Tag Archives: Innovation

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.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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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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Hyper-Innovation

A Change Management Strategy for Better, Faster Ideas

Hyper-Innovation

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

The nature of innovation is that it is a hyper-fluid force that is never fully predictable. A well-curated change management strategy helps to harness the power of innovative change.

Innovation plays a significant role in driving positive change, as 51% of organizations attribute their success to innovative initiatives, all of whom also experienced an 11% increase in revenue.

In this article, we trace the pathway to innovative change in the following topics:

  • The Plan for Change
  • Designing Strategies for Change
  • An Agile Approach to Transformation
  • Getting Curious About Change

The Plan for Change

In charting a course to bigger and better ideas, a clear change management strategy helps to identify a direct path forward. Creating a thoughtful change management strategy allows you to plan several steps ahead and steer change in your favor.

The most intentional change management strategies focus on proactive change. The following are key elements in creating a proactive path for change:

1. Prepare to Plan

Preparing to create a change management strategy is essentially planning to plan. As you consider the best approach to creating change, take time to map out each step of your strategy. While it may seem more effective to just dive in, remember that intentionality is the name of the game in lasting change.

2. Cultivate Transparency

Many changes are unexpected and unwanted. For this reason, many organizations make the mistake of keeping changes quiet from the rest of the team. However, this type of secrecy can sabotage your organizational transformation.

Make it a point to cultivate a sense of transparency at every level of your organization. By including all parties in your plans for change, you’ll get a head start on driving innovation. When team members feel included in major decisions like a big change, they are more likely to accept and support it going forward.

3. Encourage High Tolerance

Tolerance for change is a muscle that should be exercised. Challenge your team members to fight their resistance to change by sharing the benefits of change. Explaining “what’s in it for me” gives team members a reason to root for change while increasing their tolerance for the unknown.

4. Monitor and Measure 

Just as true change is a long-term endeavor, creating a change management strategy isn’t just a one-time event. Successful strategies for change will never be static, making monitoring and measuring key performance indicators a perpetual part of the change management process.

Design a fluid change management strategy by teaching your team to measure success, monitor potential problems, and resolve issues as efficiently as possible. This way, your strategy for change will evolve according to your needs.

Designing Strategies for Change

A design thinking change management strategy places team members at the heart of a change. This people-first approach to purposeful change lets team leaders curate a strategy with the greatest benefits for all parties involved. At Voltage Control, we explore design thinking as a change management practice to inspire the most innovative ideas, allowing team members to shape new initiatives together.

Apply design thinking to your change management strategy in the following ways:

1. Find the ‘What’ of Change

Design thinking facilitates purposeful change. Shape your change management strategy by determining the “what” of your change to inform your path to the most viable and innovative solutions.

2. Center Empathy

Successful changes tap into our emotions. Design thinking cuts to the heart of a change by prioritizing empathy from the very beginning. Harness empathy in your next change by considering your team members’ mindsets and perspectives before implementing change. Continue to research how all participants will be impacted by a change as you incorporate empathy into your change strategy.

3. Use Divergent Thinking

Employ divergent thinking in your change management strategy. Through a design-centered approach, shape a plan for change that encourages collaborative thinking, integrated innovation, and holistic decision-making.

4. Practice Constant Experimentation

Experimentation is the beating heart of design thinking. Make the strategizing process more tangible by testing new ideas and running experiments to see what works. By testing an idea on a small scale, you’ll be able to make the necessary changes to help shape your initiative for real change.

An Agile Approach to Transformation

An agile approach to change management zeroes in on a faster, more urgent need for transformation. Agile principles offer a valid framework for transformation. Agile is tailor-made for systemic problem-solving, allowing team members to find the most groundbreaking solutions to the most persistent problem.

According to Carie Davis, a corporate innovation specialist, inventing new methods for problem-solving is the key to driving innovative change. Regardless of how powerful an initial initiative is, lasting change won’t take hold until it truly transforms an organization. For this reason, Davis suggests that businesses initiate long-term shifts by starting small and by making little changes at the core of the company. These smaller changes are a key part of Agile change management strategy and are instrumental in catalyzing lasting transformation.

Consider applying agile methodology to your change strategy in the following ways:

1. Go Lean

  • Focus on a change strategy that provides increased value and positive change. Going lean allows for rapid transformation by limiting factors that waste resources, energy, and time.

2. Practice Continuous Improvement

  • Agile champions continuous improvement through small changes over time. These small changes lead to the most significant shifts.

3. Encourage Employee Authorship

  • Innovative change doesn’t happen with a top-down approach. Create an agile-informed change management strategy by bringing your employees into the decision-making process. This way, all team members can determine the most pressing areas for improvement and make meaningful contributions as they work together to co-create the next change.
  • 4. Practice Reflective Improvement 

  • In shaping a change management strategy to grow with your organization, practicing reflective improvement guarantees consistent long-term change. Regularly evaluate your organization’s performance and initiatives as you continue to shape your change management strategy into a better, leaner plan.
  • Getting Curious About Change

    In designing the most innovative change management strategy, don’t forget to consider a sense of curiosity. Thrive through change and drive innovation by cultivating a curious desire to be better than ever.

    Research shows that curiosity allows us to welcome new experiences with less defensiveness and aggressiveness. By responding to the unknown in uniquely positive and inquisitive ways, your teams can dream up the most imaginative solutions on their path to lasting change.

    In addition to helping teams accept change, facilitating a sense of curiosity is an essential component in designing an innovative workplace. In creating a culture of curiosity, you’ll encourage team members to become change agents themselves. With a desire to learn more, be more, and do more, you’ll be able to reframe the potential pitfalls of change and the fears that come with it as an opportunity to get better and better.

    Innovation and change are infinitely interconnected. Harness the power of both by designing a change management strategy that continues to transform your organization in the best ways possible. Explore our offerings to learn more about taking change management to the next level.

    Image credit: Pixabay

    Article first seen at VoltageControl.com 

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    Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative?

    Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative?

    GUEST POST from Pete Foley

    The rapid emergence of increasingly sophisticated ‘AI ‘ programs such as CHATgpt will profoundly impact our world in many ways. That will inevitably include Innovation, especially the front end. But will it ultimately help or hurt us? Better access to information should be a huge benefit, and my intuition was to dive in and take full advantage. I still think it has enormous upside, but I also think it needs to be treated with care. At this point at least, it’s still a tool, not an oracle. It’s an excellent source for tapping existing information, but it’s (not yet) a source of new ideas. As with any tool, those who understand deeply how it works, its benefits and its limitations, will get the most from it. And those who use it wrongly could end up doing more harm than good. So below I’ve mapped out a few pros and cons that I see. It’s new, and like everybody else, I’m on a learning curve, so would welcome any and all thoughts on these pros and cons:

    What is Innovation?

    First a bit of a sidebar. To understand how to use a tool, I at least need to have a reasonably clear of what goals I want it to help me achieve. Obviously ‘what is innovation’ is a somewhat debatable topic, but my working model is that the front end of innovation typically involves taking existing knowledge or technology, and combining it in new, useful ways, or in new contexts, to create something that is new, useful and ideally understandable and accessible. This requires deep knowledge, curiosity and the ability to reframe problems to find new uses of existing assets. A recent illustrative example is Oculus Rift, an innovation that helped to make virtual reality accessible by combining fairly mundane components including a mobile phone screen and a tracking sensor and ski glasses into something new. But innovation comes in many forms, and can also involve serendipity and keen observation, as in Alexander Fleming’s original discovery of penicillin. But even this requires deep domain knowledge to spot the opportunity and reframing undesirable mold into a (very) useful pharmaceutical. So, my start-point is which parts of this can CHATgpt help with?

    Another sidebar is that innovation is of course far more than simply discovery or a Eureka moment. Turning an idea into a viable product or service usually requires considerable work, with the development of penicillin being a case in point. I’ve no doubt that CHATgpt and its inevitable ‘progeny’ will be of considerable help in that part of the process too.   But for starters I’ve focused on what it brings to the discovery phase, and the generation of big, game changing ideas.

    First the Pros:

    1. Staying Current: We all have to strike a balance between keeping up with developments in our own fields, and trying to come up with new ideas. The sheer volume of new information, especially in developing fields, means that keeping pace with even our own area of expertise has become challenging. But spend too much time just keeping up, and we become followers, not innovators, so we have to carve out time to also stretch existing knowledge. But if we don’t get the balance right, and fail to stay current, we risk get leapfrogged by those who more diligently track the latest discoveries. Simultaneous invention has been pervasive at least since the development of calculus, as one discovery often signposts and lays the path for the next. So fail to stay on top of our field, and we potentially miss a relatively easy step to the next big idea. CHATgpt can become an extremely efficient tool for tracking advances without getting buried in them.

    2. Pushing Outside of our Comfort Zone: Breakthrough innovation almost by definition requires us to step beyond the boundaries of our existing knowledge. Whether we are Dyson stealing filtration technology from a sawmill for his unique ‘filterless’ vacuum cleaner, physicians combining stem cell innovation with tech to create rejection resistant artificial organs, or the Oculus tech mentioned above, innovation almost always requires tapping resources from outside of the established field. If we don’t do this, then we not only tend towards incremental ideas, but also tend to stay in lock step with other experts in our field. This becomes increasingly the case as an area matures, low hanging fruit is exhausted, and domain knowledge becomes somewhat commoditized. CHATgpt simply allows us to explore beyond our field far more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to before. And as it or related tech evolves, it will inevitably enable ever more sophisticated search. From my experience it already enables some degree of analogous search if you are thoughtful about how to frame questions, thus allowing us to more effectively expand searches for existing solutions to problems that lie beyond the obvious. That is potentially really exciting.

    Some Possible Cons:

    1. Going Down the Rabbit Hole: CHATgpt is crack cocaine for the curious. Mea culpa, this has probably been the most time consuming blog I’ve ever written. Answers inevitably lead to more questions, and it’s almost impossible to resist playing well beyond the specific goals I initially have. It’s fascinating, it’s fun, you learn a lot of stuff you didn’t know, but I at least struggle with discipline and focus when using it. Hopefully that will wear off, and I will find a balance that uses it efficiently.

    2. The Illusion of Understanding: This is a bit more subtle, but a topic inevitably enhances our understanding of it. The act of asking questions is as much a part of learning as reading answers, and often requires deep mechanistic understanding. CHATgpa helps us probe faster, and its explanations may help us to understand concepts more quickly. But it also risks the illusion of understanding. When the heavy loading of searching is shifted away from us, we get quick answers, but may also miss out on the deeper mechanistic understanding we’d have gleaned if we’d been forced to work a bit harder. And that deeper understanding can be critical when we are trying to integrate superficially different domains as part of the innovation process. For example, knowing that we can use a patient’s stem cells to minimize rejection of an artificial organ is quite different from understanding how the immune system differentiates between its own and other stem cells. The risk is that sophisticated search engines will do more heavy lifting, allow us to move faster, but also result in a more superficial understanding, which reduces our ability to spot roadblocks early, or solve problems as we move to the back end of innovation, and reduce an idea to practice.

    3. Eureka Moment: That’s the ‘conscious’ watch out, but there is also an unconscious one. It’s no secret that quite often our biggest ideas come when we are not actually trying. Archimedes had his Eureka moment in the bath, and many of my better ideas come when I least expect them, perhaps in the shower, when I first wake up, or am out having dinner. The neuroscience of creativity helps explain this, in that the restructuring of problems that leads to new insight and the integration of ideas works mostly unconsciously, and when we are not consciously focused on a problem. It’s analogous to the ‘tip of the tongue’ effect, where the harder we try to remember something, the harder it gets, but then comes to us later when we are not trying. But the key for the Eureka moment is that we need sufficiently deep knowledge for those integrations to occur. If CHATgpt increases the illusion of understanding, we could see less of those Eureka moments, and the ‘obvious in hindsight ideas’ they create.

    Conclusion

    I think that ultimately innovation will be accelerated by CHATgpt and what follows, perhaps quite dramatically. But I also think that we as innovators need to try and peel back the layers and understand as much as we can about these tools, as there is potential for us to trip up. We need to constantly reinvent the way we interact with them, leverage them as sophisticated innovation tools, but avoid them becoming oracles. We also need to ensure that we, and future generations use them to extend our thinking skill set, but not become a proxy for it. The calculator has in some ways made us all mathematical geniuses, but in other ways has reduced large swathes of the population’s ability to do basic math. We need to be careful that CHATgpt doesn’t do the same for our need for cognition, and deep mechanistic and/or critical thinking.

    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.

    Image credit: Pexels

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    Engaging Consciousness in the Emotional Work of Organizational Transformation

    Engaging Consciousness in the Emotional Work of Organizational Transformation

    GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

    Organizational transformation is a uniquely human endeavor. Navigating the journey to change starts with understanding the employee experience and creating space for emotional safety in the workplace.

    According to organizational behavior expert Sigal Barsade, emotions are the key to encouraging higher performance and achievement. Her research shows that emotions influence employees’ wellness in addition to driving productivity. Thus, to influence organizational transformation, leaders need to take a closer look at how emotions factor into the employee experience.

    In this article, we’ll discuss emotions and their role to change management in the following topics:

    • The Employee Experience
    • The Transformation Timeline
    • Emotions at Work
    • An Engagement of Consciousness

    The Employee Experience

    Without a keen understanding of the employee experience and your team’s emotional state, sustainable change is more fantasy than reality. In your efforts to initiate organizational transformation, consider first transforming employees’ work experience to promote a sense of emotional well-being.

    In shaping the employee experience, it’s critical to understand employees’ expectations for emotional safety in the workplace. As most employees value their mental health above all else, they expect their working environment to promote trust, purpose, and social cohesion. Moreover, they want to know that leadership recognizes their contributions and that there is room and opportunity for sustainable growth and development. Similarly, team members want their personal sense of purpose to be in alignment with the organization.

    With increased emotional wellness comes higher employee engagement and a more motivated workforce. With a stronger sense of emotional safety in the employee experience, leaders will find that their team is prepared to engage in organizational transformation.

    The Transformation Timeline

     “You have to attract people… you can’t bribe or coerce transformation.”
    Greg Satell

    Once you prioritize the employee experience in your change strategy, you can begin the organizational transformation timeline. Organizational transformation is a process that happens through gradual change, resulting in sustainable behavioral transformation. This type of comprehensive change can only occur through a series of repeatable actions and innovative systems, not one-time initiatives.

    Take steps towards sustainable change with the following phases of organizational transformation:

    Phase One: Fight Resistance

    To sustain organizational transformation, leaders and team members need a solid strategy for managing resistance. Resistance often stems from the discomfort that change brings.

    To move beyond this fear, leaders should explain that while transformation involves many unknown factors, the forthcoming change will bring overall positive results. By showing team members how they will benefit from a change, leaders can overcome resistance and encourage their employees to support the initiative.

    • Freezing of Behaviors
      In Lewis’ Change management model, change is broken into three steps: freezing, changing, and refreezing.

      In the first phase of organizational transformation, the “unfreezing” process will occur. This involves recognizing one’s need for change and defining new behaviors that replace the former methods and practices. During this very fluid phase, team members and leaders identify and share data that supports a need for change.

    Phase Two: Facilitate Adjustment

    After strategically managing resistance to change, the next phase in achieving organizational transformation is facilitating the adjustment period. During this phase, team members are no longer actively resisting transformation but still need time to adjust to the changes the new initiative brings.

    In the adjustment period, changes are discussed in detail, and team members are invited to provide criticism and feedback. This phase allows team members to personalize the change as they recognize their individual roles in achieving organizational transformation. In a successful adjustment phase, every team member is aligned with the necessary actions for the next phase: acceptance.

    • Changing

    Within the adjustment phase of organizational transformation, team leaders will actively change their old habits. At this time, all stakeholders work to replace undesired behaviors with desired ones.

    Phase Three: Foster Acceptance

    In phase three of the organizational transformation timeline, you’ll lead your team into the acceptance phase with a solid vision and strategy for sustaining the changes over time.

    • Refreezing

    In the foster acceptance phase, refreezing occurs when changes are stabilized and become the new normal. As the organizational transformation nears completion, team members are in the best position to cement these changes by ensuring a legacy of growth.

    Phase Four: Ensure Consistency

    The fourth phase of organizational transformation establishes consistent and sustainable growth. Consistency is a direct result of repeatable actions from strategic processes, intentional routines, and innovative practices that allow each team member to enact changes that carry into the future continuously.

    Emotions at Work

    A clear strategy for long-term change is only a roadmap to organizational transformation. After setting the stage for change to take place, leaders must engage in the emotional work of transformation.

    Change takes emotional labor, requiring an environment that is uniquely attuned to address employees’ emotional needs. In the workplace, emotions can be an accelerator for transformation. To engage emotions in the most effective way, leaders can create conditions that ensure psychological safety.

    Research shows that to solidify organizational transformation, we must mitigate emotional harm and, in doing so, foster emotional commitment from team members. While emotional harm isn’t tangible, it presents itself in certain ways that can create anxiety, fear, and similar negative responses in employees. Essentially, working to facilitate positive experiences alongside potentially negative emotions is the key to harnessing a safe space for transformation. Leaders that are able to manage the effects of stress successfully can transform a high-pressure environment into a space for high performance.

    Sonja Kresojevic, the founder of Spinnaker Co. and a proponent of using agile principles for organizational change, firmly believes that true transformation is a product of an empowered organization. According to  Kresojevic, the more we humanize change through emotional labor and healing initiatives, the more we are able to influence others and start shifting organizations in the direction of transformation.

    Leaders can promote healing and psychological safety by allowing employees to share their thoughts and criticisms freely and without retribution. With an increase in support and emotional safety, your team will be ripe for organizational transformation.

    An Engagement of Consciousness

    An organization’s penchant for the unknown is essential in driving organizational transformation. In your efforts to humanize change management, it’s crucial to understand and accept human nature’s role in experiencing change. In understanding our natural inclinations toward risk aversion in the face of change, we can work to replace this avoidance of uncertainty with curiosity, vulnerability, and authenticity in the workplace. This approach to change management will transform the way we work, the risks we take, and our willingness to accept change.

    Much of organizational transformation is dependent on accepting uncertainty: that the future is unclear and we don’t have all the answers. The real secret to driving organizational transformation is empowering people to develop and accept new ideas on their own. Managing the uncertainty of organizational transformation takes time, allowing for the unfreezing, changing, and refreezing process to take place as stakeholders consider their options.

    Rob Evans, Master Coach of Collaboration and Transformation Designer, shares that giving people a chance to court the unknown, is essential for change acceptance as it allows new ideas to seep in and take hold.

    Practicing patience during the change management process allows for “engagement in the full consciousness,” in which leaders can kickstart the organizational transformation timeline and encourage employees to buy into the change. By pairing deliberate strategy with time for authentic employee engagement, radical transformation is an inevitability.

    Ready to start the journey to organizational transformation? Consider a new approach to the employee experience. Voltage Control can help you and your team define the best path for your organization’s transformation. 

    This article originally appeared at VoltageControl.com

    Image credit: Pixabay

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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!

    Image credit: Unsplash

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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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