉

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Social Media is the Glue of Innovation

Social Media is the Glue of InnovationSocial media serves an incredibly important role in innovation. Social media functions as the glue to stick together incomplete knowledge, incomplete ideas, incomplete teams, and incomplete skillsets. Social media is not some mysterious magic box. Ultimately it is a tool that serves to connect people and information.

I’m reminded of a set of lyrics from U2’s “The Fly”:

“Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief”

Social media can help ideas grow and thrive that would otherwise wither and die under the boot of the perfectionist in all of us.

Do you remember the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, it takes a village to create an innovation from an idea as well, and social media helps to aggregate and mobilize the people and knowledge necessary to do just that.

But, that is social media working in the positive. We must remember that social media tools are just that – tools.

Just as easily as social media tools can be an accelerator for innovation, they can also be an inhibitor – if the participants or the presenters manage to make the less active majority feel that innovation is not something for them.

If you don’t want to be a fool with a tool, then you must be careful to make sure that the social media tools in your organization are fulfilling their role in a positive way and leveraging existing knowledge management and collaboration toolsets:

  1. To make innovative ideas visible and accessible
  2. To allow people to have conversations
  3. To build community
  4. To facilitate information exchange
  5. To enable knowledge sharing
  6. To assist with expert location
  7. To power collaboration on idea evolution
  8. To help people educate themselves
  9. To connect people to others who share their passion
  10. To surface the insights and strategy that people should be building ideas from

The better you become at the above, the stronger your organization’s innovation capability will become, the more engaged your employees will become, and the more ready you will become to engage successfully in open innovation.

For the most part, what I’ve been talking about is the role of social media in innovation inside the organization. When you leverage social media for innovation outside the organization, it gets a whole lot more complicated.

But, maybe that’s a conversation for another day.

In the meantime, please consider the ways in which social media in your organization might be able to strengthen inter-disciplinary cooperation, make the organization itself more adaptable, and how it could help to create an organization with the power to transform more ideas into innovations.

You might also enjoy these four FREE white papers:

  1. Effective Conversational Marketing
  2. Rise of the Social Business Architect
  3. Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation
  4. Broadcasting the Voice of the Customer

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Where is your Innovation Friction?

Innovation Perspectives - Where is your Innovation Friction?How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?

When it comes to creating an innovation culture, often people make it far too complicated. If you’re part of the senior leadership team and you’re serious about innovation then your job is simple – reduce friction.

If you’re serious about innovation and you’re not a senior leader, then your job is to do what you can to convince senior leadership that innovation is important. Then, gently help your execs see the areas of greatest friction in your organization so they can do something about it.

When it comes to creating a culture of innovation, the most frequently cited area of friction in organizations is the acquisition of resources for innovation projects (the infamous time and money). Senior leaders serious about innovation must eliminate the friction that makes it difficult for financial and personnel resources to move across the organization to the innovation projects that need them (amongst other things).

But this particular impediment is just a part of a much larger barrier to innovation – the lack of an innovation strategy. When senior leadership commits to innovation and sets a strong and clear innovation strategy then policies and processes get changed and resources move.

A couple of years ago I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people to identify their organization’s biggest barrier to entry. 566 people responded and 58% of respondents identified either the absence of an innovation strategy or the psychology of the organization as the biggest barrier. ‘Organizational psychology’ came out on top with 32% of the vote, with ‘Absence of an innovation strategy’ a close second (26%). Other choices in the poll included – ‘Organizational structure’, ‘Information sharing’, and ‘Level of trust and respect’.

(poll results timed out on LinkedIn)

A second major area of innovation friction is the movement of information. Too often there is information in disparate parts of our organizations that remains separated and unknown to the people who need it. Organizations that reduce the friction holding back the free flow of relevant information to where it is needed will experience a quantum leap in not only their product or service development opportunities, but in many other parts of their organization including sales, marketing, and operations.

So, what are the areas of friction that are holding your organization back from reaching its full innovation potential?

What are the barriers to innovation that have risen in your organization as you struggle to maintain a healthy balance between your exploration and exploitation opportunities?

I’ve explored the idea of barriers to innovation further in my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. It’s been called “accessible and comprehensive” and companies have been acquiring it in bulk to both identify and knock down barriers to innovation, but also to build a common language of innovation.

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Trendspotting Trifecta

Innovation Perspectives - Trendspotting Trifecta‘Who should be responsible (if anyone) for trend-spotting and putting emerging behaviors and needs into context for a business?’

I believe this question should really be broken up because there are three VERY different (and incredibly important) pursuits intermingled here:

  1. Trend spotting
  2. Putting emerging behaviors into context for a business
  3. Putting emerging needs into context for a business

Only at the very beginning of a business, when it is all or nothing for a small team of founders, should responsibility for these three tasks be combined. The reason responsibility for these three different pursuits should be split up is because each requires a different way of thinking, that often requires different types of people to generate the most relevant and actionable insights.

As I’ve written before, insights and execution are the real keys to business success, and in building any successful innovation – the insights come first. So, combining these three pursuits properly and getting the insights correct is incredibly important – otherwise you’ll design, build, and distribute a solution that misses the mark with customers.

Trend spotting requires big picture thinking, a talent for separating the notable from the unimportant, the ability to see how potential trends connect together, and the vision to see the impact of this trend intersection (what megatrends might they point to, etc.).

Putting emerging behaviors into context for a business requires an incredible capacity for insightful observation, the ability to spot influential thinkers who are good at identifying and describing changing behaviors, and the skills to synthesize a collection of perspectives into a cohesive view of the future. This view of the future must of course have a strong chance of being correct.

Putting emerging needs into context for a business is incredibly difficult and requires understanding how emerging trends and behaviors will intersect with new technologies and other business capabilities to expose new customer needs. Those new needs then represent potential growth areas for businesses to enter with new solutions. The goal of course is to identify and act upon these emerging needs before the competition has the opportunity to observe these needs as expressed behaviors and actions and react.

The one skill that all three share in common however, is the ability to disconnect one’s own perspective from the changing perspectives of others. Whether you as an organization choose to hire people into these roles, hire in consultants to provide this insight, or to spread the responsibilities around the organization, you must have a strategy.

Personally, I believe organizations may soon begin creating insight networks within their organizations in the same way that they currently do with innovation. This means having a central insights team at Corporate HQ with strong executive support that is responsible for managing the process, the distributed global network, its training/certification, and its outputs. This does not have to mean starting a new team – companies could incorporate these responsibilities within an existing dedicated-innovation infrastructure. So, can an insight management software industry be far behind?

And last but not least you will need to assign people to monitor trends and emerging behaviors and needs from Six Ways to Sunday:

  1. Demographic and Psychographic Changes
  2. Legal and Political Changes
  3. Different Geographies
  4. Different Industries
  5. New Supplier and Technology Capabilities
  6. New Business Capabilities and Business Models

Do you have a strategy and responsibilities in place for spotting trends and emerging needs/behaviors in your organization?

What are you waiting for?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce

Not much has changed since 2010 when on Blogging Innovation (which has now become Innovation Excellence) we asked the following question as part of a series of Innovation Perspectives:

What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?‘.

Educating Tomorrow's WorkforceHere was my response:

When I first saw this topic I wanted to write about education innovation, but I resisted when a couple of the contributing authors chose this topic. I wrote about the publishing industry instead, but then in 2009 I came across a Phil McKinney article and had the opportunity to meet Sir Ken Robinson then too, and my passions for an education revolution were stirred.

We sit at the nexus of amazing new education technology capabilities, the globalization of work, and an incredible transformation in the needs of employers. The path forward is not the same as the road behind, but our education system is proceeding as if it were.

“We need our children to be Masters of Mystery and Einsteins of Insight.”
– Braden Kelley

Instead of pursuing the current education mantra of more, better, faster, we need to instead rethink how we educate our children because we need to prepare them for a different world. A world in which flexibility, adaptibility, creativity, and problem solving will be prized ahead of the deep technical knowledge that is fast becoming a commodity and easily available.

I’ve said here before that the keys to business success are insight and execution. We are ending an era of incredible business focus on execution excellence and are entering an era of an increasing business focus on insight. Excellent execution will always be valued and required, but more and more components of this execution are shifting from the developed world to the lower-wage developing world.

We are currently in a race to the middle when it comes to standard of living as the developing countries like China, India, Brazil and others climb up the pyramid and developed countries like the United States, Italy, Greece and others slide down. Those developing countries wanting to stay near the top of the flattening standard of living pyramid will have to re-tool their education systems to to prepare their populations to grab as big a share as possible of the higher-wage insight-driven jobs.

Here is an interesting chart from a Newsweek-Intel Study reformatted by Phil McKinney:

Innovation Skills for Children

Looking at the differences in perspectives between the American and Chinese respondents in the research, I came to two possible conclusions:

  1. I am Chinese
  2. The United States (and many other developed countries) are headed in the wrong direction and better change course on education fast

You may think that my views on education are too business-focused, but look, even the arts are being globalized (look at Cirque du Soleil).

I believe that we underestimate children’s ability to understand the real world and I think that the education system and the business world need each other more than they realize. We need to re-imagine our public-private partnerships and expectations when it comes to education, and we need to start educating today’s young kids for tomorrow’s world.

The fact is that we are pushing the limits of taking today’s understanding of science to improve productivity an standard of living. Going forward we will need to break through currently held physical and natural limits and an expanded understanding of our physical and natural worlds. This will require a new generation of scientists and workers who can synthesize approaches from different cultures and disciplines, that are masters of creative approaches to problem solving, and that have the entrepreneurial spirit to breakthrough perceived barriers. Are these the kind of students we’re educating?

What kind of students is your country educating?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

As an added bonus, if you haven’t seen it, I encourage to check out Sir Ken Robinson’s video on “Creativity versus Literacy” here:

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Innovation – Marketing versus Engineering

What are the roadblocks and critical relationships between marketing and engineering in the cause of advancing innovation?

Let me start off by recommending that you watch the movie I’ve embedded, as it does a great job of describing how there is often an engineering solution to a problem and a marketing solution to a problem. This in part explains why there is often a tension between marketing and engineering when it comes to new product development – they see different solutions, assign value differently, and view success in divergent ways. So, please enjoy the video, and my article will continue below it:

So in the future, with the problem at hand, you might want to ask yourself – “Is the problem best solved by changes to the real value, redefining the intrinsic value provided, or a bit of both?”

Of course it is very hard for people to ask these questions honestly as they have a default response, but asking them in a cross-fuctional environment may yield a more holistic and informed response. And after all, many of the barriers that people tend to erect in the achievement of something are often because they didn’t feel involved in the decision-making process.

So, what are some of the barriers that people erect in a sometimes tension-filled environment?

  1. Isolation – You just avoid communicating with the other side as much as possible
  2. Stonewall – You just do what you would do anyways and ignore the input from the other side
  3. Passive Aggression – You consciously choose to behave in a way that will cause the effort to fail, so that ideally you get your way instead
  4. Build a Fortress – You build complex written rules of engagement for your department saying that it has to be this way because you’re too busy and these rules will help you be more organized
  5. Omission – You take the inputs but then you don’t do anything with them (marketing doesn’t promote a feature, or engineering doesn’t fully develop it

Working TogetherThe biggest danger to the cause of advancing innovation when it comes to the engineering and marketing departments is that the relationship develops into one without constructive conflict and without healthy collaboration. For innovation to be repeatable in an organization these two sides must share openly, have their perspectives valued, and contribute to a conversation. Marketing and engineering hear different aspects of the voice of the customer in their interactions with them, and they approach solutions to problems in different ways.

I would even argue that there is probably no more important set of cross-functional relationships than those between marketing and engineering, and that their health will determine the future success or failure of the organization. The executive team should consciously monitoring the health of these relationships, because when they start pulling in opposite directions, the entire organization could be ripped apart.

What directions are these two organizations pulling in your organization?


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Who should own innovation?

Innovation Leadership

When I think about who should ‘own’ or manage innovation, and where it should reside in an organization, I believe the answer is obviously “It depends.”

There cannot be a single answer for these questions because every organization’s strategy and specific culture of getting things done could be different. But, the one thing that I can say for sure is the following:

“Every CEO must own innovation, but not manage it.”

The CEO must own innovation because he or she is responsible for approving the strategy that the organization is going to pursue. At the same time, managing innovation is an emerging specialty of the same level of complexity of human resources or finance, and so CEO’s are not qualified to manage it outside of deciding who should manage innovation in a manner consistent with the organization’s strategy.

The most relevant variable from the organization’s strategy in determining how innovation should be managed is whether or not an organization is committed to being an innovation-led organization. If the organization intends to be an innovation-led organization (attempting to improve every component and offering of the organization through innovation), then a dedicated innovation organization should manage innovation. If the organization would prefer to pursue innovation as a periodic or product-focused effort, then Marketing or R&D should manage innovation.

Another way of looking at who should manage innovation is to ask yourself the following question:

“Who is going to be asked to, allowed to, or encouraged to contribute innovation ideas?”

Your answer determines who should manage innovation. Here are some answers and their implications:

1. Our Scientists

  • In a research-led organization, R&D should manage the innovation efforts of the company with input from Marketing, Finance, HR, and Legal. R&D should be responsible for providing the appropriate innovation training to the R&D department. Marketing-led organizations should see #2.

2. Our Customers, Partners, Suppliers (or all three)

  • Marketing should manage the innovation efforts of the company with input from R&D, Finance, HR, and Legal. Marketing should be responsible for providing the appropriate innovation training to people managing the process.

3. Our Employees

  • A new centralized innovation group should manage the innovation efforts of the company with input from Marketing, R&D, Finance, HR, and Legal. Marketing should be responsible for providing the appropriate innovation training to the Marketing department.

4. A Combination

  • As soon as the combination includes employees, a new centralized innovation group should manage the innovation efforts of the company with input from Marketing, R&D, Finance, HR, and Legal. Marketing should be responsible for providing the appropriate innovation training to the Marketing department.

Innovation FundThe reason that almost every scenario ends up with a centralized innovation group managing innovation is because of the complexity involved in properly managing innovation. A centralized innovation group has the opportunity to continually evolve the innovation understanding of the organization and cascade that knowledge through a set of innovation champions, distributed throughout the organization. A centralized innovation group can also remove most of the innovation management burdens from other groups by taking responsibility for managing the policies, processes, systems and training needs for idea generation, selection, funding, and development. This allows other groups to focus on achieving excellence in their day jobs and coming up with great ideas.

And, after all isn’t that what we’re all after – great ideas to turn into marketplace innovations?

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