Tag Archives: Innovation Culture

Kickstarting Change and Innovation in Uncertain Times

Kickstarting Change and Innovation in Uncertain Times

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last article, we described why innovation is transformational, and why, at this moment in time, it is more important than ever to innovate. We stated that innovation-led growth is absolutely critical and that people need to be enabled and equipped to adapt, connect and collaborate in new ways to kickstart change in agile, constructive, equitable, and sustainable ways to innovate in uncertain times. Yet, our research and experience at ImagineNation™ over the past 10 years has revealed that many governments, communities, organizations, teams, and leaders, feel somewhat – but not very – confident in their readiness, competence, and capacity to change and innovate in a world of unknowns.

Six Strategies to Kickstart Change and Innovate in Uncertain Times

To help build this confidence we have identified six key strategies and the key first steps to help you focus your attention, kickstart change, and drive and execute your change and innovation initiatives, to survive, thrive, and flourish in uncertain times.

Strategy #1

Build change readiness and receptivity to survive and thrive in an uncertain world by:

  • Giving people permission and safety that allows them to accept and acknowledge the range of emotional reactions (fears), physical consequences (exhaustion), and work-life imbalances as a result of the imposed WFH environment.
  • Acknowledging how people are feeling helps them better re-balance, adapt, and become resilient by supporting them to develop a work-life balance to better connect with others, tolerate uncertainty to change, and innovate in uncertain times.
  • Challenging people’s habitual default patterns of remaining in the safety of their comfort zones, breaking habitual “business as usual” habits, inertia, and complacency.
  • Being empathic and compassionate with people’s anxieties, confusion, insecurity, and uncertainties about their futures at work, and supporting them through their personal conflicts.

Strategy #2

Allow, accept and ack knowledge people’s fears and struggles about change, help manage their anxiety, improve their productivity and attune them to the possibilities and potential opportunities in the current business environment by:

  • Providing individual and collective support to enable people to take back and refocus their attention, self-manage anxiety, and become grounded, mindful, and fully present, with self and with others.
  • Investing in time and money to enable people to unlearn, learn and relearn how to be change ready and change-receptive, and become adaptive to effectively facilitate successful business and digital transformation initiatives.
  • Helping people get familiar with the brain’s basic cognitive functions, and build the foundations to help get work done by regulating emotions, suppressing biases, switching tasks, solving complex problems, and thinking creatively.
  • Developing 21st-century skills to shift old mindsets, develop new behaviors and the reasoning, problem-solving, planning, and execution skills to initiate and sustain business, cultural and digital transformation initiatives to embed the changes and to innovate in uncertain times.
  • Developing the fundamental foresight and energizing vision to perceive innovation strategically and systemically, adopting an approach that is holistic, human, and technology-centered, to align, enable, and equip people to adapt and grow and to change and innovate in uncertain times.

Strategy #3

Make sense of innovation, and develop a common understanding and language as to what innovation means in a unique context by:

  • Developing an awareness that innovation is, in itself, a change process, and paradoxically requires rigorous and disciplined change management processes and a chaotic creative and collaborative interchange of ideas.
  • Clarifying an energizing and compelling “why” innovation is important to an overall “cause” developing a passionate purpose and a sense of urgency towards leveraging innovation to achieve long-term success, competitiveness, and growth.
  • Knowing how to both make connections and distinguish and leverage the differences between creativity, invention, and innovation.
  • Building the safety, permission, and trust that helps facilitate, educate and coach people to deal with the emotional consequences of failure, to reframe it as opportunities to encourage a culture of taking small bets to learn quickly.
  • Taking a disciplined and methodical approach to risk planning and management, that allows and encourages a culture of smart risk-taking to reduce risk adversity.
  • Creating a consistent and common understanding as to what innovation means in their unique government, community, social, organizational, leadership, or team context and creating an engaging and compelling narrative around it.

Strategy #4

Optimize the notion that innovation is transformational and leverage it as an overall energizing strategic and systemic alignment mechanism and set of processes to kickstart change by:

  • Improving engagement, energizing and maximizing people’s potential and intentionally cultivating their collective genius to learn how to execute and deliver deep change and innovate in uncertain times.
  • Aligning technological, processes and adopting a human-centered structure for change management to deliver business breakthroughs and digital transformation initiatives.
  • Breaking down silos and supporting people to collaborate; re-connect, re-energize and re-invent themselves in a disrupted world.
  • Maximizing differences and diversity that exist between people’s demographics, cultures, values, perspectives, knowledge, experiences, and skillsets to deliver their desired outcomes.
  • Learning and coaching people to adapt to survive and thrive by solving complex problems, uncertainty, instability, and trends that are constantly emerging.
  • Improving both customer centricity and the customers’ experience.
  • Building accountable, equitable, and sustainable business enterprises that people value, appreciate, and cherish.

Strategy #5

Challenge the status quo and conventional ways of perceiving innovation to unleash the possibilities and the opportunities and kickstart change that true innovation offers by:

  • Taking a strategic perspective in the longer term and the need for investment in innovation, rather than being reactive, and short-term profit-focused.
  • Developing an understanding of the different types of innovation and how they can be applied, including incremental, breakthrough, sustaining, and disruptive, depending on their strategic imperative and motivation for change, and not just focussing on making continuous and process improvements.
  • Improving trust in organizational boards and leadership decisions, reducing self-interest and eliminating corruption, and focussing on being in integrity to successfully empower people in change and innovate in uncertain times.

Strategy #6

Explore opportunities for measuring, benchmarking, and contextualizing the impact of innovation on business performance, leadership, executive team, and organizational ability to adapt, innovate and grow by:

  • Embracing new business models, developing leadership capabilities and collaborative competencies, capacities, and building people’s confidence to perceive their worlds differently, and with fresh eyes.
  • Letting go of “old” 20th century methods of diagnosing and assessing culture, based solely on the “nice to haves” rather than exploring the emerging “must haves” to enable people to survive and thrive by experimenting with new assessment tools like the OGI® and the GLI® to quantify and qualify current and potential strengths and weaknesses.
  • Using data to know what new mindsets, behaviors, and skills to embody and enact, differently to become future-fit and succeed in the 21st century, and accepting that some of these are “not nice”.
  • Cultivating an innovation culture to embed deep change, provide learning and coaching to evoke, provoke and create mindset shifts, behavior and systems changes, and radically new sets of artifacts and symbols.

Taking the first steps to change and innovate in 2023

Embracing a range of new and different strategic and systemic approaches governments, communities, organizations, teams, and leader organizations can successfully kickstart change and innovate in uncertain times.

By using this moment in time to choose to refuse to walk backward and sleepwalk through life, by simply committing to take the first baby steps in allowing and enabling people to pause, retreat, reflect and:

  • Recover from the effects of working mostly alone, from home, and online.
  • Re-balance work and home lives through reconnection and resolving loneliness and rebuilding a sense of belonging.
  • Know how to tolerate uncertainty and become resilient and adaptive.
  • Reimagine and refocus a more energizing, compelling, and sustainable future.
  • Reinvent themselves, their professions, business practices, and teams in meaningful and purposeful ways.

We can then confidently, meaningfully, and purposefully energetically engage and enroll people, mobilize and harness their collective genius, to innovate in uncertain times in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives in ways they appreciate and cherish.

To kickstart changes that contribute effectively to global stability, security, connectedness, and sustainability in the current decade of transformation and disruption.

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, February 7, 2023.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

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The Five Gifts of Uncertainty

The Five Gifts of Uncertainty

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“How are you doing?  How are you handling all this?”

It seems like 90% of conversations these days start with those two sentences.  We ask out of genuine concern and also out of a need to commiserate, to share our experiences, and to find someone that understands.

The connection these questions create is just one of the Gifts of Uncertainty that have been given to us by the pandemic.

Yes, I know that the idea of uncertainty, especially in big things like our lives and businesses, being a gift is bizarre.  When one of my friends first suggested the idea, I rolled my eyes pretty hard and then checked to make sure I was talk to my smart sarcastic fellow business owner and not the Dali Lama.

But as I thought about it more, started looking for “gifts” in the news and listening for them in conversations with friends and clients, I realized how wise my friend truly was.

Faced with levels of uncertainty we’ve never before experienced, people and businesses are doing things they’ve never imagined having to do and, as a result, are discovering skills and abilities they never knew they had.  These are the Five Gifts of Uncertainty

  1. Necessity of offering a vision – When we’re facing or doing something new, we don’t have all the answers. But we don’t need all the answers to take action.  The people emerging as leaders, in both the political and business realms, are the ones acknowledging this reality by sharing what they do know, offering a vision for the future, laying out a process to achieve it, and admitting the unknowns and the variables that will affect both the plan and the outcome.
  2. Freedom to experiment – As governments ordered businesses like restaurants to close and social distancing made it nearly impossible for other businesses to continue operating, business owners were suddenly faced with a tough choice – stop operations completely or find new ways to continue to serve. Restaurants began to offer carry out and delivery.  Bookstores, like Powell’s in Portland OR and Northshire Bookstore in Manchester VT, also got into curbside pick-up and delivery game.  Even dentists and orthodontists began to offer virtual visits through services like Wally Health and Orthodontic Screening Kit, respectively.
  3. Ability to change – Businesses are discovering that they can move quickly, change rapidly, and use existing capabilities to produce entirely new products. Nike and HP are producing face shields. Zara and Prada are producing face masks. Fanatics, makers of MLB uniforms, and Ford are producing gowns.  GM and Dyson are gearing up to produce ventilators. And seemingly every alcohol company is making hand sanitizer.  Months ago, all of these companies were in very different businesses and likely never imagined that they could or would pivot to producing products for the healthcare sector.  But they did pivot.
  4. Power of Relationships – Social distancing and self-isolation are bringing into sharp relief the importance of human connection and the power of relationships. The shift to virtual meetups like happy hours, coffees, and lunches is causing us to be thoughtful about who we spend time with rather than defaulting to whoever is nearby.  We are shifting to seeking connection with others rather than simply racking up as many LinkedIn Connections, Facebook friends, or Instagram followers as possible.  Even companies are realizing the powerful difference between relationships and subscribers as people unsubscribed en mass to the “How we’re dealing with COVID-19 emails” they received from every company with which they had ever provided their information.
  5. Business benefit of doing the right thing – In a perfect world, businesses that consistently operate ethically, fairly, and with the best interests of ALL their stakeholders (not just shareholders) in mind, would be rewarded. We are certainly not in a perfect world, but some businesses are doing the “right thing” and rea being rewarded.  Companies like Target are offering high-risk employees like seniors pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems 30-days of paid leave.  CVS and Comcast are paying store employees extra in the form of one-time bonuses or percent increases on hourly wages.  Sweetgreen and AllBirds are donating food and shoes, respectively, to healthcare workers.  On the other hand, businesses that try to leverage the pandemic to boost their bottom lines are being taken to task.  Rothy’s, the popular shoe brand, announced on April 13 that they would shift one-third of their production capacity to making “disposable, non-medical masks to workers on the front line” and would donate five face masks for every item purchased.  Less than 12 hours later, they issued an apology for their “mis-step,” withdrew their purchase-to-donate program, and announced a bulk donation of 100,000 non-medical masks.

Before the pandemic, many of these things seemed impossibly hard, even theoretical.  In the midst of uncertainty, though, these each of these things became practical, even necessary.  As a result, in a few short weeks, we’ve proven to ourselves that we can do what we spent years saying we could not.

These are gifts to be cherished, remembered and used when the uncertainty, inevitably, fades.

Image credit: Pixabay

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99.7% of Innovation Processes Miss These 3 Essential Steps

99.7% of Innovation Processes Miss These 3 Essential Steps

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Congratulations! You developed and are using a best-in-class Innovation Process.

You start by talking to consumers, studying mega-trends, and scanning the globe for emerging technologies and disruptive offerings.

Once you find a problem and fall in love with it, you start dreaming and designing possible solutions. You imagine what could be, focused on creating as many ideas as possible. Then you shift to quality, prioritizing ideas that fit the company’s strategy and are potentially desirable, viable, and feasible.

With prioritized ideas in hand, you start iterating, an ongoing cycle of prototyping and testing until you confidently home in on a solution that consumers desire, is technically feasible, and financially viable.

But you don’t stop there! You know that ideas are easily copied by innovative business models are the source of lasting competitive advantage, so you think broadly and identify financial, operational, and strategic assumptions before testing each one like the innovation scientist you are.

If (and when) a solution survives all the phases and stage gates and emerges triumphant from the narrow end of the innovation process, there is a grand celebration. Because now, finally, it is ready to go to market and delight customers.

Right?

Wrong.

The solution’s journey has only just begun.

What lies ahead can be far more threatening and destructive than what lies behind.

Unless you planned for it by including these three steps in your innovation process.

1. Partnership with Sales

During testing, you ask consumers to give feedback on solutions. But do you ask Sales?

Salespeople spend most of their time outside the office and in stores, talking to customers (e.g., retailers, procurement), consumers, and users. They see and hear what competitors are doing, what is working, and what isn’t. And they will share all of this with you if you ask.

When I ask why innovation processes don’t include Sales, I hear two things (1) “it’s too early to talk to Sales” and (2) “they always tell us the same thing – it’s too expensive.”

First, if you have a concept (or two or three) with a 50/50 shot of going to market, call a few Salespeople and ask for their reactions. Nothing formal, no meeting required—just a gut reaction. And once you get that, ask when they’d like to talk again because their perspective is essential.

Second, “too expensive” should never be the end of the conversation. It’s one piece of feedback, ask follow-up questions to understand why it’s too expensive, then ask, “What else?”  There’s always more, and some of it is useful. Plus, better to hear it now than months or years from now at the launch announcement.

2. Relay with Operations

Most companies have a process between the end of the innovation process and shipping the new offering. It’s where sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, inventory management, contracting, and many other crucial and practical decisions and plans are made.

Also, at most companies, the “transition” from the innovation process to the operational process is akin to chucking something over a wall. “Here you go,” Innovation seems to say, “we proved this will be a big business. Now go make it happen!”

Unfortunately, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and everyone else affected usually stand on the other side of the wall, solution in hand, mouth agape, eyes wide, thinking, “Huh?”

Instead of an abrupt hand-off, the Innovation Process needs to identify when the relay-style hand-off starts, and Innovation and Operations run side-by-side, developing, adjusting, and honing the solution.

3. Hand-off to the Core Business

The hand-off to the Core Business is the most precarious of all moments for an innovation. The moment it leaves the Innovation team’s warm, nurturing, and forgiving nest and moves into the performance-driven reality of the Core Business.

The Core Business knows why it was added to the P&L, but they don’t understand how it came to be or why it is the way it is. And they definitely don’t love it as much as you do. All they see is a tiny, odd thing that requires lots of their already scarce resources to become something worthwhile.

Instead of depositing beloved solutions on the Core Business’ doorstep like an unwanted orphan, Innovation Process should ensure that the following three questions are answered and aligned to well before the hand-off occurs.

  • How material (revenue, profit) does a solution need to be to be welcomed into the Core Business?
  • Who runs the new business, and what else is on their plate?
  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure the Core Business supports the new solution during its tenuous first 1-3 years?

Create a process that creates innovation

Invention is something new.

Innovation is something new that creates value.

Innovation processes that focus solely on defining, designing, developing, and de-risking a solution run the risk of being Invention process because they result in something new but stop short of outlining how the innovation will be produced at scale, launched, scaled, and supported for years to come. You know, all those things required to create value.

BTW:

  • 99.7% isn’t an exact number. In my experience, it’s 100%. But I wanted to leave some wiggle room.
  • I am 100% guilty of forgetting these three things.
  • If you’re trying to innovate for the first time in a loooooooong time, it’s ok to focus on the front end of innovation (define, design, develop, de-risk) and tackle these three things later. But trust me, you will need to tackle them later.

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Back to Basics: The Innovation Alphabet

Back to Basics: The Innovation Alphabet

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You know ALL the innovation tools and frameworks:

  • Design Thinking
  • Lean Startup
  • Disruptive Innovation

But knowing and doing are two different things.  When I first learned Jobs to be Done, it felt painfully obvious, exactly like the customer research I did for five years at P&G.  Then I had to do it (conduct a Jobs to be Done interview), and it was difficult (ok, it was a disaster).

And teaching others to do it is a third entirely different thing.  Because by the time you have the skills and expertise to teach others, you’ve forgotten what it was like to start from the beginning.

It’s easy to forget that before you can read a sentence, you must know how to read a word.  Before you can read a word, you must recognize a letter.

So let’s go back to basics.  Back before the methodologies.  Before the frameworks.  Before the theories.  Let’s go back to the letters and words that are Innovation’s essence.

Let’s go back to the Innovation Alphabet.

Assumptions, every innovation has them, and every innovator tests them to reduce risk

Brainstorming, a great way to get lots of ideas and maybe even some new ones

Customers, the people we innovate for

Disruptive Innovation, cheaper, lower quality products that appeal to non-consumers

Experiments, how you test assumptions and reduce risk

Fun, what innovation should be

G

Hope, it springs eternal in the heart of every innovator

Ideas, where most innovations start

Jobs to be Done, the problems people have/the progress they want to make (and the hill I will die on)

K

Leadership, the most crucial element in innovation (and often the biggest barrier)

Mistakes, how we learn, grow, and make progress

No, the start of a conversation, not the end

Opportunities, a nice term for “problem”

Problems, where all innovations should start

Quiet, what we sometimes need to think big and create something new

R

S

Team, how innovation gets done

Uncomfortable, what innovation should make you (especially if you’re a senior executive)

V

W

X

whY, the one question you can never ask enough

Zzzz, what you finally get to do when you’ve changed the world

As you can see, some letters still need words.  What should they be?

Are there better words for some letters?

Let me know in the comments!

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3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team

3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“What had a bigger impact on the project? The process you introduced or the people on the team?”

As much as I wanted to give all the credit to my brilliant process, I had to tell the truth.

“People. It’s always people.”

The right people doing the right work in the right way at the right time can do incredible, even impossible, things. But replace any “right” in the previous sentence, and even the smallest things can feel impossible. A process can increase the odds of doing the right work in the right way, but it’s no guarantee. It’s powerless in the hands of the wrong people.

But how do you assemble the right group of people?  Start with the 3 Ts.

Type of Innovation

We’re all guilty of using ‘innovation’ to describe anything that is even a little bit new and different. And we’ve probably all been punished for it.

Finding the right people for innovation start with defining what type of innovation they will work on:

  • Incremental: updating/modifying existing offerings that serve existing customers
  • Adjacent: creating new offerings for existing customers OR re-positioning existing offerings to serve new customers
  • Radical: new offerings or business models for new customers

Different innovation types require teams to grapple with different levels of ambiguity and uncertainty.  Teams working on incremental innovations face low levels of ambiguity because they are modifying something that already exists, and they have relative certainty around cause and effect.  However, teams working on radical innovations spend months grappling with ambiguity, certain only that they don’t know what they don’t know.

Time to launch

Regardless of the type of innovation, each innovation goes through roughly the same four steps:

  1. Discover a problem to be solved
  2. Design solutions
  3. Develop and test prototypes
  4. Launch and measure

The time allotted to work through all four steps determines the pace of the team’s work and, more importantly, how stakeholders make decisions. For example, the more time you have between the project start and the expected launch, the more time you have to explore, play, create, experiment, and gather robust data to inform decisions.  But if you’re expected to go from project start to project launch in a year or less, you need to work quickly and make decisions based on available (rather than ideal) data.

Tasks to accomplish

Within each step of the innovation process are different tasks, and different people have different abilities and comfort levels with each.  This is why there is growing evidence that experience in the phase of work is more important than industry or functional expertise for startups.

There are similar data for corporate innovators. In a study of over 100,000 people, researchers identified the type and prevalence of four types of innovators every organization needs:

  1. Generators (17% of the sample): Find new problems and ideate based on their own experience.
  2. Conceptualizers (19%): Define the problem and understand it through abstract analysis, most comfortable in early phases of innovation (e.g., Discover and Design)
  3. Implementers (41%): Put solutions to work through experiments and adjustments, most comfortable in later stages of innovation (Develop and Launch)
  4. Optimizers (23%):  Systematically examine all alternatives to implement the best possible solution

Generators and Conceptualizers are most comfortable in the early stages of innovation (i.e., Discover and Design).  Implementers and Optimizers are most comfortable in the later stages (e.g., Develop and Launch).  The challenge for companies is that only 36% of employees fall into one of those two categories, and most tend to be senior managers and executives.

Taking Action

Putting high performers on innovation teams is tempting, and top talent often perceives such assignments as essential to promotion.  But no one enjoys or benefits when the work they’re doing isn’t the work they’re good at.  Instead, take time to work through the 3Ts, and you’ll assemble a truly terrific innovation team.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Why is it important to innovate in 2023?

Why is it important to innovate in 2023?

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

At ImagineNation™ we have just celebrated 10 years as a global innovation consultancy, learning, and coaching company. During this time, we’ve identified some of the common patterns that people demonstrate as a result of feeling uncomfortable, frozen, inert, stubborn, and confused and as a result, are resistant to innovation. Where many organizations, teams, and leaders appear to walk backward as if they are sleepwalking through this time in their lives.

At the same time, we know that innovation is transformational, and why, at this moment in time, it is more important than ever to create, invent and innovate. We also know that is crucial to be better balanced, resilient, and adaptive to grow and flow, survive and thrive, in today’s chaotic BANI environment. We also know exactly what transformative innovation involves, and how to enable and equip people to connect and collaborate in new ways to effect constructive and sustainable change in a world of unknowns.

Innovation is, in fact, the water of life!

Shaping the next normal

According to a recent article by McKinsey and Co “The future is not what it used to be: Thoughts on the shape of the next normal” the coronavirus crisis is a “world-changing event” which is forcing both the pace and scale of workplace innovation.

Stating that businesses are forced to do more with less and that many are finding better, simpler, less expensive, and faster ways to operate.  Describing how innovative health systems, through necessity, constraints, and adversity have exploited this moment in time, to innovate:

“The urgency of addressing COVID-19 has also led to innovations in biotech, vaccine development, and the regulatory regimes that govern drug development so that treatments can be approved and tried faster. In many countries, health systems have been hard to reform; this crisis has made the difficulty much easier to achieve. The result should be a more resilient, responsive, and effective health system”.

We all know that it is impossible to know what will happen in the future and yet, that it is possible to consider and learn from the lessons of the past, both distant and recent.  On that basis, it’s crucial to take time out, be hopeful, and positive, and think optimistically about the future. To be proactive and innovate to shape the kind of future we all wish to have, through making constructive and sustainable changes, that ultimately contribute to the common good.

Strategically deciding to innovate

Strategically deciding to innovate, is the first, mandatory, powerful, and impactful lever organizations, teams, leaders, and individuals can pull to effect constructive and sustainable change that enables people to execute and deliver real benefits:

  • Deal with, and find solutions to a world full of complex and competing social, civic, and political problems that are hard to solve and aren’t going away.
  • Better adapt, respond to, and be agile in fast-changing circumstances, uncertainty, instability, and to random and unexpected Black Swan events, like the global Covid-19 Pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war.
  • Become human-centric to help people recover and manage their transition through the challenges of the global pandemic and enable them to exploit the range of accelerating technological advances in the digital age.
  • Develop corporate responsibility, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion strategies that are practical and can work and really deliver on their promises.
  • Compete by applying and experimenting with lean and agile start-up methodologies and take advantage of the opportunities and possibilities of the global entrepreneurship movement’s new models for leadership, collaboration, and experimentation.
  • Align to the range of changing workplace dynamics and trends, resulting from the pandemic, including WFH, the “soft resignation” and the demands of a hybrid workplace.
  • Shift individual, group, and collective consciousness towards collaboration and experimentation in ways that rebuild the trust that has been lost through incompetence, corruption, greed, and dishonesty.
  • Respond creatively to meet the increasingly diverse range of customer expectations and choices being made around value.

Important to innovate – three elements

To take advantage of living in a globalized world, where we are interconnected through technologies and values and where we have an interrelated structure of reality, we can:

  • Accept that innovation-led adaptation and growth are absolutely critical and develop targets and a willingness to invest in new scalable business models, achieve fast and effective developments, and launch processes to reflect these.
  • Invest in a coherent, time-risk balanced portfolio of initiatives and provide the resources to deliver them, at scale, strategically, to innovate to the right market, at the right price, at the right time, and through the most effective channels.
  • Adopt an ecosystem approach to adapt and grow by creating and capitalizing on both internal and external networks, and stakeholder management through developing workforce ecosystems – a structure that consists of interdependent actors, from within the organization and beyond, working to pursue both individual and collective goals.

Problem-solving, cultural change, and improving people’s lives

It is more important than ever to make innovation transformational, so that it delivers constructive, ethical, and sustainable change, by building on three critical successful abilities:

  1. Seeing and sensing the real systemic problem or breakthrough opportunity:
  • What problem are we solving? And is there a customer who wants to pay to have that problem solved?
  • What problem are we solving for the customer? Who needs this?
  • What are the possibilities and opportunities available to us? And is there a customer who wants to pay to have this opportunity realized?
  • What are some of our strengths? What are some of the things we are doing well that we can build upon or exploit?
  1. Shifting the culture:
  • Where are we today? Where do we want to be in the future?
  • What are our prevailing mindsets? How can we measure and contextualize their impact? What mindsets might we embrace to adapt and grow in an uncertain world?
  • How ready and receptive are we to really embrace change?
  • What do we need to unlearn and relearn to ensure our people are open-minded, hearted, and willed to embody and enact the desired change?
  • How engaged and passionate are our people in problem-solving?
  • How might we harness our people’s collective intelligence to solve problems and realize opportunities?
  1. Aligning technologies, processes, artifacts, and behaviors as a holistic system:
  • What is our appetite for risk? How do we define risk in our context?
  • What type of innovation do we strategically want to plan for and engage in?
  • What old legacy technologies no longer serve your needs? What new technologies might you be willing to invest in for the future?
  • What disciplines are in place to ensure that people have a common understanding of the key processes and comply with managing them?
  • How are we ensuring that everyone is motivated and skilled to innovate?
  • How are we ensuring that people are acknowledged, rewarded, and organized to repeatedly innovate?
  • What are the key mindsets and behaviours that enable and equip people to embody and embrace repeatedly innovate and design solutions with the end customer in mind?

Become an adaptive and resilient difference maker

As many of us are aware, Toys R Us and Blockbuster were huge companies, that enjoyed massive success; however, this was all brought to an end due to their failure to innovate.

We can all avoid this fate by choosing to innovate and create constructive and sustainable change through:

  • Accepting and acknowledging that to survive and thrive in a BANI world, where necessity is still the mother of all invention, and the urgency to do this is more important than ever.
  • Identifying, understanding, and dealing with our own resistance to innovation, safely and proactively, and transforming resistance into resilience, to be adaptive and safely innovate.
  • Understanding where we are today and then assessing the gap to what we want to be in the future, and mitigating the risks of both closing the gap and leaving the gap wide open.
  • Enabling leaders, teams, and individuals to connect, explore, discover and navigate new ways of approaching and delivering commercially viable, value-adding, constructive and sustainable change, and outcomes.
  • Leveraging innovation to transform an organization, a business, the way people lead and team, to improve the quality of people’s lives in ways they appreciate and cherish.

“In order to transcend mere adequacy and make a mark of creative transcendence on the world, organizations need to stop walking backward, following a trail that has already been blazed. The motto of the British Special Air Service is, “Who dares, wins.” It is time for businesses to be bold, inspired, and look to the horizon. The next great innovation is out there. Will you have the guts to create it?”

Will you make a fundamental choice to innovate?

According to McKinsey and Co “The point is that where the world lands is a matter of choice – of countless decisions to be made by individuals, companies, governments, and institutions”.

Will you make a fundamental choice to use the current crisis to lead to a burst of innovation, productivity, resilience, and exploration in 2023, to take advantage of our connected world to create the constructive and sustainable changes we all want to have?

Or will you continue walking backward and sleepwalking through life, and fail to take advantage of this moment in time, to innovate, and continue life with the same thinking that is causing the current range of results, that many of us don’t want to have?

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, February 7, 2023.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Forbidden Truth About Innovation

Forbidden Truth About Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

If you heard it once, you heard it a thousand times:

  • Big companies can’t innovate
  • We need to innovate before we get too big and slow
  • Startups are innovative. Big companies are dinosaurs. They can’t innovate.

And yet you persevere because you know the truth:

Big companies CAN innovate.

They CHOOSE not to.

Using Innovation to drive growth is a choice.

Just like choosing to grow through acquisition or expansion into new markets is a choice.

All those choices are complex, uncertain, and risky. In fact:

Hold on. The odds of failure are the same!

All three growth drivers have similar failure rates, but no one says, “Big companies can’t acquire things” or “Big companies can’t expand into new markets.”

We expect big companies to engage in acquisitions and market expansion.

Failed acquisitions and market expansions prove us (or at least our expectations) wrong. Because we don’t like being wrong, we study our failures so that we can change, improve, and increase our odds of success next time.

We expect big companies to fail at innovation.

In this case, failure proves us right. We love being right, so we shrug and say, “Big companies can’t innovate.”

We let big companies off the hook.

Why are our expectations so different?

Since the dawn of commerce, businesses engaged in innovation, acquisitions, and market expansion. But innovation is different from M&A and market expansion in three fundamental ways:

  1. Innovation is “new” – Even though businesses have engaged in innovation, acquisitions, and market expansion since the very earliest days of commerce, innovation only recently became a topic worthy of discussion, study, and investment. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Innovation was recognized as worthy of research and deliberate investment.
  2. Innovation starts small – Unlike acquisitions and new markets that can be easily sized and forecasted, in the early days of an innovation, it’s hard to know how big it could be.
  3. Innovation takes time – Innovation doesn’t come with a predictable launch date. Even its possible launch date is usually 3 to 5 years away, unlike acquisition closing dates that are often within a year.

What can we do about this?

We can’t change what innovation is (new, small, and slow at the start), but we can change our expectations.

  • Finish the sentence – “Big companies can’t innovate” absolves companies of the responsibility to make a good-faith effort to try to innovate by making their struggles an unavoidable consequence of their size. But it’s not inevitable, and continuing the sentence proves it. Saying “Big companies can’t innovate because…”  forces people to acknowledge the root causes of companies’ innovation struggles. In many ways, this was the great A-HA! of The Innovator’s Dilemma: Big companies can’t innovate because their focus on providing better (and more expensive) solutions to their best customers results in them ceding the low-end of the market and non-consumers to other companies.
  • Be honest – Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can choose to do something different (and get different results) or do everything the same (and get the same results). If you choose to keep doing the same things in the same ways, that’s fine. Own the decision.
  • Change your choice. Change your expectations – If you do choose to do things differently, address the root causes, and resolve the barriers, then walk the talk. Stop expecting innovation to fail and start expecting it to be as successful as your acquisition and market expansion efforts. Stop investing two people and $10 in innovation and start investing the same quantity and quality of resources as you invest and other growth efforts.
  • The first step in change is admitting that change is needed. When we accept that “big companies can’t innovate” simply because they’re big, we absolve them of their responsibility to follow through on proclamations and strategies about the importance of innovation as a strategic driver of growth.

It’s time to acknowledge that innovation (or lack thereof) is a choice and expect companies to own that choice and act and invest accordingly.

After all, would it be great to stop persevering and start innovating?

Image credit: Pixabay

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3 Steps to Find the Horse’s A** In Your Company (and Create Space for Innovation)

3 Steps to Find the Horse's A** In Your Company (and Create Space for Innovation)

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Innovation thrives within constraints.

Constraints create the need for questions, creative thinking, and experiments.

But as real as constraints are and as helpful as they can be, don’t simply accept them. Instead, question them, push on them, and explore around them.

But first, find the horse’s a**

How Ancient Rome influenced the design of the Space Shuttle

In 1974, Thiokol, an aerospace and chemical manufacturing company, won the contract to build the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the Space Shuttle. The SRBs were to be built in a factory in Utah and transported to the launch site via train.

The train route ran through a mountain tunnel that was just barely wider than the tracks.

The standard width of railroad tracks (distance between the rails or the railroad gauge) in the US is 4 feet, 8.5 inches which means that Thiokol’s engineers needed to design SRBs that could fit through a tunnel that was slightly wider than 4 feet 8.5 inches.

4 feet 8.5 inches wide is a constraint. But where did such an oddly specific constraint come from?

The designers and builders of America’s first railroads were the same people and companies that built England’s tramways. Using the existing tramways tools and equipment to build railroads was more efficient and cost-effective, so railroads ended up with the same gauge as tramways – 4 feet 8.5 inches.

The designers and builders of England’s tramways were the same businesses that, for centuries, built wagons. Wanting to use their existing tools and equipment (it was more efficient and cost-effective, after all), the wagon builders built tramways with the exact distance between the rails as wagons had between wheels – 4 feet 8.5 inches.

Wagon wheels were 4 feet 8.5 inches apart to fit into the well-worn grooves in most old European roads. The Romans built those roads, and Roman chariots made those grooves, and a horses pulled those chariots, and the width of a horses was, you guessed it, 4 feet 8.5 inches.

To recap – the width of a horses’ a** (approximately 4 feet 8.5 inches) determined the distance between wheels on the Roman chariots that wore grooves into ancient roads. Those grooves ultimately dictated the width of wagon wheels, tramways, railroad ties, a mountain tunnel, and the Space Shuttle’s SRBs.

How to find the horse’s a**

When you understand the origin of a constraint, aka find the horse’s a**, it’s easier to find ways around it or to accept and work with it. You can also suddenly understand and even anticipate people’s reactions when you challenge the constraints.

Here’s how you do it – when someone offers a constraint:

  1. Thank them for being honest with you and for helping you work more efficiently
  2. Find the horse’s a** by asking questions to understand the constraint – why it exists, what it protects, the risk of ignoring it, who enforces it, and what happened to the last person who challenged it.
  3. Find your degrees of freedom by paying attention to their answers and how they give them. Do they roll their eyes in knowing exasperation? Shrug their shoulders in resignation? Become animated and dogmatic, agitated that someone would question something so obvious?

How to use the horse’s a** to innovate

You must do all three steps because stopping short of step 3 stops creativity in its tracks.

If you stop after Step 1 (which most people do), you only know the constraint, and you’ll probably be tempted to take it as fixed. But maybe it’s not. Perhaps it’s just a habit or heuristic waiting to be challenged.

If you do all three steps, however, you learn tons of information about the constraint, how people feel about it, and the data and evidence that could nudge or even eliminate it.

At the very least, you’ll understand the horse’s a** driving your company’s decisions.

Image credit: Pixabay

Endnotes:

  1. To be very clear, the origin of the constraint is the horse’s a**. The person telling you about the constraint is NOT the horse’s a**.
  2. The truth is never as simple as the story and railroads used to come in different gauges. For a deeper dive into this “more true than not” story (and an alternative theory that it was the North’s triumph in the Civil War that influenced the design of the SRBs, click here

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Lobsters and the Wisdom of Ignoring Your Customers

Lobsters and the Wisdom of Ignoring Your Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Being the smart innovator (and businessperson) you are, you know it’s important to talk to customers. You also know it’s important to listen to them.

It’s also important to ignore your customers.

(Sometimes)

Customers will tell you what the problem is. If you stay curious and ask follow-up questions (Why? and Tell me more), they’ll tell you why it’s a problem and the root cause. You should definitely listen to this information.

Customers will also tell you how to fix the problem. You should definitely ignore this information.

To understand why, let me tell you a story.

Eye Contact is a Problem

Years ago, two friends and I took a day trip to Maine. It was late in Fall, and many lobster shacks dotting the coast were closed for the season. We found one still open and settled in for lunch.

Now, I’m a reasonably adventurous eater. I’ll try almost anything once (but not try fried tarantulas). However, I have one rule – I do not want to make eye contact with my food.

Knowing that lobsters are traditionally served with their heads still attached, I braced for the inevitable. As the waitress turned to me, I placed the same order as my friends but with a tiny special request. “I’ll have the lobster, but please remove its head.”

You know that scene in movies when the record scratches, the room falls silent, and everyone stops everything they’re doing to stare at the person who made an offending comment? Yeah, that’s precisely what happened when I asked for the head to be removed.

The waitress was horrified, “Why? That’s where all the best stuff is!”

“I don’t like making eye contact with my food,” I replied.

She pursed her lips, jotted down my request, and walked away.

A short time later, our lunch was served. My friends received their lobsters as God (or the chef) intended, head still attached. Then, with great fanfare, my lobster arrived.

Its head was still attached.

But we did not make eye contact.

Placed over the lobster’s eyes were two olives, connected by a broken toothpick and attached to the lobster’s “ears” by two more toothpicks.

The chef was offended by my request to remove the lobster’s head. But, because he understood why I wanted the head removed, he created a solution that would work for both of us – lobster-sized olive sunglasses.

Are you removing the head or making sunglasses?

Customers, like me, are experts in problems. We know what the problems are, why they’re problems, and what solutions work and what don’t. So, if you ask us what we want, we’ll give you the solution we know – remove the head.

Innovators, like you and the chef, are experts in solutions. You know what’s possible, see the trade-offs, and anticipate the consequences of various choices. You also take great pride in your work and expertise, so you’re not going to give someone a sub-par solution simply because they asked for it. You’re going to provide them with olive sunglasses.

Next time you talk to customers, stay curious, ask open-ended questions, ask follow-up questions, and build a deep understanding of their problems. Then ignore their ideas and suggestions. They’ll only stand in the way of your olive sunglasses.

Image credit: Pixabay

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3 Mind-Blowing Things I Learned in Nebraska

3 Mind-Blowing Things I Learned in Nebraska

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In the Before Times, we attended conferences to learn, make connections, and promote ourselves and our businesses. Then COVID hit, and conferences became virtual.   Although that made them easier to attend, it also made them easier to skip. Because, if we’re honest, most conferences were more about connecting and promoting than learning.

Last week, I went to one of those rare, almost mythical, conferences more focused on learning and connecting than promoting. It was fantastic! It was also in Nebraska (which is a pretty interesting place, btw).

Here are my three biggest mind-blowing takeaways from Inside Outside’s IO2022 Summit:

“Strategy is the direction you take to win in the future”

Kareen Proudian, Managing Partner at Faculty of Change

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but if you asked me to define “Strategy,” I’d respond with a long and rambling answer. Which means I can’t define “strategy.”  This admission is especially embarrassing because I have a resume littered with places where I developed, drafted, and implemented strategies, so I should have learned what the word means. But nope, I didn’t.

I suspect I’m not alone.

Asking for the definition of strategy is like asking if you must wear clothes to the office. You should know the answer. But unlike whether or not clothing is mandatory, most of us don’t know the answer, AND it’s easy to get away with never knowing the answer.

The elegant simplicity of Kareen’s definition of strategy blew my mind. It’s short, memorable, and something that most people can understand. Maybe I should share the definition with my alma maters and past employers.

“When we feel threatened, our IQ drops 50 to 70 points”

Alla Weinberg, CEO at Spoke & Wheel

When I first heard talk about Psychological Safety and Safe Spaces in today’s business world, I rolled my eyes. Hard. As a Gen X-er, I grumbled about how we didn’t need “safe spaces” when I grew up because we were tough and self-reliant, and I lamented the inevitable downfall of society caused by weak and coddled Millennials.

I was wrong.

Psychological Safety is absolutely and unquestionably essential for individuals to grow, teams to work, companies to operate and innovate, and societies to function and evolve. I’ve seen teams and businesses transform and achieve unbelievable success by discussing and living the elements they require for Psychological Safety. I’ve also seen teams and businesses fail in its absence.

These results aren’t surprising when you realize that you feel threatened when you are in a complex situation in which you cannot accurately predict the outcomes. And when you feel threatened, you are half as intelligent, effective, and creative as you are when you’re calm.

So, if you’re a manager and you’re upset that your people aren’t as intelligent, effective, or creative as they should be, it may not be their fault. It may be yours.

“Stage expertise, not industry expertise, is key to innovation success”

Sean Sheppard, Managing Partner at U+

There is deep comfort in the known. It’s why we gravitate to people like us. It’s also why companies ask job candidates and consultants about their experience in the industry and choose those with deep experience and impressive expertise. Often, there’s nothing with this question or the resulting decision.

Sometimes, it’s precisely the wrong question.

Sometimes, functional expertise is significantly more important than industry experience. After all, if you’re the hiring manager at a healthcare company looking for a Director of Finance, who would you hire – a Marketing Director from a competitor or a Finance Director from a CPG company?

That’s the case with innovation.

Decades of real-world experience (not to mention the successful launch of 100+ startups) show that successful corporate startup teams had expertise (mindsets, skillsets, executional drive) in the startup’s phase and a working knowledge of the industry rather extensive industry expertise and little to no innovation experience.

Questions are good. The right questions are better. So, the next time you’re staffing up an innovation team (or hiring a consultant), choose based on their innovation experience and willingness to learn about your industry.

Innovation happens everywhere

That’s why people from San Francisco, Austin, Washington DC, NYC, Toronto, Boston, and dozens of other places converged on Lincoln, Nebraska.

We went to see innovation in action and learn about the thriving startup community in the middle of the country. We also went to learn and connect with others committed to creating new things that create value.

Getting our minds blown was a bonus.

Image credit: Pixabay

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