Category Archives: Innovation

Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“We need to be more innovative.”

How many times have you said or heard that? It’s how most innovation efforts start. It’s a statement that reflects leaders’ genuine desire to return to the “good ol’ days” when the company routinely created and launched new products and enjoyed the publicity and growth that followed.

But what does it mean to be more innovative?

Innovation’s ABCs

A is for Architecture

Architecture includes most of the elements people think of when they start the work to become more innovative – strategy, structure, processes, metrics, governance, and incentives.

Each of these elements answers fundamental questions:

  • Strategy: Why is innovation important? How does it contribute to our overall strategy?
  • Structure: Who does the work of innovation?
  • Process: How is the work done?
  • Metrics: How will we know when we’re successful? How will we measure progress?
  • Governance: Who makes decisions? How and when are decisions made?
  • Incentives: Why should people invest their time, money, and political capital? How will they be rewarded?

When it comes to your business, you can answer all these questions. The same is true if you’re serious about innovation. If you can’t answer the questions, you have work to do. If you don’t want to do the work, then you don’t want to be innovative. You want to look innovative*.

B is for Behavior

Innovation isn’t an idea problem. It’s a leadership problem.

Leaders that talk about innovation, delegate it to subordinates and routinely pull resources from innovation to “shore up” current operations don’t want to be innovative. They want to look innovative.

Leaders who roll up their sleeves and work alongside innovation teams, ask questions and listen with open minds, and invest and protect innovation resources want to be innovative.

To be fair, it’s incredibly challenging to be a great leader of both innovation and operations. It’s the equivalent of writing equally well with your right and left hands. But it is possible. More importantly, it’s essential.

C is for Culture

Culture is invisible, pervasive, and personal. It is also the make-or-break factor for innovation because it surrounds innovation architecture, teams, and leaders.

Culture can expand to encourage and support exploration, creativity, and risk-taking. Or it can constrict, unleashing antibodies that swarm, suffocate, and kill anything that threatens the status quo.

Trying to control or change culture is like trying to hold water in your fist. But if you let go just a bit, create the right conditions, and wait patiently, change is possible.

Easy as 123

The most common mistake executives make in the pursuit of being “more innovative” is that they focus on only A or only B or only C.  But, as I always tell my clients, the answer is “and, not or.”

  1. Start with Architecture because it’s logical, rational, and produces tangible outputs like org charts, process flows, and instruction manuals filled with templates and tools. Architecture is comforting because it helps us know what to do and how.
  2. Use Architecture to encourage Behavior because the best way to learn something is to do it. With Architecture in place (but well before it’s finished), bring leaders into the work – talking to customers, sharing their ideas, and creating prototypes. When leaders do the work of innovation, they quickly realize what’s possible (and what’s not) and are open to learning how to engage (behave) in a way that supports innovation.
  3. Leverage Architecture and Behavior to engage Culture by creating the artifacts, rituals, and evidence that innovation can happen in your company, is happening and will continue to happen. As people see “innovation” evolve from a buzzword to a small investment to “the way we do business,” their skepticism will fade, and their support will grow.

Just like the Jackson 5 said

ABC, It’s easy a 123

Architecture, behavior, culture – they’re all essential to enabling an innovation capability that repeatedly creates new revenue.

And while starting with architecture, building new leadership behaviors, and investing until the culture changes isn’t easy, it’s the 123 steps required to “be more innovative.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

The Ways Inflection Points Define Our Future

The Ways Inflection Points Define Our Future

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Humans tend to think in a linear fashion. If something is growing, we expect it to keep growing. If it is decreasing, we expect it to continue to decrease. We are natural trend watchers and instinctively look for patterns. Yet it is often the discontinuities, rather than the continuities, that have the biggest impact.

The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot referred to this cycle of continuity punctuated by discontinuity as “Noah effects and Joseph effects.” Joseph effects, as in the biblical story, support long periods of continuity. Noah effects, on the other hand, are like a big storm creating a massive flood of discontinuity, washing away the previous order.

Throughout history, inflection points have defined the future. Business models, built on top of Joseph effects, are disrupted by Noah effects, creating new opportunities for those who are able to identify and adapt. Today, we’re in the midst of a series of inflection points in what was already a time of enormous flux. We can’t predict the future but we can prepare for it.

1920s: A Second Industrial Revolution

By 1920, electricity was already nearly a 40-year old technology. In 1882, just three years after he had almost literally shocked the world with his revolutionary electric light bulb, Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street Station, the first commercial electrical distribution plant in the United States. By 1884 it was already servicing over 500 homes.

Yet although electricity and electric lighting were already widespread in 1919, they didn’t have a measurable effect on productivity and a paper by the economist Paul David helps explain why. It took time for manufacturers to adapt their factories to electricity and learn to design workflow to leverage the flexibility that the new technology offered. It was the improved workflow, more than the technology itself, that drove productivity forward.

Automobiles saw a similar evolution. It took time for infrastructure, such as roads and gas stations, to be built. Improved logistics reshaped supply chains and factories moved from cities in the north — close to customers — to small towns in the south, where labor and land were cheaper. That improved the economics of manufacturing further.

It was the confluence of electricity and internal combustion, along with the secondary innovations they spawned, that led to mass manufacturing and mass marketing. Enterprises scaled up into huge bureaucracies exemplified by the organization Alfred Sloan built at General Motors. Firms were designed to move large numbers of men and materiel efficiently. Information flowed up, orders went down and your rank determined your responsibility.

1990s – Globalization and Digitization

In November 1989, there were two watershed events that would change the course of world history. The fall of the Berlin Wall would end the Cold War and open up markets across the world. That very same month, Tim Berners-Lee would create the World Wide Web and usher in a new technological era of networked computing.

Much like in the 1920s, these forces had been building for some time. Commercial computers had been around since the 1950s and global trade as a percentage of GDP began to sharply increase in the 1970s. Yet 1989 marked an inflection point and the world would never be the same after that.

The combined forces of globalization and digitization favored the quick and agile over the large and powerful. Rather than spending months or years to develop products, startup firms could rapidly prototype and iterate their way to launching a product in months or weeks. So called “unicorns”, startup companies valued at over a billion dollars, began to emerge and disrupt incumbent industry giants.

Perhaps the biggest shift of the globalized, digital world was from hierarchies to networks. While in the industrial era strategy was focused on linear value chains and the sum of all efficiencies, in the networked world strategy increasingly focused on the sum of all connections. A leader’s role was no longer simply to plan and direct action, but to inspire and empower belief.

Yet much like technologies that came of age in the 1920s, the second and third order effects of globalization and digitization were very different than anyone had predicted. Instead of the triumph of democracy we got a rise in authoritarian populism. Instead of a new era of prosperity, we got stagnant wages, reduced productivity growth and weaker competitive markets.

2020s – A New Era of Innovation

Today, as Moore’s law nears its theoretical limits, the digital revolution is coming to a close and we’re about to embark on a new era of innovation. Much like in the 1920s and the 1990s, the future is likely to surprise us, but the rough outlines of new inflection points are already beginning to take shape.

The first is in energy. The World Economic Forum reports that wind and solar now produce energy cheaper than coal and gas in North America. In fact, in some sunny parts of the world, solar costs less than half as much as coal. Costs for energy storage are still too high, but here too there is significant progress and we’re likely to see a scaled solution within a decade.

Another is the rise of synthetic biology. Driven by new technologies such as CRISPR, we’re beginning to go beyond merely reading genomes and starting to write them. Andrew Hessel, CEO of Humane Genomics, told me that we’re nearing the point that the value of a genome exceeds the cost to produce one. That will unleash a new wave of biologically driven business models. A similar revolution is underway in materials science.

Over the next decade we will also see the emergence of post-digital computing architectures such as quantum and neuromorphic computing, which are potentially thousands, if not millions of times more powerful than today’s technology. Although we don’t expect much of an impact from either of these for at least a decade, they will accelerate advancements in biology, materials and artificial intelligence.

Clearly these new technologies will open up new possibilities, but right now it’s impossible to see beyond first order effects. Nobody looked at a light bulb and saw household appliances empowering women to enter the workplace, or looked at a Model T and saw suburbs and the transformation of retail, or came across an IBM mainframe and said, “Gee, this thing will put journalists out of work one day.”

Preparing For the Future

Six years ago, I wrote how 2020 was shaping up to be a pivotal year. Boy, I had no idea! In addition. In addition to the convergence of longstanding trends in technology, energy and transportation, Covid-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement burst onto the global consciousness.

Two things stick out about these new inflection points. First, they were not only predictable, but were, in fact, predicted by a number of people. Second, both will accelerate already existing trends. Covid-19 has shifted digital transformation and synthetic biology into high gear. Black Lives Matter will likely expedite the shift in political power from Boomers to Millennials.

We can think of various scenarios that can play out. Covid may catalyze nascent trends, such as telemedicine and genomic medicine to greatly improve healthcare in the US. Black Lives Matter may cause a shift in hiring patterns that may help to accelerate productivity. On the other hand, the tensions both inflection points create may exacerbate underlying divisions and make things worse.

Those are just two possible scenarios. There are many more, each of which will create their sets of Noah and Joseph effects and then combine secondary and tertiary changes in ways that are unknowable today. What we can do, however, is explore new possibilities and prepare for them. The most important inflection points are often the ones that we create ourselves through the choices we make. No future is inevitable.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Unsplash

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of September 2022

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of September 2022Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. We also publish a weekly Top 5 as part of our FREE email newsletter. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are September’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing — by Robyn Bolton
  2. Importance of Measuring Your Organization’s Innovation Maturity — by Braden Kelley
  3. 3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers
    — by Robyn Bolton
  4. Four Lessons Learned from the Digital Revolution — by Greg Satell
  5. Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry? — by Teresa Spangler
  6. Why Good Job Interviews Don’t Lead to Good Job Performance — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  7. Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups — by Soren Kaplan
  8. Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies
    — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  9. The Seven P’s of Raising Money from Investors — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  10. What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through — by Braden Kelley

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in August that continue to resonate with people:

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

Have something to contribute?

Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last two years:

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You have, no doubt, seen the design squiggle. The ubiquitous scribble is all loopy and knotty in the beginning until it finally sorts itself into a straight line by the end.

It illustrates the design process – “the journey of researching, uncovering insights, generating creative concepts, iteration of prototypes and eventually concluding in one single designed solution” – and its elegant simplicity has led it to be adopted by all sorts of other disciplines, including innovation.

But when I showed it to a client, her immediate response was, “It’s Jeremy Bearimy!”*

Wha????

And that is how I discovered The Good Place, a sitcom about four humans who die, go to The Good Place, and struggle to learn what it means to be good.

The show, created by Michael Schur of The Office and Parks and Recreation fame, is a brilliant treatise on ethics and moral philosophy. It also contains valuable wisdom about what innovators need to succeed.

Questions

With all due respect, “It’s the way it’s always been done” is an excuse that’s been used for hundreds of years to justify racism, misogyny…

Tahani Al-Jamil

This quote was a gut punch from the show’s fourth and final season. As innovators, we often hear people ask why change is needed. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” they proclaim.

But sometimes it is broke, and we don’t know it. At the very least, it can always be better.

So, while “it’s the way it’s always been done” at your company probably (hopefully) doesn’t include racism, misogyny, sexism, and other genuinely horrible things, framing the status quo as an enabler of those horrors is a harsh wake-up call to the dangers of an unquestioning commitment to continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Decisions (not just Ideas)

If you’re always frozen in fear and taking too long to figure out what to do, you’ll miss your opportunity, and maybe get sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Jason Mendoza

Even though Jason Mendoza is the resident idiot of The Good Place, he occasionally (and very accidentally) has moments of profound insight. This one to a situation that innovators are all too familiar with – analysis paralysis.

How often do requests for more data, more (or more relevant) benchmarks, or input from more people slow down decisions and progress? These requests are rarely rooted in doubt about the data, benchmarks, or information you presented. They are rooted in fear – the fear of making the wrong decision, being blamed or shamed, and losing a reputation or even a job.

But worse than being wrong, blamed, shamed, or unemployed is missing an opportunity to radically improve your business, team, or even the world. It’s the business equivalent of getting sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Actions (not just decisions)

In football, trying to run out the clock and hoping for the best never works. It’s called “prevent defense.” You don’t take any chances and just try and hold on to your lead. But prevent defense just PREVENTS you from winning! It’s always better to try something.

Jason Mendoza

Jason does it again, this time invoking a lesson learned from his beloved Jacksonville Jaguars.

Few companies publicly admit to adopting a prevent defense, even though most companies engage in it. They play prevent defense when they don’t invest in innovation, focus exclusively on maintaining or incrementally improving what they currently do, or confine their innovation efforts to events like hackathons and shark tanks.

Incremental improvements and innovation theater keep you competitive. But they won’t get you ahead of the competition or make you a leader in your industry. In fact, they prevent it by making you feel good and safe when you’re really just running out the clock.

Perseverance

Come on, you know how this works. You fail and then you try something else. And you fail again and again, and you fail a thousand times, and you keep trying because maybe the 1,001st idea might work. Now, I’m gonna and try to find our 1,001st idea.

Michael

It’s hard to explain this quote without sharing massive spoilers, so let’s just say that The Good Place is an experiment that fails. A lot.

But it’s also an experiment that generates profound learning and universe-altering changes, things that would not have been possible without the failures.

Yes, smart innovators know when to kill a project. They also know when to try one more time. Wise innovators know the difference.

One final bit of wisdom

Innovation is hard. You will run into more resistance than expected, and things will rarely work out as planned. As long as you keep trying and learning, you won’t fail.

To paraphrase Jason Mendoza (again), you’re not a failed innovator, you’re pre-successful.

*For those of you who are, like I was, unfamiliar with Jeremy Bearimy, here’s a clip explaining it (WARNING: SPOILERS)

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through

What's Next - The Only Way Forward is Throughby Braden Kelley

The world needs you. The United States needs you. Your family needs you.

Both your heart and your mind are needed to work on potentially the greatest innovation challenge ever put forward.

What is it?

We must find a solution to the division and lack of meaning that has become the American experience.

I’m not sure about the country you live in, but here at home in the United States we are more divided than we have been in a long time – if ever. People are feeling such an absence of meaning and purpose in their lives that they are finding it in opposing ‘the other’.

In the most extreme cases, we are so divided that brothers and sisters, and parents and children are no longer speaking with each other or getting together for holiday meals.

We speak often about the importance of diversity of thought, diversity of group composition for innovation, but when a society reaches a point where people cannot productively disagree and debate their way forward together, innovation will inevitably begin to suffer.

When there is no dialogue, no give and take and a culture begins to emerge where opposition is mandatory, progress slows.

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

As long as the current situation intensifies, there will be no progress on other areas in desperate need of innovation:

  • Climate change
  • Gender equity
  • (Insert your favorite here)

We all need your help creating the idea fragments that we can connect as a global innovation community into meaningful ideas that hopefully lead to the inventions that will develop into the innovations we desperately need.

The innovations that will move social media from its current parallel play universe to one which actually encourages productive dialogue.

The innovations that will help people find the renewed sense of meaning and purpose that can’t be found making Sik Sok videos, watching other people play video games on Kwitch or investing in cryptocurrency pyramid schemes.

Meaning of Life Quote from Braden Kelley

Our entrepreneurs have made a lot of cotton candy the past couple of decades and people are starving, people are hangry.

There are certain constants in the human condition, and when we as a species stray too far away, it creates huge opportunities for innovators to create new things that will bring us back into balance.

But we can’t ignore where we are now.

We must acknowledge our current situation and fight our way past it. The only way forward is through.

As a thought starter, here is an ad campaign from Heineken from 2017:

We need everyone’s help to address the meaning crisis.

We need everyone’s help to bring America (and the rest of the world) back into productive conversation and connection – to end the division.

Are you up to the task?

Are you ready to help?

Let’s start the dialogue below and get that pebble rolling downhill in the winter, gathering snow as it goes.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments on:

  • other great thought starters
  • good idea fragments to build on
  • the way through

And last, but not least …

Join me November 17, 2022 in New York City to explore What’s Next at an intentionally intimate event limited to only 100 participants with unprecedented access to ten amazing business thought leaders. For details on the event and to see the speaker lineup, please visit:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/whats-next-tickets-411264462077

Image credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Building a new business is tough. These strategies will help your startup succeed without a big investment.

As many of my readers know, I usually write about strategy, innovation, and leadership. But recently I’ve been asked a lot about how I helped establish Praxie.com as a destination website for hundreds of best practice digital tools and templates using growth hacking strategies. That’s because it’s incredibly hard to cut through the noise and establish a new brand, website presence, and business model in today’s increasingly cluttered competitive world.

So, here’s what we did to build a brand and drive tens of thousands of visitors to our website each month, all without any significant marketing investment. Anyone who’s focused, methodical, and willing take the time can do it.

1. Create Expert Content

Content is king. You can create it yourself or provide a platform that encourages users to contribute content as part of your business model. Content drives the brand and engages customers. Plus, Google and other search engines index and prioritize pages with solid content, so your specific webpages with noteworthy content will get a boost in SEO rankings and see increased traffic over time. Content comes in many forms: articles, blog posts, listicles, white papers, templates, and videos.

2. Syndicate Content to Grow Backlinks

Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. The more that reputable websites link back to your website (or sub-pages on your site), the higher you’ll rank will be in search engines. And the higher your rank, the more organic visitors you’ll receive. Whatever you’re doing or providing as part of your business, position yourself as the expert. Become a source of knowledge and insight for the press, get interviewed on podcasts, write articles for other sites, or do anything else that gets your name (and backlink) out there on the net. This strategy also builds your brand.

3. Become a Video Star

Content isn’t just about the written word. YouTube is now the number-two search engine in the world, right behind Google. Video content highlights your expertise. It gets shared. And it drives traffic to your website that can convert to newsletter signups, subscriptions, and product purchases. Be sure to include keywords in the titles and descriptions of your videos. Also include a plug at the end of the video for where the viewer can learn more (e.g., your website). Re-purpose your videos on social media and embed videos into your website to further reinforce your content expertise.

4. Build Email Relationships

While just about every email inbox is cluttered with spam these days, when someone gives you their email address, they’re essentially giving you permission (opting in) to connect with them. While the same principle applies to social media, email is still a unique, higher-touch, form of connection-making. As compared with social media, email is like pinning a flyer up on someone’s front door versus hoping they see one that has been posted on the corner telephone pole as they walk by. So, create easy ways for people to sign up for newsletters. Connect with others on LinkedIn, where most profiles include email addresses. Focus on building a list and providing high-value communications that use expert content to connect with your audience versus just trying to sell them your product. Many free or inexpensive tools can get you started like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

5. Measure Everything Using Dashboards

The only way to gauge progress is to measure it. Use Google Analytics to track your most important metrics, like the number of visitors, landing pages, conversion rates for your newsletter and purchases, and more. Use free tools like those provided by Moz and Similarweb to benchmark yourself against the competition. Connect social media metrics and advertising into a dashboard that provides a holistic picture of the business. But don’t spend too much time cobbling together data. Keep it simple so you can get a quick read on how you’re doing while spending most of your time doing the things that grow your business.

6. Test, Retest, and Test Again

Google recently introduced a great tool called Optimize. Optimize allows you to quickly run tests on your website or individual web pages. By creating A/B tests that serve up different page headings, product prices, button colors, etc., you can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t based on what you’re trying to achieve. Track which market positioning statements result in the most newsletter signups or which price model delivers the greatest revenue. Running tests should be an ongoing activity which essentially means you’re taking the winning formula from your A/B test and then running another A/B test using that as the baseline. Connect your tests to your data analytics to track what works (and doesn’t) over time.

Most small startups don’t have big funding. That’s why growth hacks are so important. Use a little elbow grease, coupled with savvy customer engagement strategies, to build the basis for market traction. You might need to give it a little time to yield results, but that’s also what’s needed to create an enduring business.

Image Credit: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry?

Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry?

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

Only 7 percent of companies are delivering on the growth triple play by unifying creativity, analytics, and purpose. They are driving average revenue growth of 2.3 times versus peers from 2018–19 (which increased to 2.7 times versus peers from 2019–20). McKinsey

Many innovation leaders are feeling “hung out to dry.” It’s not for the lack of desire to innovate for sure. The challenge is the current innovation processes themselves are not always conducive to actually innovating:

  1. the effort hits the balance sheet and potentially impacts profits
  2. organizational teams fear the unknown and not being involved so often does not support the effort
  3. some innovation leaders alienate team members by pushing too hard
  4. and the priorities of the day simply just get in the way of doing new things.

Innovation is not a buzzword, it is not easy or for the faint at heart. In a hyper-disruptive economy where technologies are impacting everything and changing at unfathomable speeds, keeping pace with trends will take a concentrated effort with very little tolerance for complacency.

Times of uncertainty bring times of doubt and fear on taking risks and making changes. However, the opposite is needed to continue growth in challenging economic times. Companies that infuse creativity and combine creativity with analytics and as McKinsey notes, PURPOSE, continue growth at a faster pace. These companies are creating new products that matter to their customers, they are innovating new campaigns and ways to engage customers as well as new ways to acquire new customers. Innovating methods, business models, and campaigns are just a few outcomes of driving creativity and an analytic savvy in your company’s culture.

Innovation does not have to be groundbreaking disruption (of course it can be! but does not have to be). Iterative changes to the benefit of future needs of customers can be a ground-breaking change for your company’s growth strategy. What is your company’s risk tolerance? What freedom to play with new ideas does your innovation team have or your new product development team encourage? How well aligned are creative process with sales, marketing and product teams?

Plazabridge Group has been involved with 100’s of projects over 15 years and we’ve seen success come to those that double down in the hardest times staying future focused. Segmenting out a future’s team that focuses on the future is important. The day-to-day business must keep going. There are a number of methodologies that work well but none will work at all without a few key changes to the organization to ensure ideas flow from ideation to commercialization.

In the The Wall Street Journal article: Why More Companies Are Putting the LEGO Group Bricks in the Office, Lego Serious Play (LSP) has been used by the U.S. Naval War College (Warfare Division), and spread across energy, transport and finance industries. Companies including Google, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Visa, Lexus and Procter & Gamble have used it. Plazabridge Group uses LSP in our innovation future planning workshops for companies.

The key is not all play! The necessity to drive a stronger analytic savvy is critical to the effort. In the efforts to create, we must answer the questions: WHO CARES? and WHY? and WHAT WILL THEY CARE ABOUT IN THE FUTURE?

Here are a few tips to consider that may help make driving innovating just a bit easier on the organization:

  1. Build your innovation team’s sandbox and give them freedom to work within these constraints. Innovation is not permission to roam freely and haphazardly. Under a defined set of guidelines with a defined budget and set of resources the innovation team can be quite effective.
  2. Remove barriers to approvals under the above guidelines. Allow the innovation team to introduce to departments and company leaders new ways of thinking by hosting events or information sessions to the teams. By doing so it begins to remove fear of the unknown and the mystery around the effort. Open communications and systems can be a very positive outcome.
  3. Don’t be afraid to approach innovation from outside. There are a number of ways to do this, but you will need a strong leader inside to lead the way and manage the inside out and the outside in process.
  4. Recognize that new innovations do not always fit nicely in the current company structure, processes and culture. Consider spinning it out and investing in new ventures as their own entities.

At the end of the day, you need strong people with a tenacity to pursue outside the world of the unknown. This does not always feel comfortable to the organization. Just don’t leave the innovation team “hanging out to dry!”

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing

You Can't Innovate Without This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It just landed on your desk. Or maybe you campaigned to get it. Or perhaps you just started doing it. How the title of “Innovation Leader” got to your desk doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it’s there, along with a budget and loads of expectations.

Of course, now that you have the title and the budget, you need a team to do the work and deliver the results.

Who should you look for? The people that perform well in the current business, with its processes, structures, and (relative) predictability, often struggle to navigate the constant uncertainty and change of innovation. But just because someone struggles in the process and structure of the core business doesn’t mean they’ll thrive creating something new.

What are the qualities that make someone a successful innovator?

70 answers

A lot of people have a lot to say about the qualities and characteristics that make someone an innovator. When you combine the first four Google search results for “characteristics of an innovator” with the five most common innovation talent assessments, you end up with a list of 70 different (and sometimes conflicting) traits.

The complete list is at the end of this article, but here are the characteristics that appeared more than once:

  1. Curious
  2. Persistent
  3. Continuously reflective
  4. Creative
  5. Driven
  6. Experiments
  7. Imaginative
  8. Passionate

It’s a good list, but remember, there are 62 other characteristics to consider. And that assumes that the list is exhaustive.

+1 Answer

It’s not. Something is missing.

There is one characteristic shared by every successful innovator I’ve worked with and every successful leader of innovation. It’s rarely the first (or second or third) word used to describe them, but eventually, it emerges, always said quietly, after great reflection and with dawning realization.

Vulnerability.

Whether you rolled your eyes or pumped your fist at the word made famous by Brene Brown, you’ve no doubt heard it and formed an opinion about it.

Vulnerability is the “quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Without it, innovation is impossible.

Innovation requires the creation of something new that creates value. If something is new, some or all of it is unknown. If there are unknowns, there are risks. Where there are risks, there is the possibility of being wrong, which opens you up to attack or harm.

When you talk to people to understand their needs, vulnerability allows you to hear what they say (versus what you want them to say).

In brainstorming sessions, vulnerability enables you to speak up and suggest an idea for people to respond to, build on, or discard.

When you run experiments, vulnerability ensures that you accurately record and report the data, even if the results aren’t what you hoped.

Most importantly, as a leader, vulnerability inspires trust, motivates your team, engages your stakeholders, and creates the environment and culture required to explore, learn, and innovate continuously.

n + 1 is the answer

Just as you do for every job in your company, recruit the people with the skills required to do the work and the mindset and personality to succeed in your business’ context and culture.

Once you find them, make sure they’re willing to be vulnerable and support and celebrate others’ vulnerability. Then, and only then, will you be the innovators your company needs.


Here’s the full list of characteristics:

  1. Action-oriented, gets the job done
  2. Adaptable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Analytical, high information capacity, digs through facts
  5. Associative Thinker, makes uncommon connections
  6. Breaks Boundaries, disruptive
  7. Business minded
  8. Collaborative
  9. Compelling Leader
  10. Competitive
  11. Consistent
  12. Continuously reflects (x3)
  13. Courageous
  14. Creative (x3)
  15. Curious (x4), asks questions, inquisitive, investigates
  16. Delivers results, seeks tangible outcomes
  17. Disciplined
  18. Divergent Thinker
  19. Driven (x3)
  20. Energetic
  21. Experiments (x2)
  22. Financially oriented
  23. Flexible, fluid
  24. Formally educated and trained
  25. Futuristic
  26. Giving, works to benefit others, wants to make the world better
  27. Goal-oriented
  28. Has a Growth mindset
  29. Highly confident
  30. Honest
  31. Imaginative (x2)
  32. Influential, lots of social capital
  33. Instinctual
  34. Intense
  35. Iterating between abstract and concrete thinking
  36. Learns through experiences
  37. Likes originality, seeks novelty
  38. Loyal
  39. Motivated by change, open to new experiences
  40. Networks, relates well to others
  41. Observes
  42. Opportunistic mindset, recognizes opportunities
  43. Opportunity focused
  44. Passionate (x2)
  45. Patient
  46. Persistent (x4)
  47. Persuasive
  48. Playful
  49. Pragmatic
  50. Proactive
  51. Prudent
  52. Rapidly recognizes patterns
  53. Resilient
  54. Resourceful
  55. Respects other innovators
  56. Seeks understanding
  57. Self-confident
  58. Socially intelligent
  59. Stamina
  60. Takes initiative
  61. Takes risks
  62. Team-oriented
  63. Thinks big picture
  64. Thrives in uncertainty
  65. Tough
  66. Tweaks solutions constantly
  67. Unattached exploration
  68. Visionary
  69. Wants to get things right
  70. Willing to Destroy

And the sources:

Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Importance of Measuring Your Organization’s Innovation Maturity

Importance of Measuring Your Organization’s Innovation Maturity

by Braden Kelley

Is our organization a productive place for creating innovation? How does our organization’s innovation capability compare to that of other organizations?

Almost every organization wants to know the answers to these two questions.

The only way to get better at innovation, is to first define what innovation means. Your organization must have a common language of innovation before you can measure a baseline of innovation maturity and begin elevating both your innovation capacity and capabilities.

My first book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, was created to help organizations create a common language of innovation and to understand how to overcome the barriers to innovation.

The Innovation Maturity Assessment

One of the free tools I created for purchasers of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, and for the global innovation community, was an innovation maturity assessment with available instant scoring at http://innovation.help.

My 50 question innovation audit measures each individual’s view of the organization’s innovation maturity across a number of different areas, including: culture, process, funding, collaboration, communications, etc.

When multiple individuals at the same organization complete the questionnaire, it is then possible to form an organizational view of the organization’s level of innovation maturity.

Each of the 50 questions is scored from 0-4 using this scale of question agreement:

  • 0 – None
  • 1 – A Little
  • 2 – Partially
  • 3 – Often
  • 4 – Fully

To generate an innovation maturity score that is translated to the innovation maturity model as follows:

  • 000-100 = Level 1 – Reactive
  • 101-130 = Level 2 – Structured
  • 131-150 = Level 3 – In Control
  • 151-180 = Level 4 – Internalized
  • 181-200 = Level 5 – Continuously Improving

Innovation Maturity Model

Image adapted from the book Innovation Tournaments by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich

Innovation Maturity is Organization-Specific

The best way to understand the innovation maturity of your organization is to have a cross-functional group of individuals across your organization fill out the assessment and then collate and analyze the submissions. This allows us to make sense of the responses and to make recommendations of how the organization could evolve itself for the better. I do offer this as a service at http://innovation.help.

What Do the Numbers Say About the Average Level of Innovation Maturity?

To date, the innovation maturity assessment web application at http://innovation.help has gathered about 400 seemingly valid responses across a range of industries, geographies, organizations and job roles.

The average innovation maturity score to date is 102.91.

This places the current mean innovation maturity score at the border between Level 1 (Reactive) and Level 2 (Structured). This is not surprising.
Looking across the fifty (50) questions, the five HIGHEST scoring questions/statements are:

  1. We are constantly looking to improve as an organization (3.12)
  2. I know how to submit an innovation idea (2.83)
  3. Innovation is part of my job (2.81)
  4. It is okay to fail once in a while (2.74)
  5. Innovation is one of our core values (2.71)

The scores indicate that the typical level of agreement with the statements is “often” but not “always.”

Looking across the fifty (50) questions, the five LOWEST scoring questions/statements are:

  1. Six sigma is well understood and widely distributed in our organization (1.74)
  2. We have a web site for submitting innovation ideas (1.77)
  3. There is more than one funding source available for innovation ideas (1.79)
  4. We have a process for killing innovation projects (1.82)
  5. We are considered the partner of first resort for innovation ideas (1.83)

The scores indicate that the typical level of agreement with the statements is “partially.”

What does this tell us about the state of innovation maturity in the average organization?

The numbers gathered so far indicate that the state of innovation maturity in the average organization is low, nearly falling into the lowest level. This means that on average, our organizations are focused on growth, but often innovate defensively, in response to external shocks. Many organizations rely on individual, heroic action, lacking formal processes and coordinated approaches to innovation. But, organizations are trending towards greater prioritization of innovation by senior management, an introduction of dedicated resources and a more formal approach.

The highest scoring questions tell us that our organizations are still in the process of embedding a continuous improvement mindset. We also see signs that many people view innovation as a part of their job, regardless of whether they fill an innovation role. Often, people know how to submit an innovation idea. And, we can infer that an increasing number of organizations are becoming more comfortable with the notion of productive failure, and communicating the importance of innovation across the organization.

Finally, the lowest scoring questions show us that process improvement methodologies like six sigma haven’t penetrated as many organizations as one might think. This means that many organizations lack the experience of having already spread a shared improvement methodology across the organization, making the spread of an innovation language and methodologies a little more difficult. We also see an interesting disconnect around idea submission in the high and low scoring questions that seems to indicate that many organizations are using off-line idea submission. Zombie projects appear to be a problem for the average organization, along with getting innovation ideas funded as they emerge. And, many organizations struggle to engage partners across their value and supply chains in their innovation efforts.

Conclusion

While it is interesting to look at how your organization might compare to a broader average, it is often less actionable than creating that deeper understanding and analysis of the situation within your unique organization.

But no matter where your organization might lie now on the continuum of innovation maturity, it is important to see how many variables must be managed and influenced to build enhanced innovation capabilities. It is also important to understand the areas where your organization faces unique challenges compared to others – even in comparing different sites and/or functions within the same organization.

Creating a baseline and taking periodic measurements is crucial if you are serious about making progress in your level of innovation maturity. Make your own measurement and learn how to measure your organization’s innovation maturity more deeply at http://innovation.help.

No matter what level of innovation maturity your organization possesses today, by building a common language of innovation and by consciously working to improve across your greatest areas of opportunity, you can always increase your ability to achieve your innovation vision, strategy and goals.

Keep innovating!

This article originally appeared on the Edison365 Blog

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Proof Innovation Takes More Than Genius

Proof Innovation Takes More Than Genius

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

It’s easy to look at someone like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk and imagine that their success was inevitable. Their accomplishments are so out of the ordinary that it just seems impossible that they could have ever been anything other than successful. You get the sense that whatever obstacles they encountered, they would overcome.

Yet it isn’t that hard to imagine a different path. If, for example, Jobs had remained in Homs, Syria, where he was conceived, it’s hard to see how he would have ever been able to become a technology entrepreneur at all, much less a global icon. If Apartheid never ended, Musk’s path to Silicon Valley would be much less likely as well.

The truth is that genius can be exceptionally fragile. Making a breakthrough takes more than talent. It requires a mixture of talent, luck and an ecosystem of support to mold an idea into something transformative. In fact, in my research of great innovators what’s amazed me the most is how often they almost drifted into obscurity. Who knows how many we have lost?

The One That Nearly Slipped Away

On a January morning in 1913, the eminent mathematician G.H. Hardy opened his mail to find a letter written in almost indecipherable scrawl from a destitute young man in India named Srinivasa Ramanujan. It began inauspiciously:

I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of £ 20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age. I have had no university education but I have undergone the ordinary school. I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics.

Inside he found what looked like mathematical nonsense, using strange notation and purporting theories that “scarcely seemed possible.” It was almost impossible to understand, except for a small section that refuted one of Hardy’s own conjectures made just months before. Assuming some sort of strange prank, he threw it in the wastebasket.

Throughout the day, however, Hardy found the ideas in the paper gnawing at him and he retrieved the letter. That night, he took it over to the home of his longtime collaborator, J.E. Littlewood. By midnight, they realized that they had just discovered one of the greatest mathematical talents the world had ever seen.

They invited him to Cambridge, where together they revolutionized number theory. Although Ramanujan’s work was abstract, it has made serious contributions to fields ranging from crystallography and string theory. Even now, almost a century later, his notebooks continue to be widely studied by mathematicians looking to glean new insights.

A Distraught Young Graduate

Near the turn of the 20th century, the son of a well-to-do industrialist, recently graduated from university, found himself poorly married with a young child and unemployed. He fell into a deep depression, became nearly suicidal and wrote to his sister in a letter:

What depresses me most is the misfortune of my poor parents who have not had a happy moment for so many years. What further hurts me deeply is that as an adult man, I have to look on without being able to do anything. I am nothing but a burden to my family…It would be better off if I were not alive at all.

His father would pass away a few years later. By that time, the young Albert Einstein did find work as a lowly government clerk. Soon after, in 1905, he unleashed four papers in quick succession that would change the world. It was an accomplishment so remarkable that it is now referred to as his miracle year.

It would still be another seven years before Einstein finally got a job as a university professor. It wasn’t after 1919, when a solar eclipse confirmed his oddball theory, that he became the world famous icon we know today.

The Medical Breakthrough That Almost Never Happened

Jim Allison spent most of his life as a fairly ordinary bench scientist and that’s all he really wanted to be. He told me once that he “just liked figuring things out” and by doing so, he gained some level of prominence in the field of immunology, making discoveries that were primarily of interest to other immunologists.

His path diverged when he began to research the ability of our immune system to fight cancer. Using a novel approach, he was able to show amazing results in mice. “The tumors just melted away,” he told me. Excited, he practically ran to tell pharmaceutical companies about his idea and get them to invest in his research.

Unfortunately, they were not impressed. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t understand Jim’s idea, but that they had already invested — and lost — billions of dollars on similar ideas. Hundreds of trials had been undertaken on immunological approaches to cancer and there hadn’t been one real success.

Nonetheless, Jim persevered. He collected more data, pounded the pavement and made his case. It took three years, but he eventually got a small biotech company to invest in his idea and cancer immunotherapy is now considered to be a miracle cure. Tens of thousands of people are alive today because Jim had the courage and grit to stick it out.

Genius Can Come From Anywhere

These are all, in the end, mostly happy stories. Ramanujan did not die in obscurity, but is recognized as one of the great mathematical minds in history. Einstein’s did not succumb to despair, but became almost synonymous with genius. Jill Allison won the Nobel Prize for his work in 2018.

Yet it is easy to see how it all could have turned out differently. Ramanujan sent out letters to three mathematicians in England. The other two ignored him (and Hardy almost did). Einstein’s job at the patent office was almost uniquely suited to his mode of thinking, giving him time to daydream and pursue thought experiments. Dozens of firms passed on Allison’s idea before he found one that would back him.

We’d like to think that today, with all of our digital connectivity and search capability, that we’d be much better at finding and nurturing genius, but there are indications the opposite may be true. It’s easy to imagine the next Ramanujan pulled from his parents at a border camp. With increased rates of depression and suicide in America, the next Einstein is probably more likely to succumb.

The most important thing to understand about innovation is that it is something that people do. The truth is that a mind is a fragile thing. It needs to be nurtured and supported. That’s just as true for a normal, everyday mind capable of normal, everyday accomplishments. When we talk about innovation and how to improve it, that seems to me to be a good place to start.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: MisterInnovation.com (Pixabay)

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.