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What Can Leaders Do to Have More Innovative Teams?

What Can Leaders Do to Have More Innovative Teams?

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

Talent is one of the main drivers of innovation and its scarcity and high value makes it a frequent cause for concern for leaders from all over the world. And for good reason. Quality talent can make a business up to 800 times more productive.

But some of the biggest managerial challenges of senior leaders are finding the right talent and encouraging innovative behavior in employees. In fact, only 23% of managers and senior leaders believe they have good methods in place to acquire and retain the best talent.

So, how do you find the right people, retain them, and get them to drive more innovation? Putting together innovative teams and making sure that you have the best talent in the organization is not just an HR responsibility. From top executives to managers and leaders, they all have a part to play in the quest for talent that can help the organization drive more innovation.

To this end, we wrote this article for people in large organizations, whether they are innovation managers, leaders, or executives, who want to build talented teams that can actually drive more innovation.

We’ll go through some important points on the characteristics of innovative employees and provide some practical tips on how to get better talent and tap into the potential of current workforce to drive more innovation.

Why organizations need more employees involved in, and trained for, innovation work

We know that at a global level there is a shortage of highly skilled employees, and that even large companies with all their resources, don’t excel at finding and retaining talent.

Even though unemployment is still a big problem in many areas of the world, the rapid pace of change in recent times have showed that there is also an increasing shortage of talent.

Before 2020, a Gallup survey revealed that 73% of respondents were thinking of leaving their job. The pandemic hit, along with a crisis for many workers, but also with a wakeup call for other employees. And the Great Resignation, where 25 million people in the US quit their jobs in the second half of 2021, is proof of these unpredictable changes.

So, maybe now more than ever organizations should make sure that they are prepared and that they have the right workforce to help them thrive in the future.

Finding top talent is difficult, it takes time and it’s expensive. There is no way around it, organizations need more people once they start growing. At the same time, inside most companies there are also huge opportunities to unlock value from the existing workforce.

  • Untapped internal innovation potential

As it’s becoming more difficult to recruit top talent who can make more innovation happen, businesses that lack the knowledge and support for future growth are on shaky grounds.

But the conversations around the war for talent are not enough to provide real solutions on how to get more people involved in innovation work. Of course, as businesses grow, the need for more people to support that growth is obvious. However, when it comes to innovation capabilities, we don’t hear that often discussions around internal scouting and training of the existing workforce who can turn into assets for innovation.

How to tap into the full potential of employees? The approaches can vary, but a good start that works for almost any company, is to include everyone in the conversation, create a sense of belonging and give them a voice. This option is always worth pursuing and for a more in-depth guide on how to do that you can also check our article on collecting ideas from frontline employees.

Include everyone in the conversation, create a sense of belonging and give them a voice.

A second approach is to actually have them implement and drive innovation, but this is more complicated and requires a very structured approach and well implemented innovation management processes.

Either way, employees would benefit from training on innovation as is understood and applied within your organization. A common understanding of what innovation is for you, as a company, and how to achieve it, can reveal more potential than you first imagined you had.

There is still some controversy around the topic, and some believe that not everyone can be an innovator. While that can be true to some extent, innovation comes in different forms and shapes and almost everyone can contribute to innovation in one way or another if the context allows for it. Which takes us to our next point.

  • Innovation can be everyone’s job

While innovation might not come natural to most people, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn the skills and mindset required for it. Even though not everyone has the curiosity and openness to explore new opportunities and ways of improving their work, they should still be encouraged and incentivized to be more innovative. And we believe it all starts at the top.

Innovation should be approached both top-down and bottom-up, but unless it starts from the top with great leaders who set the tone and support innovation, the chances of success are slim. At the same time, the front-end of innovation is where everyone can and should contribute, while the back-end execution requires more specialized skills and knowledge.

Viima Innovation Management Funnel

The bottom line here is that you can achieve a lot more innovation if you give everyone an opportunity to contribute. Most ideas, especially those that lead to incremental innovation come from the front-line employees, as they are the ones in close contact with your customers, products, and services. Even though most of these won’t necessarily change the trajectory of your business, when you put them together, they can make a huge difference in the performance of the core business.

  • Knowledge — source of innovation and competitive advantage

Speaking of competition, intangible assets, more prominently knowledge, are one of the major competitive advantages for organizations. Even more, tacit knowledge, the know-how, wisdom and experiences of employees which is not codified or explicit, represents an important driver for innovation.

As soon as you start working on harnessing that knowledge by creating the environment that enables transparent communication and flow of information, you will have more people involved in everyday innovation activities like idea challenges.

If you promote an innovation culture

“Even if people themselves might not be innovators, they are still likely to support innovation instead of blocking it by being resistant to change.”

So, if we look at it from this perspective, everyone in the organization can contribute to innovation with the right leaders at the helm, some good skills development programs, and a sound scouting system in place. But for that, we first need to understand what makes an employee innovative and what are the traits that define innovative thinking.

What makes employees innovative?

In simple words, innovation stems from a mix of creativity and action. However, even if creativity is important, it is often overrated compared to execution, which makes change happen and gets things done. To get to execution in the corporate setting, you also need good communication and collaboration.

At a macro level, things seem simple but at the micro level, the individual’s set of skills and traits required for innovation can’t be summed up in a couple of words.

Employee Pondering

So, let’s see what makes someone innovative, what to pay attention to, and what skills innovators should learn and develop. This can help you assess whether some of your team members excel in some areas or if they need to refine other skills or behaviors.

  • Growth Mindset

The road to innovation is paved with uncertainty and risk, so innovators will always need to push into the unfamiliar. This comes natural to those with a growth mindset, who are usually inclined to be more open to change. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset will be more reluctant to try something new or explore beyond what they are used to.

In short, a growth mindset is compatible with innovation because those who possess it, believe their abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. Innovation work will most certainly mean that you will fail at some point, or your assumptions will prove to be false. Those with a growth mindset are resilient, curious, and eager to learn, so such failures won’t hold them back.

There is a common misconception that a fixed mindset can’t be transformed, since it is after all, fixed. The good news is that neuroscience has proved the plasticity of our brains, which means that behaviors and mindsets can be changed, even at a more mature age. But more on that, in the next section.

  • Skills

As mentioned earlier, if you want to build an innovation culture and inspire innovative thinking within your organization, it’s not enough to have the most creative people. There are certain skills that encourage the proactive “doers” to act and execute on innovation.

Some of these skills for innovation are critical thinking, which helps with problem solving, curiosity, which allows for exploration and learning, good communication which enables collaboration and teamwork, and of course the hard skills necessary to actually implement innovation.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of skills for innovation, but they can be seen as the basis on which people can build and improve their skills. The key thing to remember is that for some types of innovation, you want people that can move things forward and get them done.

  • Values

Maybe less pragmatic, but just as important in getting more people on the innovation boat, are the personal values. Values guide behavior and explain behavioral patterns. We tend to act instinctively according to our core values and according to empirical studies, certain values foster innovative behavior while others might impede it.

Our previous article on cultural differences and innovation explains more in depth the relation between people’s beliefs and innovation, so we won’t go too much into detail here.

While some theories like the Theory of Basic Human Values of Schwartz or Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory stem from cultural psychology and communication, they have been extended and applied to economics and the corporate world as well.

For example, one of the ten broad personal values identified by Schwartz, self-direction, is defined as someone being independent in thought, inclined to choose, create, and explore. On the other hand, someone that values conformity and security more, will be less inclined to accept change, or challenge the status quo.

Schwartz Theory Basic Values

Source: https://i2s.anu.edu.au/resources/schwartz-theory-basic-values

These can be measured through the Schwartz Value survey and the Portrait Values Questionnaire. Of course, this is just one practical method, and it has its limitation, as it’s not always easy to apply in a corporate context. However, these methods can still be helpful in providing some guidelines on personality traits and values that are more inclined toward innovation.

So, let’s move from theory to practices that can encourage and nurture innovative behaviors in employees.

How to nurture innovative behavior in your organization

Most leaders concerned about the future of the organization they work for have asked themselves at some point how to unlock more innovation potential and it’s not easy to find the right answer. That’s because there is no single correct answer, but rather a mix of strategy, leadership approaches, resources, and practices.

The first noteworthy element that ignites innovation behavior is as simple as having the ambition to pursue specific goals that highlight the role and value of change and innovation.

Having the right goals that provide focus and direction is essential to set the stage and make it explicit that everyone has a role to play in improving the way they, and the company at large, operate and behave.

The next steppingstone that reinforces and support the goals are the processes that can lead to change and innovation. These are essential in strengthening teams that work on those goals and make things happen. Such processes will look different for each organization. Whether it’s a specific time allocation like the 15% or 20% rule for innovation, or idea management processes, these are crucial for long-term success.

Now, there are also other methods that are essential in nurturing an innovative behavior and these are mostly related to leaders’ soft skills and their ability to create the environment where innovation can flourish.

  • Foster a growth mindset

As already mentioned, there is a myth that you either have the growth mindset or you don’t. In fact, brains keep on changing, together with the cognitive abilities, and a fixed mindset can be developed into a growth one. How to achieve this in practice?

Start by identifying the fixed mindset patterns in your employees. Is someone giving up quickly? Maybe they avoid challenges and prefer the comfort zone, or they avoid negative feedback and are always prepared with the answer “It’s not my job” or “I’m not good with words, or creative enough”. These are all signs that point to a fixed mindset.

To change this, set smart goals and offer learning opportunities that are aligned with those goals. People with a fixed mindset usually hang on to old habits because they had success with those, and they’ve been measured based on them. So, create reward systems that encourage new ways of working and challenge people to take risks.

People with a fixed mindset usually hang on to old habits because they had success with those, and they’ve been measured based on them.

For example, Tata Group worked on developing an innovation culture for many years and as part of their initiative they have a prize for the best failed idea. The purpose is not to fail for the sake of failing but to encourage innovation.

Such initiatives should come from leaders who are willing to address the root causes of their employees’ uncertainty and reluctance to novelty. However, to be able to implement similar initiatives, leaders should take a step back and consider another element, which is critical: psychological safety in the workplace.

  • Psychological safety

The concept of psychological safety dates to 1999 and it refers to the belief that one will not be punished or shamed if speaking up or coming up with ideas, questions or concerns. Studies show that when employees feel comfortable to challenge the status quo without fearing negative consequences, organizations can innovate faster and adapt well to change.

Leaders have the greatest impact on team climate, and they have the power to influence internal behaviors more than anyone. A McKinsey survey reveals how leaders should develop their skills through leadership programs that focus on specific skills. Among the skills that have the biggest influence on creating psychologically safe work environments are the open dialogue skills, sponsorship, and situational humility.

While the theory helps us understand the importance of psychological safety in the workplace, it doesn’t provide practical answers. So, let’s briefly look at some concrete examples that leaders can put in practice to inspire more trust, and safety.

A good place to start is Laura Delizonna’s framework for psychological safety, which is based on four key pillars: Care, Courage, Co-elevate, Commitment.

Laura Delizonna Psychological Safety Framework

Care

Care is about empathy and the openness to understand one another even if you don’t agree. Showing care means practicing active listening, showing interest and empathy.

For example, some organizations have team rituals like check-ins. One technique is the PIE check-in when each person in the team takes a few seconds to talk about their Physical, Intellectual and Emotional state.

Another technique you could use is the Rose Bud Thorn, where you ask each person to share a positive of the week (rose), something that emerged (the bud) and something that is challenging (the thorn).

There are other techniques and most of them work well even in remote environments. Also, something as simple as coffee chats, ask me anything sessions, sharing rituals like celebrating birthdays or holidays can all help in showing care and empathy. Leaders should constantly offer their support, assess people’s needs and burnout risk.

Courage

To inspire courage, leaders first have to show courage. They should walk the talk and be open with their vulnerabilities, mistakes, and challenges. So, while it might be difficult for some, true leaders show the way by admitting when they don’t know something, asking questions and showing interest to learn and improve their skills. Owning errors publicly and as soon as they happen has a big impact on team morale and attitude towards failure.

As a leader you can share your learning journey where you include the goal, the adversities you faced, experiments you made and failed and lessons you learned.

Co-elevate

Co-elevate is about inspiring and empowering others to bring their best, not just cooperate. Study shows that leaders think they give recognition 80% of their time, while team members feel they receive recognition 30% of the time. There is a disconnect in how we communicate.

Some best practice to co-elevate is to express appreciation that is frequent and specific. What do you appreciate in someone’s approach? How did their work influence the results and you personally? What specific behaviors can you praise?

Just as important is to solicit input and how you do that makes all the difference. Instead of leaving room at the end of a meeting for people to add something, change the approach to ask opposing views, or what someone would do in your place, etc. Remember to thank those who speak up and give an opposing argument.

As you can see, there are many nuances when communicating, providing, and asking for feedback. Once you create procedure and different pathways that allow for contribution, things will get easier.

Commitment

Commitment is what brings everything together. Leaders need to commit to experiments and to try to do something differently. Set goals for things you want to change. You can start with one experiment every day.

Psychological safety and a growth mindset are essential if you want to unleash the innovation potential of employees. However, nurturing them takes time, so you won’t see results overnight. It’s important to remember that as leaders you set the scene and lead the way. Unless you take baby steps to display the innovative behavior you expect from others, you won’t be able to move the needle in the right direction.

Conclusion

Neuroscience taught us that even as adults, our brains are malleable, so if some employees might seem resistant to change, disengaged or lack creativity, first ask yourself if there is something you can do differently. Maybe they don’t have the environment where they can flourish, or they are not led by people who allow them to shine.

Inevitably, there’s always going to be someone who resists change, who can’t be converted to a growth mindset or innovative thinking. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Their support can contribute to incremental innovation and continuous improvements. It’s also more cost-efficient to train existing workforce than always looking for something you believe it’s missing.

When you’ll inevitably have to scout externally for new talent to support innovation work, consider a few key elements: the employer brand, innovation culture, leadership training programs, as well as the processes and mechanisms that facilitate innovation.

This article was originally published in Viima’s blog.

Image credits: Viima, Unsplash, Pexels

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Managing Both the Present and the Future

Managing Both the Present and the Future

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last blog, we described the three characteristics that offer senior executives a “unique unfreezing opportunity” from the disruptive COVID-19 hiatus and the rate of exponential technological change. These involved developing a future-ready company that builds upon pandemic-related accomplishments and re-examines (or even reimagines) the organization’s identity, how it works, and how it grows. This means that every organization, regardless of its size and specialization, requires its leaders, and teams paradoxically, to be both competent and confident and be both human-centered and customer-centric, in effectively managing both the future and the present.

Simultaneously, we all need to ensure that they capture the best of what we’ve all learned to keep the digital momentum going and, at the same time, initiate the shift to quantum –  by exploring, discovering, identifying, and unleashing the possibilities and opportunities of a post-COVID-19 world. To maximize, what McKinsey & Co describes as a “turning point” for economies: where new patterns of consumer and business behavior have emerged at extraordinary speed and can be sustained over long periods of time because digitization has accelerated change faster than many believed previously possible.

Unlearn, relearn, reskill and upskill

Reinforcing that managing both the future and the present requires generating new ways of harnessing and maximizing people’s collective and connective intelligence by:

  • Investing in helping people unlearn, relearn, reskill and upskill to meet the needs of jobs transformed by technologies created by globally accelerated digitization.
  • Helping people create vital new references and landing points for a future that they may not have previously imagined, and by;
  • Supporting them in being comfortable with the discomfort this brings.

Focusing on developing an organizational culture that is more adaptive and innovative, where people operate as a connected, mentally tough, and emotionally agile workforce; and are enabled and empowered to dance at the edge of their comfort zones, co-create value, deliver a great customer experience and succeed in a transforming market.

Both Human and Customer-Centric

Through developing both human-centric and customer-centric relationships that:

  • Enable people to shift from human-centered doing to human-centered being through connecting compassionately, creatively, and courageously through reciprocity and collaboration. Acknowledging that consumers have shifted largely to digital channels and many people are at home “nesting” and at the same time “languishing” in their remote and virtual workplaces.
  • Empower people to become customer-centric by co-creating collective value that customers appreciate and cherish. Acknowledging that the virus has interrupted, accelerated, and even reversed longstanding and conventional consumer and business habits.
  • Engage people in co-creation and in taking collective action to ensure that the rebound is not uneven. Enabling people to reboot creatively by maximizing the opportunities arising from the acceleration in the adoption of digital, automation, and other technologies.

As well as using innovation to add value to the common good in ways that improve humanity, by focusing on people, profit and planet.

Seizing the opportunity – it’s paradoxical

Developing future fitness requires people to not only unlearn, and see the world with fresh eyes, it also involves being able to sense and perceive it through a paradox lens; which helps us shift our focus across polarities of thought, from binary and competitive to critical, conceptual, and complementary thinking.

An often-quoted example is that as humans, we need to both exhale and inhale, we need to both rest and be active, rather than just do one or the other, or simply just either exhale or inhale, either rest or be active.

This means that a paradox is formed by contradictory yet interrelated elements that consistently coexist, and as leaders, teams, and coaches, we need to master this to develop the capability of managing both the future and the present simultaneously.

Embracing paradox

Embracing paradox involves being able to consciously shift cognitively from perceiving a prescriptive “either/or” world, which makes things black and white, right and wrong, mandatory or voluntary.

Towards embracing both poles, or polarities, and finding a balance within the dis-equilibrium.

As leaders, teams, and coaches, to seek equilibrium, by balancing both an ability to maximize and minimize people by exerting both powers over them, and by sharing power with them, to unleash both possibility and necessity thinking.

Dancing with dis-equilibrium

Letting go of an “either/or” perspective creates the safe spaces that allow people to flow with “what is” and to then evoke and provoke our thinking to perceive “what could be” possible.

By leading through dancing with dis-equilibrium to co-create a state of equilibrium to be an effective, agile, and creative leader and team member in a disruptive VUCA world.

In ways that allow people to confront and flow with tension and conflict, scrutinize any inherent contradictions by evoking and provoking creative ways in which the competing and complementary demands can be met in managing both the future and the present simultaneously.

Being both human-centric and customer-centric

Developing future-fitness requires leaders, teams, and coaches to be both human-centric and customer-centric simultaneously – to co-create organizations that integrate the values of human-centered design as a framework to balance the needs of the organizations with the needs of its users, customers, and communities, and for the common good and future of humanity.

Being human-centered

Being human-centered is also defined as being “marked by humanistic values and devotion to human welfare” which means that to create more human-centered leaders, teams, and people – we need to know how to shift the paradigm both from human-centered doingand towards human-centered being by:

  • Helping people explore and embrace their own humanness.
  • Being willing, enabled, and empowered to develop reciprocal and collaborative relationships.
  • Connecting to ourselves and others openly through how we feel, express and tap into our own emotions and those of others we interact with.
  • Being altruistic in serving the common good in ways that potentially add value to the future of humanity.

Being customer-centric

Customer-centricity is a way of doing business that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. It aims at building customer loyalty and satisfaction leading to referrals for more customers. Anytime a customer-centric business makes a decision, it deeply considers the effect the outcome will have on its customers and users.

To create more customer-centered leaders, teams, and people – we need to shift the paradigm from seeing business as both a source of revenue, wealth, and profit and towards customers being the reason and source of business success, or not, by:

  • Developing a customer-centric purpose, vision, and mission that every leader, team, and team member is aligned to, and has a line of sight to, and is able to contribute towards its achievement.
  • Anticipating customer and potential user needs.
  • Ensuring that there are a rigorous and regular customer and cultural assessment metrics and feedback mechanisms in place.
  • Ensuring that leadership and team capabilities to adapt and grow are aligned to achieve the purpose, vision, mission, and goals.
  • Enabling every leader and team member to connect with, and listen to customers, and then build products that meet customer needs, anticipates customer wants, and provide a level of service that keeps customers coming through the door and advocating for the brand or business.

Harnessing collective and connective intelligence

Reinforcing that managing both the future and the present requires generating new ways of harnessing and mobilizing people’s collective and connective intelligence in ways that ultimately co-create organizations that integrate the values of both innovation and human-centered design as a framework.

This helps balance the needs of the organizations with the needs of its users, customers, and communities, as well as enables leaders, teams, and organizations to collaborate towards contributing to the common good and to the future of humanity.  It will also help people co-create both vital new reference points and landing strips for a future that they may not have previously imagined, and support them in being comfortable with the discomfort this brings.

This is the next blog series of blogs, podcasts, and webinars on Developing a Human-Centric Future-Fitness organization.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting October 19, 2021. It is a blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Developing a Future-Fitness Focus

Developing a Future-Fitness Focus

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In a recent article “Organizing for the future: Nine keys to becoming a future-ready company” McKinsey and Co, suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the pressure to change that has been growing for many years, which is now at a tipping point. Where the most forward-looking leaders and teams see a larger opportunity – the chance to build on pandemic-related accomplishments and re-examine and reimagine the organisation’s identity, how it works, and how it grows. Referring to new research on the organizational practices of 30 top companies, they highlighted how businesses can best organize for the future – and it is all initiated by developing a human-centric, future-fit focus.

Inquiring as to how might we ensure that we capture the best of what we’ve learned and keep the digital momentum going through developing a future-fit focus within the post-COVID-19 world?

What is a future-ready organization?

The article goes on to state that future-ready companies share three characteristics that offer senior executives a “unique unfreezing opportunity” – oby co-creating new adaptive systems, that are purposeful, organic, and human-centric by:

  • Knowing who they are and what they stand for;
  • Operating with a fixation on speed and simplicity;
  • Growing by scaling up their ability to learn, innovate, and seek good ideas, regardless of their origin.

Seeing the world with fresh eyes – unlearning, re-learning, creativity and innovation

All of which need to be initiated and developed through acquiring a new lens: an ability to see the world with “fresh eyes” by letting go of many of our old mental models and paradigms to:

  • Co-create, with others, new openings and empty spaces for unlearning what may have previously been embraced and worked in the past.
  • Focus on developing a new future-fit focus that unleashes purposeful, speed, simplicity, and growth through unlearning, re-learning, creativity and innovation.

Letting go to let come

In almost every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models, paradigms, and mindsets that have become outdated or obsolete, from strategy to marketing, from organizational design, learning systems to leadership, teams, and even to coaching.

This means that the first and most crucial step in shifting towards a human-centric, future-fitness focus involves “unlearning.”

Because many of our old mental models and paradigms, which are mostly unconsciously embodied in our core mindsets, impact the choices and decisions we make, the behaviors we enact, and the results we get – and it seems, that in 2021 we are getting a lot of results that no-one particularly wants.

What do we mean by “unlearning” and why is it important?

A lot of the mental models and paradigms are embodied in our habitual mindsets, that many of us learned in school, university, or college, and even in 20th century learning programs and built our careers on are now incomplete, ineffective, and irrelevant in adapting, and in serving people to survive, grow and thrive the post-Covid-19 world.

This means that to embrace a future-fit focus we have to first unlearn the old ones.

“Unlearning” is not about forgetting.

It’s about paying deep attention and developing the awareness to see, and step outside of our old mental models or paradigms and pay attention, and be consciously aware of the:

  • Mindsets we are embodying;
  • Behaviors we are enacting;
  • and the results we are manifesting.

Either because reality has changed or because current approaches are based on flawed or rigid thinking, faulty premises, and assumptions, or via a different consumer or technological landscape.

To then consciously choose, experiment, make distinctions, and bravely re-learn how to shift towards developing different, diverse, and more resourceful future-readiness.

The good news is that practicing “unlearning” will make it easier and quicker to make the necessary future-fit shifts as our brains become adaptive, through the process of neuroplasticity.

What are the key steps in “unlearning”?

  1. Being fully present, composed, and detached in adopting a beginner’s mind involving periodically challenging, questioning, and reassessing deeply held theories, archetypes, and conventions to provoke and evoke creative new ideas and innovative solutions.
  2. Allowing things to be and not needing to be in control, or in charge, being comfortable with being uncomfortable and willing to explore uncertainty, constraints, and threats as opportunities from a whole person and whole systems perspective.
  3. Wandering into wonder in the unknown to bravely adopt a “not knowing” stance and be more open-hearted, childlike and joyful, by bringing in awe, curiosity, and playfulness into your space.
  4. Recognizing and discerning that some of your old mental models, paradigms, and mindsets are no longer relevant or effective and be open-minded, through being inquisitive, curious, and creative in experimenting with new ones.
  5. Imagining, finding, or creating new mental models, paradigms, and mindsets that can help you adapt, innovate and better achieve your goals and growth objectives and focus on developing your capacity, confidence, and competence in being agile: the ability to create intentional shifts in different and changing contexts to re-program the mind.
  6. Ingraining the new future-fit mindsets as emotional and mental habits through attending and observing, being empathic and compassionate, questioning and inquiring, generative listening and debate, experimenting, smart risk-taking, and networking across boundaries.

What gets in the way of “unlearning”?

At ImagineNation™ we specialize in designing and delivering bespoke adult learning solutions that embrace a range of future fit mindsets, behaviors, and skills.

Whilst we have found that many leaders, teams, executives, and coaches are willing to unlearn, and re-learn, many are not.

Requiring our coaches, trainers, and facilitators to effectively resolve some of the key human-centric blockers to unlearning and re-learning including some peoples’:

  • Rigidity and fixedness in their own points of view and need to be “right” and in control of the situation.
  • Need to always appear to know, and their hesitancy around not wanting to look like they don’t actually know the answers or solutions, and are therefore incompetent.
  • Busyness, where they are too task focussed to make the time to hit their pause buttons, retreat and reflect, to review options for being more effective, productive, and creative, by thinking and doing things differently.
  • Fear of loss, or lack of safety and permission to set aside the status quo to challenge assumptions and explore new possibilities and play with the art of the possible

Towards  a human-centric, future-fit focus

For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have upended our lives as we knew them,  and according to McKinsey & Co – the resulting pain, grief, and economic dislocation will be felt long into the future.

Reinforcing that the first priority for leaders and teams, therefore, is to become more purposeful and human-centric, to lead and role model a future-fit focus.

Aimed at increasing speed and improving simplicity and by strategically scaling up people’s ability to unlearn, relearn, innovate, and seek good ideas regardless of their origin.

By being curious and creative, connected, empathic and compassionate, confident and courageous, to revitalize, and reenergize, exhausted people, teams, and organizations, currently languishing in 2021.

This is the first of a series of blogs, podcasts, and webinars on Developing a Human-Centric Future-Fitness organisation.

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How can I create continuous innovation in my organization? – EPISODE TWO – Ask the Consultant

Live from the Innovation Studio comes EPISODE TWO of a new ‘Ask the Consultant’ series of short form videos. EPISODE TWO tackles the second most commonly asked question of me:

“How can I create continuous innovation in my organization?”

Hint: It starts with getting a copy of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire because I detail in the book how to overcome the key barriers to innovation.

Together in this episode we’ll explore how to create continuous innovation in your organization, why I wrote Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, and how it can make a great course book for innovation courses at universities, executive education, and corporate training programs.

“Innovation is never easy — and not always welcome. This book is dedicated to the men and women who dedicate their lives to pushing our organizations to make more efficient use of our human capital and natural resources and to make the world a better place.”

Grab a great deal on Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire on Amazon while they last!

What question should I tackle in the next video episode of “Ask the Consultant” live from my innovation studio?

Contact me with your question

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Below are the previous episodes of ‘Ask the Consultant’:

  1. EPISODE ONE – What is innovation?
  2. All other episodes of Ask the Consultant


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Get Social with Your Innovation

Get Social with Your InnovationIf your organization is struggling to sustain its innovation efforts, then I hope you will do the following things.

  • Find the purpose and passion that everyone can rally around.
  • Create the flexibility necessary to deal with the constant change that a focus on innovation requires for both customers and the organization.
  • Make innovation the social activity it truly must be for you to become successful.

If your organization has lost the courage to move innovation to its center and has gotten stuck in a project – focused, reactive innovation approach, then now is your chance to regain the higher ground and to refocus, not on having an innovation success but on building an innovation capability. Are you up to the challenge?

There is a great article “ Passion versus Obsession ” by John Hagel that explores the differences between passion and obsession. This is an important distinction to understand in order to make sure you are hiring people to power your innovation efforts who are passionate and not obsessive. Here are a few key quotes from the article:

“The first significant difference between passion and obsession is the role free will plays in each disposition: passionate people fight their way willingly to the edge to find places where they can pursue their passions more freely, while obsessive people (at best) passively drift there or (at worst) are exiled there.”

“It’s not an accident that we speak of an “object of obsession,” but the “subject of passion.” That’s because obsession tends towards highly specific focal points or goals, whereas passion is oriented toward networked, diversified spaces.”

More quotes from the John Hagel article:

“The subjects of passion invite and even demand connections with others who share the passion.”

“Because passionate people are driven to create as a way to grow and achieve their potential, they are constantly seeking out others who share their passion in a quest for collaboration, friction and inspiration . . . . The key difference between passion and obsession is fundamentally social: passion helps build relationships and obsession inhibits them.”

“It has been a long journey and it is far from over, but it has taught me that obsession confines while passion liberates.”

These quotes from John Hagel’s article are important because they reinforce the notion that innovation is a social activity. While many people give Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the modern-day equivalent, Dean Kamen, credit for being lone inventors, the fact is that the lone inventor myth is just that — a myth, one which caused me to create The Nine Innovation Roles.

The fact is that all of these gentlemen had labs full of people who shared their passion for creative pursuits. Innovation requires collaboration, either publicly or privately, and is realized as an outcome of three social activities.

1. Social Inputs

From the very beginning when an organization is seeking to identify key insights to base an innovation strategy or project on, organizations often use ethnographic research, focus groups, or other very social methods to get at the insights. Great innovators also make connections to other industries and other disciplines to help create the great in sights that inspire great solutions.

2. Social Evolution

We usually have innovation teams in organizations, not sole inventors, and so the activity of transforming the seeds of useful invention into a solution valued above every existing alternative is very social. It takes a village of passionate villagers to transform an idea into an innovation in the marketplace. Great innovators make connections inside the organization to the people who can ask the right questions, uncover the most important weaknesses, help solve the most difficult challenges, and help break down internal barriers within the organization — all in support of creating a better solution.

3. Social Execution

The same customer group that you may have spent time with, seeking to understand, now requires education to show them that they really need the solution that all of their actions and behaviors indicated they needed at the beginning of the process. This social execution includes social outputs like trials, beta programs, trade show booths, and more. Great innovators have the patience to allow a new market space to mature, and they know how to grow the demand while also identifying the key shortcomings with customers who are holding the solution back from mass acceptance.

Conclusion

When it comes to insights, these three activities are not completely discrete. Insights do not expose themselves only in the social inputs phase, but can also expose themselves in other phases — if you’re paying attention.

Flickr famously started out as a company producing a video game in the social inputs phase, but was astute enough during the social execution phase to recognize that the most used feature was one that allowed people to share photos. Recognizing that there was an unmet market need amongst customers for easy sharing of photos, Flickr reoriented its market solution from video game to photo sharing site and reaped millions of dollars in the process when they ultimately sold their site to Yahoo!.

Ultimately, action is more important than intent, and so as an innovator you must always be listening and watching to see what people do and not just what they say. Build your solution on the wrong insight and nobody will be beating a path to your door.

NOTE: This article is an adaptation of some of the great content in my five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire (available in many local libraries and fine booksellers everywhere).

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Death of the Chief Innovation Officer

Death of the Chief Innovation Officer

Among my innovation peers, we have talked about how crucial executive commitment is, and some organizations have responded by hiring Innovation Managers, Innovation Directors, VP’s of Innovation, and Chief Innovation Officers (CINO’s not CIO’s so there is no confusion with Chief Information Officers).

One of the dangers of putting people in charge of innovation though, is that unless you carefully craft the positions and communicate their place and purpose across the organization, you can leave people feeling that innovation is not their job.

But, the reality is that everyone has a role to play in innovation, and in my five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire (available at many local libraries) I outlined nine innovation roles that must me filled at the appropriate times for innovation to be successful. The Nine Innovation Roles include:

  1. Revolutionary
  2. Artist
  3. Conscript
  4. Connector
  5. Troubleshooter
  6. Customer Champion
  7. Judge
  8. Magic Maker
  9. Evangelist

It is because everyone has a role to play in innovation, and because everyone is innovative in their own way, that installing a Chief Innovation Officer may not be the best idea.

Any time you put someone in charge of something at that level of the organization, you end up with someone who thinks they are in charge of the area, in control of innovation. And innovation is not something that you should seek to control, but instead to facilitate.

The idea that people are either innovative or not, and either possess the Innovator’s DNA or they don’t, is complete poppycock (feel free to insert a stronger or more colorful word if you’d like, but I’ll try and keep it PG – for now).

Is there is any type of work more in need of a servant leader than the innovation efforts of the company?

So, if you fire your Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) how are you going to make your organization more innovative?

The answer is to hire an Innovation Enablement Leader.

The implication is that this person’s job will be to lead not to manage, and to enable instead of control. The job of an Innovation Enablement Leader is to facilitate the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture (working title):

  1. Cultivating a Culture of Curiosity
  2. Collection of inspiration and insight
  3. Connections
  4. Creation
  5. Collaboration
  6. Commercialization
  7. Communications

More on the details of the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture in a future article.

Responsibility for innovation should remain with the business, under an innovation vision, strategy and goals set by the CEO and senior leadership. The job of an Innovation Enablement Leader (or Innovation Facilitator) meanwhile is to serve the rest of the organization and to work across the organization to help remove barriers to innovation and to focus on the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture. This could also providing a set of tools and methodologies for creative problem solving and other aspects of innovation work, organizing events, and other activities that support deepening capabilities across the Seven C’s of Successful Innovation Culture.

Most organizations have innovated at least once in their existence, and in many organizations people are still innovating. A true Innovation Enablement Leader is more of a coach, supporting emergent innovation, and helping people test and learn, prototype and find the right channel to scale the most promising insight-driven ideas (or work with the organization to create new channels).

So, are you seeking to control innovation with a Chief Innovation Officer or to facilitate it with an Innovation Enablement Leader?

Keep innovating!

P.S. If you’re looking to hire an Innovation Enablement Leader, drop me an email.

Image credit: E Sotera (via interaction-design.org)

This article originally appeared on Linkedin


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No Innovation Beyond This Point

No Innovation Beyond This Point

Don’t have time to read this right now? Why not listen instead?

(sorry umano seems to have gone out of business)

This isn’t the Top 10 Excuses for Not Investing in Innovation

I’ve been meaning to write this article for more than a year, after a dialog with the CEO of a leading online travel site where he said that the company wasn’t focused on innovation, that it wasn’t the right time to focus on innovation. This is despite the fact that the organization lists innovation as one of the company’s core values on its posters for employees pinned up around the corporate headquarters (and even painted on the walls).

As a champion of innovation this of course gave me pause.

After all, I travel the world delivering innovation keynotes and teaching innovation masterclasses to hundreds of people at a time, espousing that in today’s environment of rapid change that establishing a sustainable innovation capability is the only way to maintain your competitive advantage and ultimately the health of your business.

His comment, and the absolute certainty with which he delivered it, made me wonder if there might be times when INNOVATION IS A DUMB IDEA.

The CEO’s rationale was that his predecessor had spent freely chasing bright shiny technology objects to the detriment of the business’ core technology infrastructure. And instead of social media or these other bright shiny technology objects delivering new competitive advantage, they actually left the business with a core infrastructure that daily was becoming less capable than the competition at delivering the core elements of value that customers expect from an online travel site.

So, he felt that innovation would be a distraction to the business. Instead he wanted every single resource of the organization marshaled to modernize and stabilize the core technology of their online business to deliver great core value for customers, or there would be gradually fewer customers to deliver value to.

This reminded me of the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) because in some ways not only does the core business fund your innovation investments, but it is through continued excellence in delivery of the core value that prevents your organization from quickly going out of business (or losing market share). Meanwhile, through innovation excellence in the other 20% you either prevent the organization from slowly going out of business (or losing market share) or grow your business or market share.

So let’s be clear, you WILL still go out of business if you don’t at some point innovate and reinvigorate your products and services, but I will cede that failure to maintain operational excellence is a faster path to failure than falling short of innovation excellence.

And obviously, the healthier the firm is, the more money it can afford to allocate to innovation. Less obvious is that the best time to invest in innovation is when you feel like you don’t need it, because:

A. Innovation takes time and so you need to invest in advance of inevitable slowing sales

B. You can also invest in innovations that deepen your operational excellence

If you wait too long to invest in innovation, or if you invest in chasing bright, shiny technologies instead of focusing on solving pre-existing customer problems, you end up in a situation like this online travel company. Customers ultimately drive innovation, not technology.

There are of course other times where instead of ceding your innovation investments to focus on the core business, you actually decide to take money away from the core business and in a sense consciously cede it to the competition. The goal here is to increase your investments into innovations that will help your organization jump back into a stronger competitive position on the next curve. But few companies are able to make this work.

So, now you’ll fully understand the reasons behind #1 on my list of the Top 10 Reasons Not to Innovate:

1. Your main business is broken

We took a detailed look at this topic above.

2. Lack of commitment to innovation

If your organization isn’t committed to innovation for the long-term, don’t bother. Innovation isn’t free, it doesn’t happen overnight, and many ideas may become interesting inventions, but don’t end up being valuable innovations in the marketplace. Plus, employees can see right through executive teams that aren’t truly committed to innovation.

3. No common language of innovation

The term “innovation” means different things to different people. Ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 different definitions. So, after getting commitment to innovation, define what innovation means for the organization, and as I speak about in my five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, you must also create an innovation vision, strategy, and goals that ideally are formed with the organization’s vision, strategy, and goals in mind.

4. Lack of trust in the organization

Trust is fundamental to the success of any formal approach to innovation. If trust is currently broken in your organization, you must begin repairing that first. Then, and only then, can you start soliciting innovation ideas from your employees. In order to maintain trust (which is very fragile), you must also have all of the pieces in place to show people that ideas are being seriously considered and that that there is a process for choosing, funding, and developing them.

5. Don’t know how to innovate (or don’t know where to start)

Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire was designed to help organizations identify and remove barriers to innovation, but it also serves as a great innovation primer. Download it onto your Kindle, get it at your library, or get a hardcover from your favorite book seller. In addition, there are over 7,000 articles here on Innovation Excellence from over 400 contributing authors that can help you understand where to begin, and our directory of consultants provides some individuals and companies that can help. Finally, if you are a new innovation leader you should join our Linkedin group and reach out to some of your innovation management peers and ask them how they got started.

6. Innovation readiness down through the organization is lacking

It’s great when executives get religion and not only commit to innovation, but also make it a priority. But your employees must also be ready to innovate, and this requires education (see #5) and communications (see #3 and #4) around not just what innovation is, but why it is important. If your employees don’t understand what innovation is and why it is important to the continued success of the organization, you may be surprised to find that they sit on the sidelines. You wouldn’t expect the organization to go from 0 to 60 mph on its ability to utilize the principles of Lean, Agile, or Six Sigma. Innovation requires an investment in organizational capability and readiness too.

7. Lack of a unique, valuable customer insight

Brainstorming doesn’t drive innovation. Ideas don’t lead to innovation success. Innovation success is determined by customers voting with their feet and their wallets, and the only way that you get them to move either is by developing a new solution to a problem that delivers more value than every existing alternative. Innovation comes from connecting with customers in meaningful ways, and this requires that you develop a unique, valuable customer insight before you even begin generating ideas (possibly even co-creating with customers). Opening up and providing access to ethnographic research, behavioral data, and other sources of inspiration is a good place to start.

8. Can’t cope with the changes required

Committing to building an innovation capability often requires changes to organizational structure, rewards and recognition, budgeting, executive compensation, business unit goals, and other structural elements that the organization may not be ready for. Additionally, sometimes the organization isn’t capable of moving fast enough to realize the market potential of the innovations they are likely to create. In fast moving consumer goods this is can be a real problem, and so companies often must simultaneously accelerate the pace of change in their organization, identify structural impediments, find new ways to design and implement experiments to quickly prove or disprove assumptions or keys to success. I’m currently refining a change planning toolkit for public release and introduction in my new book on organizational change for Palgrave Macmillan. You can get involved with this project here.

9. ROI higher on improvements than innovation

Not all innovations are equal and your innovation pipeline may not always be full of potential innovations likely to scale to a level outpacing the ROI achievable on improvements ideas focused on your current slate of products and services. This reason is often used as an excuse, by executives not committed to innovation, for not funding potential innovations. This makes including it here hard for me to do. But, the fact is that there are times when this is a valid reason not to innovate. Sometimes innovation pipelines go dry for a little while, and usually this means that you haven’t been spending as much time with customers or scanning the landscape as you should have. You must restart these efforts immediately.

10. Too Early (customers not ready, technology not ready to scale) or Tipping Point Not Identified

It is possible to come up with a great potential innovation, but be too early. Compaq developed a hard disk based mp3 player years before Apple launched the iPod, but smartly chose not to launch it. Without the elegant navigation and music organization capabilities it would have certainly failed. The iPod itself didn’t take off until THREE YEARS after its launch (coinciding with the launch of the Windows version of iTunes). Online car services floated around for years, but customers weren’t ready to try them at scale until Uber added a little map showing nearby available cars and started to generate positive word of mouth. Airbnb didn’t invent the vacation rental by owner market but they came out of nowhere against established players and grew the market by asking people to question their lodging assumptions and offering people the ability to rent a spot on someone’s couch. One final example. The Apple TV launched in 2007 (EIGHT YEARS AGO) as a hobby, and while the Apple TV is shipping larger volumes today than eight years ago, it has failed to move the ecosystem as fast as they were able to in the mobile carrier/handset space. Whether HBO Now exclusively is the tipping point for a power shift in the television industry from cable/satellite providers (think mobile service providers) to the television stations (think mobile app makers), remains to be seen.

Conclusion

So there you have it, the Top 10 Reasons Not to Innovate. I’ll now turn around and expose my back so my fellow innovation authors, bloggers, and consultants can notch and loose their arrows in opposition to this heretical idea.

Or, a less painful way to voice your opinion (at least for me), would be for you to utilize the comments section to state your opinions in support or opposition to the idea that innovation is not always a smart idea.

Are there other valid reasons why a company should choose not to innovate?

Not excuses to use to oppose innovation, but real situations where innovation is actually a dumb idea?


SPECIAL BONUS: You can now access my latest webinar ‘Innovation is All About Change’ compliments of CoDev with passcode 1515 here:

(sorry but the link expired)



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