Tag Archives: Innovation

Your Innovation is Dictated by Who You Are & What You Do

Your Innovation is Dictated by Who You Are & What You Do

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Using only three words, how would you describe your company?

Better yet, what three words would your customers use to describe your company?

These three words capture your company’s identity. They answer, “who we are” and “what business we’re in.”  They capture a shared understanding of where customers allow you to play and how you take action to win. 

Everything consistent with this identity is normal, safe, and comfortable.

Everything inconsistent with this identity is weird, risky, and scary.

Your identity is killing innovation.

Innovation is something new that creates value.

Identity is carefully constructed, enduring, and fiercely protected and reinforced.

When innovation and identity conflict, innovation usually loses.

Whether the innovation is incremental, adjacent, or radical doesn’t matter. If it conflicts with the company’s identity, it will join the 99.9% of innovations that are canceled before they ever launch.

Your identity can supercharge innovation.

When innovation and identity guide and reinforce each other, it doesn’t matter if the innovation is incremental, adjacent, or radical.  It can win.

Identity-based Innovation changes your perspective. 

We typically think about innovation as falling into three types based on the scope of change to the business model:

  1. Incremental innovations that make existing offerings better, faster, and cheaper for existing customers and use our existing business model
  2. Adjacent innovations are new offerings in new categories, appeal to new customers, require new processes and activities to create or use new revenue models
  3. Radical innovations that change everything – offerings, customers, processes and activities, and revenue models

These types make sense IF we’re perfectly logical and rational beings capable of dispassionately evaluating data and making decisions.  SPOILER ALERT: We’re not.  We decide with our hearts (emotions, values, fears, and desires) and justify those decisions with our heads (logic and data).

So, why not use an innovation-typing scheme that reflects our humanity and reality?

That’s where Identity-based Innovation categories come in:

  1. Identity-enhancing innovations reinforce and strengthen people’s comfort and certainty in who they are and what they do relative to the organization.  “Organizational members all ‘know’ what actions are acceptable based on a shared understanding of what the organization represents, and this knowledge becomes codified u a set of heuristics about which innovative activities should be pursued and which should be dismissed.”
  2. Identity-stretching innovations enable and stretch people’s understanding of who they are and what they do in an additive, not threatening, way to their current identities.
  3. Identity-challenging innovations are threats and tend to occur in one of two contexts:
    • Extreme technological change that “results in the obsolescence of a product market or the convergence of multiple product markets.” (challenges “who we are”)
    • Competitors or new entrants that launch new offerings or change the basis of competition (challenges “what we do”)

By looking at your innovations through the lens of identity (and, therefore, people’s decision-making hearts), you can more easily identify the ones that will be supported and those that will be axed.

It also changes your results.

“Ok, nerd,” you’re probably thinking.  “Thanks for dragging me into your innovation portfolio geek-out.”

Fair, but let me illustrate the power of this perspective using some examples from P&G.

OfferingBusiness-Model TypesIdentity-based Categories
Charmin Smooth TearIncremental
Made Charmin easier to tear
Reinforced Charmin’s premium experience
New durable product in an existing category (floor cleaning)
Reinforced P&G’s identity as a provider of best-in-class cleaning products
Tide Dry CleanersRadical
Moved P&G into services and uses a franchise model
Dry cleaning service is consistent with P&G’s identity but stretches into providing services vs. just products

Do you see what happened on that third line?  A Radical Innovation was identity-stretching (not challenging), and it’s in the 0.1% of corporate innovations that launched!  It’s in 22 states!

The Bottom Line

If you look at innovation in the same way you always have, through the lens of changes to your business model, you’ll get the same innovation results you always have.

If you look at innovation differently, through the lens of how it affects personal and organizational identity, you’ll get different results.  You may even get radical results.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

If you’re like most people, you’ve faced disappointment. Maybe the love of your life didn’t return your affection, you didn’t get into your dream college, or you were passed over for promotion.  It hurts.  And sometimes, that hurt lingers for a long time.

Until one day, something happens, and you realize your disappointment was a gift.  You meet the true love of your life while attending college at your fallback school, and years later, when you get passed over for promotion, the two of you quit your jobs, pursue your dreams, and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

We all experience disappointment.  We also all get to choose whether we stay there, lamenting the loss of what coulda shoulda woulda been, or we can persevere, putting one foot in front of the other and playing The Rolling Stones on repeat:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find

You get what you need”

That’s life.

That’s also innovation.

As innovators, especially leaders of innovators, we rarely get what we want.  But we always get what we need (whether we like it or not)

We want to know. 
We need to be comfortable not knowing.

Most of us want to know the answer because if we know the answer, there is no risk. There is no chance of being wrong, embarrassed, judged, or punished.  But if there is no risk, there is no growth, expansion, or discovery.

Innovation is something new that creates value. If you know everything, you can’t innovate.

As innovators, we need to be comfortable not knowing.  When we admit to ourselves that we don’t know something, we open our minds to new information, new perspectives, and new opportunities. When we say we don’t know, we give others permission to be curious, learn, and create. 

We want the creative genius and billion-dollar idea. 
We need the team and the steady stream of big ideas.

We want to believe that one person blessed with sufficient time, money, and genius can change the world.  Some people like to believe they are that person, and most of us think we can hire that person, and when we do find that person and give them the resources they need, they will give us the billion-dollar idea that transforms our company, disrupts the industry, and change the world.

Innovation isn’t magic.  Innovation is team work.

We need other people to help us see what we can’t and do what we struggle to do.  The idea-person needs the optimizer to bring her idea to life, and the optimizer needs the idea-person so he has a starting point.  We need lots of ideas because most won’t work, but we don’t know which ones those are, so we prototype, experiment, assess, and refine our way to the ones that will succeed.   

We want to be special.
We need to be equal.

We want to work on the latest and most cutting-edge technology and discuss it using terms that no one outside of Innovation understands. We want our work to be on stage, oohed and aahed over on analyst calls, and talked about with envy and reverence in every meeting. We want to be the cool kids, strutting around our super hip offices in our hoodies and flip-flops or calling into the meeting from Burning Man. 

Innovation isn’t about you.  It’s about serving others.

As innovators, we create value by solving problems.  But we can’t do it alone.  We need experienced operators who can quickly spot design flaws and propose modifications.  We need accountants and attorneys who instantly see risks and help you navigate around them.  We need people to help us bring our ideas to life, but that won’t happen if we act like we’re different or better.  Just as we work in service to our customers, we must also work in service to our colleagues by working with them, listening, compromising, and offering help.

What about you?
What do you want?
What are you learning you need?

Image Credit: Unsplash

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3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

(including one that makes Radical Innovation easy)

3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a rolling stone, and that means you gather no moss!  You read the September issue of HBR (and maybe last week’s article), tossed out your innovation portfolio, and wove yourself an innovation basket to “differentiate the concept from finance and avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities, where the goal is usually to maximize returns through diversification [and instead] remember that innovation projects are creative acts.”   

Then you explained this to your CFO and received side-eye so devastating it would make Sophie Loren proud.

The reality is that the innovation projects you’re working on are investments, and because they’re risky, diversification is the best way to maximize the returns your company needs.

But it’s not the only way we should communicate, evaluate, and treat them.

Different innovation basket views for different customers

When compiling an innovation basket, the highest priority is having a single source of truth.  If people in the organization disagree on what is in and out of the basket, how you measure and manage the portfolio doesn’t matter.

But a single source of truth doesn’t mean you can’t look at that truth from multiple angles.

Having multiple views showing the whole basket while being customized to address each of your internal customer’s Jobs to be Done will turbocharge your ability to get support and resources.

The CFO: What returns will we get and when?

The classic core/adjacent/transformational portfolio is your answer.  By examining each project based on where to play (markets and customers) and how to win (offerings, profit models, key resources and activities), you can quickly assess each project’s relative riskiness, potential return, time to ROI, and resource requirements.

The CEO: How does this support and accelerate our strategic priorities?

This is where the new innovation basket is most helpful.  By starting with the company’s strategic goals and asking, “What needs to change to achieve our strategy?” leadership teams immediately align innovation goals with corporate strategic priorities.  When projects and investments are placed at the intersection of the goal they support, and the mechanism of value creation (e.g., product, process, brand), the CEO can quickly see how investments align with strategic priorities and actively engage in reallocation decisions.

You: Will any of these ever see the light of day?

As much as you hope the answer is “Yes!”, you know the answer is “Some.  Maybe.  Hopefully.”  You also know that the “some” that survive might not be the biggest or the best of the basket.  They’ll be the most palatable.

Ignoring that fact won’t make it untrue. Instead, acknowledge it and use it to expand stakeholders’ palates.

Start by articulating your organization’s identity, the answers to “who we are” and “what we do.” 

Then place each innovation in one of three buckets based on its fit with the organization’s identity:

  • Identity-enhancing innovations that enhance or strengthen the identity
  • Identity-stretching innovations that “do not fit with the core of an organization’s identity, but are related enough that if the scope of organizational identity were expanded, the innovation would fit.”
  • Identity-challenging innovations that are “in direct conflict with the existing organizational identity.”

It probably won’t surprise you that identity-enhancing innovations are far more likely to receive internal support than identity-challenging innovations.  But what may surprise you is that core, adjacent, and transformational innovations can all be identity-enhancing.

For example, Luxxotica and Bausch & Lomb are both in the vision correction industry (eyeglasses and contact lenses, respectively) but have very different identities.  Luxxotica views itself as “an eyewear company,” while Bausch & Lomb sees itself as an “eye health company” (apologies for the puns). 

When laser-vision correction surgery became widely available, Bausch & Lomb was an early investor because, while the technology would be considered a breakthrough innovation, it was also identity-enhancing.  A decade later, Bausch & Lomb’s surgical solutions and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals businesses account for 38% of the company’s revenue and one-third of the growth.

One basket.  Multiple Views.  All the Answers.

Words are powerful, and using a new one, especially in writing,  can change your behavior and brain. But calling a portfolio a basket won’t change the results of your innovation efforts.  To do that, you need to understand why you have a basket and look at it in all the ways required to maximize creativity, measure results, and avoid stakeholder side-eye.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why You Don’t Need An Innovation Portfolio

According to Harvard Business Review

Why You Don't Need An Innovation Portfolio

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a savvy manager, so you know that you need an innovation portfolio because (1) a single innovation isn’t enough to generate the magnitude of growth your company needs, and (2) it is the best way to manage inherently risky endeavors and achieve desired returns.

Too bad you’re wrong.

According to an article in the latest issue of HBR, you shouldn’t have an innovation portfolio. You should have an innovation basket.

Once you finish rolling your eyes (goodness knows I did), hear me (and the article’s authors) out because there is a nuanced but important distinction.

Our journey begins with the obvious.

In their article “A New Approach to Strategic Innovation,” authors Haijian Si, Christoph Loch, and Stelios Kavadias argue that portfolio management approaches have become so standardized as to be practically useless, and they propose a new framework for ensuring your innovation activities achieve your strategic goals.

“Companies typically treat their innovation projects as a portfolio: a mix of projects that, collectively, aim to meet their various strategic objectives,” the article begins. “MOO,” I think (household shorthand for Master Of the Obvious).

“When we surveyed 75 companies in China, we discovered that when executives took the trouble to link their project selection to their business’s competitive goals, the contribution of their innovation activities performance increased dramatically,” the authors continue. “Wow, fill this under N for No Sh*t, Sherlock,” responded my internal monologue.

The authors go on to present and explain their new framework, which is interesting in its focus on asking and answering seemingly simple questions (what, who, why, and how) and identifying internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities through a series of iterative and inclusion conversations. The process is a good one but feels more like an augmentation of an existing approach rather than a radically new one.

Then we hit the “portfolio” vs. “basket” moment.

According to the authors, once the management team completes the first step by reaching a consensus on the changes needed to their strategy, they move on to the second step – creating the innovation basket.

The process of categorizing innovation projects is the next step, and it is where our process deviates from established frameworks. We use the word “basket” rather than “portfolio” to denote a company’s collection of innovation projects. In this way, we differentiate the concept from finance and avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities, where the goal is usually to maximize returns through diversification. It’s important to remember that innovation projects are creative acts, whereas investment in financial securities is simply the purchase of assets that have already been created.

“Avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities” and “remember that innovation projects are creative acts.” Whoa.

Why this is important in a practical sense (and isn’t just academic fun-with-words)

Think about all the advice you’ve read and heard (and that I’ve probably given you) about innovation portfolios – you need a mix of incremental, adjacent, and radical innovations, and, if you’re creating a portfolio from scratch, use the Golden Ratio.

Yes, and this assumes that everything in your innovation portfolio supports your overall strategy, and that the portfolio is reviewed regularly to ensure that the right projects receive the right investments at the right times.

These assumptions are rarely true.

Projects tend to enter the portfolio because a senior executive suggested them or emerged from an innovation event or customer research and feedback. Once in the portfolio, they progress through the funnel until they either launch or are killed because of poor test results or a slashed innovation budget.

They rarely enter the portfolio because they are required to deliver a higher-level strategy, and they rarely exit because they are no longer strategically relevant. Why? Because the innovation projects in your portfolio are “assets that have already been created.”

What this means for you (and why it’s scary)

Swapping “basket” in for “portfolio” isn’t just the choice of a new word to bolster the claim of creating a new approach. It’s a complete reframing of your role as an innovation executive.

You no longer monitor assets that reflect purchases or investments promising yet-to-be-determined payouts. You are actively starting, shifting, and shutting down opportunities based on business strategy and needs. Shifting from a “portfolio” to a basket” turns your role as an executive from someone who monitors performance to someone who actively manages opportunities.

And this should scare you.

Because this makes the challenge of balancing operations and innovation an unavoidable and regular endeavor. Gone are the days of “set it and forget it” innovation management, which often buys innovation teams time to produce results before their resources are noticed and reallocated to core operations.

If you aren’t careful about building and vigorously defending your innovation basket, it will be easy to pluck resources from it and allocate them to the more urgent and “safer” current business needs that also contribute to the strategic changes identified.

Leaving you with an innovation portfolio.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why You Should Care About Service Design

Why You Should Care About Service Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

What if a tool had the power to delight your customers, cut your costs, increase your bottom line, and maybe double your stock price? You’d use it, right?

That’s precisely the power and impact of Service Design and service blueprints. Yet very few people, especially in the US, know, understand, or use them. Including me.

Thankfully, Leala Abbott, a strategist and researcher at the intersection of experience, innovation, and digital transformation and a lecturer at Parsons School of Design, clued me in.

What is Service Design?

RB: Hi, Leala, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

LA: My pleasure! I’m excited about this topic. I’ve managed teams with service designers, and I’ve always been impressed by the magical way they brought together experience strategy, UX, and operations.

RB: I felt the same way after you explained it to me. Before we get too geeked up about the topic, let’s go back to the beginning and define “service.”

LA: Service is something that helps someone accomplish a goal. As a result, every business needs service design because every business is in the service industry.

RB: I’ll be honest, I got a little agitated when I read that because that’s how I define “solution.” But then I saw your illustration explaining that service design moves us from seeing and problem-solving isolated moments to seeing an integrated process. And that’s when it clicked.

LA:  That illustration is from Lou Downe’s talk Design in Government Impact for All . Service Design helps us identify what customers want and how to deliver those services effectively by bringing together all the pieces within the organization. It moves us away from fragmented experiences created by different departments and teams within the same company to an integrated process that enables customers to achieve their goals.

Why You Need It

RB: It seems so obvious when you say it. Yet so often, the innovation team spends all their time focused on the customer only to develop the perfect solution that, when they toss it over the wall for colleagues to make, they’re told it’s not possible, and everything stops. Why aren’t we always considering both sides?

LA: One reason, I think, is people don’t want to add one more person to the team. Over the past two decades, the number of individuals required to build something has grown exponentially. It used to be that one person could build your whole website, but now you need user experience designers, researchers, product managers, and more. I think it’s just overwhelming for people to add another individual to the mix. We believe we have all the tools to fix the problem, so we don’t want to add another voice, even if that voice explains the huge disconnect between everything built and their operational failures.

RB: Speaking of operational failures, one of the most surprising things about Service Design is that it almost always results in cost savings. That’s not something most people think about when they hear “design.”

LA: The significant impact on the bottom line is one of the most persuasive aspects of service design. It shifts the focus from pretty pictures to the actual cost implications. Bringing in the operational side of the business is crucial. Building a great customer journey and experience is important, but it’s also important to tie it back to lost revenue and increased cost to serve

Proof It Works 

LA: One of the most compelling cases I recently read was about Autodesk’s transition to SaaS, they brought in a service design company called Future Proof. Autodesk wanted to transition from a software licensing model to a software-as-a-service model. It’s a significant transition not just in terms of the business model and pricing but also in how it affects customers.

If you’re a customer of Autodesk, you used to pay a one-time fee for your software, but now you are paying based on users and services. Budgeting becomes messy. The costs are no longer simple and predictable. Plus, it raises lots of questions about the transition, cost predictability, control over access, managing subscriptions, and flexibility. Notice that these issues are about people managing their money and increasing costs. These are the areas where service design can truly help. 

Future Proof conducted customer interviews, analyzed each stage of the customer journey, looked at pricing models and renewal protocols, and performed usability studies. When they audited support ticket data for the top five common customer issues, they realized that if Autodesk didn’t change their model, the cost of running software for every customer would increase by 40%, and profit margins would decrease by 15% to 20%.

Autodesk made the change, revenue increased significantly, and their stock price doubled. Service design allows for this kind of analysis and consideration of operational costs.

How to Learn More

RB: Wow, not many things can deliver better service, happier customers, and doubling a stock price. Solid proof that companies, and innovation teams in particular, need to get smart on service design. We’ve talked a lot about the What and Why of Service Design. How can people learn more about the How?

LA: Lou Downe’s book is a great place to start Good Services: How to Design Services That Work. So is Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight by Thomas A Stewart and Patricia O’Connell.  I also recommend people check out The Service Design Network for tools and case studies and TheyDo, which helps companies visualize and manage their service design.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Three Maps to Innovation Success

3 Maps to Innovation Success

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Several years ago, my now-husband and I were in London. It was his first time in the city but my 4th or 5th so, naturally, I talked a big game about how well I knew the city and how I would be, with the help of our handy tourist map, our tour guide.

Things were going fine until I took the wrong road leading away from Buckingham Palace. I thought we were heading straight to Parliament. We were not. 

After a walk that lasted far longer than it should have, he nervously asked,” We’re lost, aren’t we?”

With wounded pride and astounding stubbornness, I declared, “We’re not lost. I know exactly where we are. It’s just not where we want to be.”

Maps are incredibly useful. Until they’re not.

Innovation literature has more maps than a Rick Steves’ guidebook, and most are quite useful. If they’re used at the right time for the right purposes in the right way by the right people (which is a lot of rights that have to be right).

Here are three of my favorites – 2 classics and a new one that blew my mind

Stakeholder Map:

Stakeholder Map

Avoid getting blind-sided, buttering up the wrong people, or ignoring potential champions

  • What it is: A visual representation of the people, roles, and groups who (1) are involved in and affected by a challenge or system and (2) have the power to affect or are likely to be affected by the proposed solution. Stakeholders can be internal and/or external to the organization
  • Why you need one: To prioritize where and how you spend your time understanding, influencing, communicating, collaborating, persuading, and selling
  • When to create it: At the very beginning of a project and then updating as you learn more
  • How to use it: Interaction Design Foundation explains it simply and concretely:
    • Brainstorm who your internal AND external stakeholders are
    • Prioritize them using an Influence x Interest two-by-two matrix
    • Engage and communicate based on their place in the chart

Journey Map

Customer Journey Map

Spot opportunities to create radical value through incremental innovations

  • What it is: A visual representation of what your customer/consumer/user does, thinks, and feels as they move from awareness of a need/want/JTBD to loyalty to a solution. Journey maps should dig deep into moments where customers currently interact with your organization and highlight opportunities where interaction can and should occur
  • Why you need one: To identify opportunities for innovation by surfacing customer current pain points between your customer and your business (or competitors if your business isn’t there and can/should be)
  • When to create it:
    • Create the basic structure (start and end point) or a hypothesized journey before primary research.
    • During research, work with individual stakeholders to develop their maps using (and adapting) your initial structure.
    • At the end of research and before ideation, synthesize insights into the smallest possible number of maps to use as inspiration for solution brainstorming
  • How to use it: IDEO offers simple instructions and tips based on practical use:
    • Brainstorm who your internal AND external stakeholders are
    • Prioritize them using an Influence x Interest two-by-two matrix
    • Engage and communicate based on their place in the chart

Service Map:

Service Design Blueprint

Make journey maps actionable (and see how your innovation affects your operations)

  • What it is: A visual representation of the people, touchpoints, processes, and technology required/desired both frontstage (what customers see) and backstage (what happens behind the scenes). Similar to process documentation with a special focus on the customer
  • Why you need one: Doing something new (i.e., innovating) often requires changes to internal operations, organizations, and processes, but these changes are often ignored or unexplored until late in the process, potentially slowing or stopping the development and launch of a new solution.
  • When to create it: Draft a baseline current state once you have 50% confidence in the general area or type of solution to be created (e.g., we want to improve the use of digital tools in classrooms, so let’s create a service map for our current digital offerings and operations). Then continually revise and update it as the solution/service develops.
  • How to use it: Interaction Design Foundation offers practical instructions and advice.
    • Identify the service to be blueprinted
    • Identify the customers to be service
    • Examine the customers’ experience of the process (customer journey map)
    • Identify the role and impact of employees, processes, technology, and other operational and organizational factors on the service
    • Link activities together to show a natural flow between frontstage and backstage

What’s your favorite map (innovation or otherwise)?

Image credits: Pixabay, Interaction Design Foundation

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Innovation Management ISO 56000 Series Explained

Innovation Management ISO 56000 Series Explained

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

Are you one of the 84% of leaders who prioritizes innovation, yet you find your organization’s performance lacking in this area? It’s a familiar conundrum: How do we consistently create lasting impact, generate value, and achieve successful innovation?

The quest for an innovation recipe has been gaining momentum, but is it truly possible to standardize innovation?

The innovation standards that ISO (International Organization for Standardization) started to introduce in 2019 are promising just that.

Are the new ISO standards for innovation truly valuable? And if so, does it make sense to adopt them in the future? These questions don’t have easy answers, so in this article, we’ll delve into the ISO 56000 suite of innovation standards to uncover the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What exactly is the ISO standard for innovation? Who is it designed for? Should your organization consider adhering to these standards? We’ll weigh the pros and cons and provide insights into what it means in practice to be ISO 56000 compliant and whether they have the potential to transform the way you approach innovation.

The paradox of standardizing innovation

When we talk about innovation and standards, we should first clarify a few concepts.

  • What is innovation?
  • Why should you manage innovation?
  • What is a standard in the context of innovation?

First, if you wish to transform the way you innovate, it is crucial to establish a shared understanding of what innovation means for you.

In its simplest form, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines innovation as the introduction of something new. However, there are many types of innovation and therefore, ways of innovating. That’s why it’s important to define it within the context of your organization, your goals, and strategy.

Also, note that innovation is not just an ingredient you add to the mix and hope for a better result than before. It has to be placed at the core of the organization. That’s where innovation management comes into play.

Innovation has to be placed at the core of the organization.

Innovation management is the process through which you get to create and introduce that “something new”. This process can look different from one organization to another, which makes it more challenging to see it in perspective.

We usually structure the core aspects of innovation management into capabilities, structure, culture, and strategy. However, the International Standards for Innovation expand them further into eight principles.

eight principles of innovation management

We previously explored each of these topics in detail on our blog, as they all contribute to successful innovation. But maybe the most important one, which should be your North Star, is the creation of value. Unless you add value, you are simply creating innovation theater.  

Unfortunately, this is very common in organizations attempting to innovate through sporadic activities. But innovation is a complex, dynamic process that evolves over time.

At the same time, it’s understandable why the skepticism around the standards for innovation. Just as innovation is not easy, neither is adhering to a set of standards that will help you succeed at it.

Obviously, standards come with both downsides and benefits, but as pointed out in the ISO documentation, these innovation management principles are “an open set to be integrated and adapted within the organization”.

Naturally, now you might question how standardization is possible if innovation and its management are so complex and can vary so greatly across organizations and industries.

The problem is that traditionally, innovation has been seen as a creative and sometimes chaotic process that may or may not result in something new that adds value.

However, if we take a closer look at some of the most innovative companies, we see that it’s not about randomly generating wild ideas and hoping for the best.

The myth of the crazy innovator has been popularized by the media that portrays innovators as superheroes. This stereotypical view on innovation fed the belief that innovation and standardization are two opposing forces. Innovation comes from pure chaos, and standards fight it with order. In fact, creativity and standardization can be complementary. You need both for successful corporate management.

Creativity and standardization can be complementary. You need both for successful corporate management.

For example, even though Apple marketed itself as a group of rebels revolutionizing the computer, Steve Jobs actually instilled a disciplined culture where people had to adhere to his methods. In a way, he had his own set of standards for what an innovative product meant.

Similarly, Toyota, renowned for its enduring success, has developed its own system called “The Toyota Way”. Through this system, they have embraced continuous improvement as an approach to innovation, refining it into a set of principles that have become synonymous with their brand.

If it wasn’t for Toyota’s systematic approach to innovation, and Jobs’ eccentricity who insisted on doing things a certain way, today we might have had two very different companies.

Even though their way is by no means a “recipe” that can be replicated by others, we can see how having a framework sets the tone for how an organization is innovating on the long term.

Efforts have been ongoing to develop a comprehensive framework that can be universally adopted by organizations of all sizes and industries. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has taken a significant step in this direction with the introduction of the ISO 56000 suite of innovation standards.

Let’s next take a closer look at these standards to see if they have any practical benefits.

ISO 56000 Suite for Innovation

In essence, standards are meant to be a reference point for organizations, industries, and individuals. They are used to establish best practices, promote efficiency, enhance safety, and facilitate communication and cooperation. Even though they could seem just rigid rules, standards are simply ways of working and they are not meant to hinder creativity.

Where did the ISO standards for innovation come from? The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is developing and promoting international standards that facilitate consistency, interoperability, and quality across various industries and sectors.

The ISO 56000 series of standards for innovation is a rather new initiative where experts from 50 countries came together in an effort to establish a common understanding of innovation and support organizations across all industries to improve their ability to survive and thrive in this uncertain world.

Also, note that some standards from the eight-part series are still under development (as per July 2023), so we will get back and update this article when necessary. If you consider complying with these standards, the ISO website is the official source to get them in full.

However, the standards we believe to be the most relevant in helping you succeed have already been published:

  • ISO 56000 Innovation Management – Fundamentals and vocabulary
  • ISO 56002 Innovation management – Innovation management system
  • ISO 56003 Tools and Methods for innovation partnership.

For a better understanding of the use and purpose of the ISO standards, let’s focus on the ISO 56000 Fundamentals and vocabulary, and the ISO 56002 for Innovation management system.

ISO 56000 Innovation management — Fundamentals and vocabulary:

  • Provides vocabulary, fundamental concepts, and principles of innovation management and its systematic implementation.
  • Applicable to various organizations, including those implementing an innovation management system, seeking to improve their innovation capabilities, or aiming for effective communication and common understanding in innovation management.
  • Suitable also for providers of training in, assessment of, or consultancy for, innovation management and innovation management systems.
  • It can be applied by all types of organizations, regardless of the sector, size, or maturity level. It’s useful for different types of innovations (product, services, processes, etc), and approaches (internal, open, design-driven, etc.)

ISO 56002 Innovation management system

  • Provides guidance for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and improving an innovation management system in established organizations.
  • Applicable to organizations seeking sustained success in managing innovation activities, interested parties assessing innovation capabilities, and policymakers supporting innovation and competitiveness.
  • Provides generic guidance applicable to all types of organizations, innovations, and approaches, with a focus on established organizations.
  • This standard goes beyond the foundational principles and offers more practical guidance on how to structure, implement, and continuously improve innovation processes. It emphasizes the importance of leadership, communication, and organizational culture in fostering innovation.
  • However, it does not prescribe specific activities, requirements, tools, or methods for innovation but offers general-level guidance.

How does this translate into innovation practices? Well, let’s take a step back and look at how most organizations approach innovation.

Traditionally, many organizations innovate by focusing primarily on episodic events that are centered around ideas. These could be hackathons, suggestion boxes, idea challengesbrainstorming sessions, or similar events. Something could come out of these sporadic activities, but mostly they turn out to be wasted efforts and resources.

Truth be told, ideas are not worth much. The execution is more important. The issue with the old, funnel approach, which is mostly about collecting numerous ideas, filtering, evaluating, and selecting a few for implementation, is that it can overlook the essence of innovation and focus on the wrong things.

Innovation at the corporate level is not, or should not be, just about creating something new for the sake of novelty. That is an invention and not all inventions are innovations. Instead, innovation should create value and align with the overall business strategy and goals.

All in all, the traditional funnel works fine at the ideation level, but is not an all-encompassing system to repeatedly innovate at an organizational level.

ISO 56002 brings together all the elements that can enable value creation through innovation. The innovation management system, which is at the core of the ISO 56002 is made of different interrelated elements that make up the framework on which an organization can develop and deploy innovation capabilities, evaluate performance, and achieve the intended goals.  

Source: ISO 56002 Innovation Management System: https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/en/#iso:std:iso:56002:ed-1:v1:en

As shown in this graphic, the innovation management system can be very complex, especially for larger, more established organizations.

The good news is that you don’t have to adopt all the elements at once. You can gradually integrate them to create a system that works for your organization and its specific context. As their guideline indicates, it all starts with committing and promoting the capabilities required to create such a system.

If you’ve read our articles before, you probably noticed that we talked extensively about continuous improvement, as well as the tools and processes that drive sustained innovation. So, it’s no surprise that the ISO 56002 also integrates the PDCA (Plan – Do – Check – Act) cycle, which enables continuous improvement of the innovation practices.

This model also ties together the business strategy with the innovation strategy. It gives insights into the intent and where the innovation activities should be directed.

So, instead of collecting ideas for projects that may not add anything valuable to the bottom line, you should generate ideas based on opportunities.  

In broad terms, this is how standardization can enable innovation. It’s not about a “to do” list, but about the bigger picture. The ISO 56000 suite highlights the need for an end-to-end approach to innovation, where barriers are removed, and creativity can flourish. It enables the conditions for innovation to thrive.

It’s great to see there is this attempt to establish a foundation for managing innovation as a process, through a holistic approach. Even so, there are still shortcomings that sceptics of the ISO standards are right to be concerned about. Let’s see what those are. 

The Pros and Cons of ISO Standards for Innovation

What should you know before deciding to make the leap, and what are the downsides of adhering to ISO standards for innovation? Also, what are the benefits, and is it worth investing the effort, time, energy, and resources? Let’s see.

The downsides of ISO standards for innovation 

  • Limited scope

Innovation is multifaceted and complex and the road to success looks very different for each organization. The size, industry, and specific goals of each organization mean that the processes required to innovate can also look very different. Adopting a set of standards with such a broad scope can be very challenging for organizations.

ISO 56000 lays the ground to define fundamental concepts and vocabulary, ISO 56002 provides guidance for establishing and implementing an innovation management system and ISO 56003 focuses on specific types of innovation. Even though they attempt to provide guidance in different scenarios, they still cannot fully address every organization’s unique needs.

That’s why you need committed, knowledgeable leaders who can show the way and understand how to adapt the system to the specifics of their organization.

  • Not a playbook for success

It should be clarified that even if you adhere to these standards and you put in all the work, the ISO standards are not a playbook for success.  

The impact of implementing these standards can vary from one organization to another depending on the industry, maturity of the innovation practices, size, culture, and so on. 

So, it’s important to set the expectations right and to take them for what they are. These standards can help you move ahead, but they won’t provide the recipe for disruptive or radical innovations, which can truly set you apart. 

  • Rigidity and too much focus on compliance

A lack of flexibility is on the top of leaders’ minds when they think of standards. Employees also fear that being compliant with specific standards will take away from the flexibility and freedom to think creatively or try unconventional approaches.

Source: Unsplash.com

But having constraints is not all bad. In fact, constraints can foster creativity. Having constraints can help you understand the problem better, it can force you to be creative and think outside the box, and can ultimately turn into a source of competitive advantage.

  • Costs and resources

The process of implementing ISO innovation standards can be time-consuming, complex, and costly. It requires allocating resources for conducting assessments, audits, and certifications, which can be a burden for smaller organizations with limited budgets. Other costs may include purchasing the standards, training employees on their implementation, and conducting internal assessments to ensure compliance.

What’s more, adhering to new standards involves a significant commitment of time and effort. Developing new processes, aligning existing practices with the standards, and undergoing audits or assessments demand substantial dedication. This can strain resources and may divert attention from other critical business activities.

  • Workforce resistance

Embracing ISO standards often require organizational change, which can encounter resistance from employees and management. Change management efforts are essential to successfully integrate the standards, but they can add complexity and take time to fully adopt the new practices.

Leadership commitment is essential and their approach to enforcing change can make or break the initiative. If the standards will be imposed rules, they can become a cause of friction between leaders and employees.

Despite these downsides, it’s important to recognize that investment in ISO standards can bring substantial benefits. What kind of benefits?

Benefits of Adopting ISO Standards for Innovation

  • Enhanced Innovation Management Practices

With the ISO standards you get the guidance and framework to develop more efficient and structured innovation management processes.

With such a complex endeavor it’s so easy to get lost in the details and forget the big picture. The ISO 56002 standards provide the guidelines on how to ideate, evaluate, and implement innovative ideas, leading to better utilization of resources and increased innovation success rates.

  • Improved Governance and Organizational Structure

Without structures in place there is no common understanding of how the organization understands innovation. There are inconsistent practices, fragmented activities that lead to no results, and no clear direction or alignment with the overall strategy.

The ISO standards are like a map, showing the team the best route to take and ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Armed with these guidelines, organizations establish a smoother and more organized innovation process. Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, communication flows better, and collaboration becomes easier. It’s like having a well-oiled machine, where everyone knows what to do and how they fit into the bigger picture.

The ISO standards also emphasize the importance of leadership and accountability. Leaders take charge and guide the innovation process, while everyone is responsible for their part in making innovation successful. For innovation to succeed, you need a strong captain steering the ship and a crew that works together.  

  • Increased Competitiveness and Growth

Armed with these standards, you can identify new opportunities, develop innovative products or services, and gain a competitive advantage.

Standards act as a roadmap, guiding you towards effective strategies and practices that fuel the competitive edge. As we saw in the overall structure of the ISO 56002, it promotes a culture of continuous improvement and learning within organizations. This encourages the exploration of new ideas, the identification of areas for growth, and the development of innovative solutions. It enables organizations to stay agile, responsive, and innovative in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

  • Better Ability to Manage Risk

The concept of risk is too often seen as purely a negative issue that one should look to minimize by diversifying the innovation portfolio. Instead, you should look at risk through a broader lens, especially when it comes to innovation.

The concept of risk is too often seen as purely a negative issue that one should look to minimize by diversifying the innovation portfolio. Instead, you should look at risk through a broader lens, especially when it comes to innovation.

Risk is the potential of something either gaining or losing value, which means that it simply represents the uncertainty related to that something. Since working on innovation involves a lot of uncertainty, you should look at risk as more than just something to minimize. Of course, the acceptable level of risk depends on ambition, capabilities, and the types of innovations pursued.

Since working on innovation involves a lot of uncertainty, you should look at risk as more than just something to minimize.

For example, startups, particularly early-stage ones, are often more willing to take significant risks by dedicating all their resources to a single ambitious project with a high likelihood of failure but the potential for substantial rewards.

Therefore, even in the context of standards, flexibility and adaptability are crucial. You have to establish unified or separate structures for innovation activities with different leadership styles, competencies, and cultures.

Implementing an innovation management system challenges the status quo, enabling effective management of uncertainties and risks.

  • Ability to Forge Meaningful and Valuable Partnerships

ISO standards help organizations forge meaningful and valuable partnerships by providing a common framework and shared language for collaboration.

The ISO 56003 can help you decide whether you should enter an innovation partnership, identify, evaluate, and select partners and assess the alignment and perceptions of value and challenges of the partnership.

Even more, through ISO standards organizations can also demonstrate their commitment to best practices and a high level of quality in their operations. This can attract potential partners who value reliability and trustworthiness. When partners see that an organization follows recognized standards, it gives them confidence that they can work together effectively and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

When organizations follow these standards, they can collaborate more efficiently and make better decisions together. This fosters trust and strengthens the partnership, leading to more successful projects and innovations.

  • Effective Intellectual Property Management

IP management is like a safety net for new ideas and inventions. It protects them from being copied or used by others without permission. When innovators get patents, trademarks, copyrights, or keep their secrets, it gives them legal rights over their creations. This protection encourages them to invest in more research and come up with even better things.

If you are concerned about IP management, the ISO 56005 was developed as a guidance and framework to address the management of intellectual property rights.

Clear guidelines for IP management can help you protect and capitalize on your innovations. The ISO 56005 explains the steps to carry out an IP order and create an IP strategy that aligns with your business goals.

Overall, the adoption of innovation standards paves the way for continuous improvement, growth, and impactful collaborations in today’s dynamic and rapidly evolving business landscape. But ultimately, the decision to invest in the ISO standards for innovation depends on your objectives, resources, and long-term commitment to continuous improvement.

What Next?

Now that you know what’s the deal with these ISO standards for innovation, what should you do next?

  • Assess Readiness: Begin by evaluating your organization’s readiness for implementing standards for innovation. It’s important to understand why transformation is necessary. Assess factors such as your maturity as an organization, your current innovation practices, resources, and commitment to driving innovation improvements.
  • Familiarize Yourself with the ISO Standards: Take the time to understand the ISO standards relevant to innovation, such as ISO 56000 and its related standards. Familiarize yourself with the content as much as possible to understand where to start.

    Note that you don’t have to get on board with all standards. If you are new to innovation work, you might want to start with the ISO 56000 to establish the concepts of innovation in relation to your organization. From there you will get more familiar with the topic and start to understand the basics.
  • Define Objectives and Benefits: If you already know you want to adopt ISO standards, make sure you have defined the objectives you aim to achieve. Consider the potential benefits for your organization, such as improved innovation management practices, enhanced competitiveness, and better risk management.
  • Gain Leadership Commitment: Having that clear understanding of what you want to achieve through the standards will also help secure leadership commitment, which is vital for the successful adoption of ISO standards. Engage top management, to gain their support and endorsement of the initiative.
  • Make a Plan: Next, develop a detailed plan for implementing ISO standards for innovation. The plan should outline the steps, timelines, responsibilities, and resources required for successful implementation.
  • Engage Stakeholders: Involve all relevant stakeholders in the process. Seek input from employees, teams, and departments that will be impacted by the adoption of ISO standards to ensure their buy-in and cooperation. Offer training and awareness programs to employees to ensure they understand the importance and benefits of adopting these ISO standards.
  • Continuous Improvement: As the innovation management system proposed by the ISO organization also outlines, continuous improvement is the backbone of any process. Once you execute the plan and start adhering to innovation standards, you should monitor progress, measure outcomes, and continually assess and improve your innovation management practices.
  • Consider Certification: Lastly, the elephant in the room. Whenever you think of ISO standards you think of the ISO certificates. While certification can signal a commitment to best practices and continuous improvement in innovation management, it is not mandatory for implementing effective innovation initiatives within an organization.

    You can adhere to the standards without additional investment into getting certified. The ISO 56002 is the only one that is eligible for certification, meaning that you can seek certification from accredited certification bodies to demonstrate your compliance with ISO 56002 as well as your commitment to effective innovation management. 


Because we don’t like to do things halfway, this was a lengthy article. We didn’t go into the details of each standard because that is beside the point here. Our goal was to provide you with the bigger picture of what it means to standardize innovation practices.

This will hopefully help you better understand that innovation is not a one-time activity you do after a workshop, and that a systematic approach is essential for long-term success and growth.

Innovation can be like deciding to go to the gym or sticking to a workout routine. Sometimes the most difficult part is to get started and make that first step.

With this information at hand, you can start digging deeper into the specifics of each standard that interests you and use them as a compass to steer you in the right direction. They can give a new perspective into the methods you can use to achieve success in innovation, and help you rethink how you manage innovation at an organizational level.

Image credit: Unsplash.com, Pixabay, viima.com, iso.org

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Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing

Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Being a leader isn’t easy. You must BE accountable, compassionate, confident, curious, empathetic, focused, service-driven, and many other things. You must DO many things, including build relationships, communicate clearly, constantly learn, create accountability, develop people, inspire hope and trust, provide stability, and think critically. But if you’re not doing this one thing, none of the other things matter.

Show up.

It seems obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many “leaders” struggle with this. 

Especially when they’re tasked with managing both operations and innovation.

It’s easy to show up to lead operations.

When you have experience and confidence, know likely cause and effect, and can predict with relative certainty what will happen next, it’s easy to show up. You’re less likely to be wrong, which means you face less risk to your reputation, current role, and career prospects.

When it’s time to be a leader in the core business, you don’t think twice about showing up. It’s your job. If you don’t, the business, your career, and your reputation suffer. So, you show up, make decisions, and lead the team out of the unexpected.

It’s hard to show up to lead innovation.

When you are doing something new, facing more unknowns than knowns, and can’t guarantee an outcome, let alone success, showing up is scary. No one will blame you if you’re not there because you’re focused on the core business and its known risks and rewards. If you “lead from the back” (i.e., abdicate your responsibility to lead), you can claim that the team, your peers, or the company are not ready to do what it takes.

When it’s time to be a leader in innovation, there is always something in the core business that is more urgent, more important, and more demanding of your time and attention. Innovation may be your job, but the company rewards you for delivering the core business, so of course, you think twice.

Show up anyway

There’s a reason people use the term “incubation” to describe the early days of the innovation process. To incubate means to “cause or aid the development of” but that’s the 2nd definition. The 1st definition is “to sit on so as to hatch by the warmth of the body.”

You can’t incubate if you don’t show up.

Show up to the meeting or call, even if something else feels more urgent. Nine times out of ten, it can wait half an hour. If it can’t, reschedule the meeting to the next day (or the first day after the crisis) and tell your team why. Don’t say, “I don’t have time,” own your choice and explain, “This isn’t a priority at the moment because….”

Show up when the team is actively learning and learn along with them. Attend a customer interview, join the read-out at the end of an ideation session, and observe people using your (or competitive) solutions. Ask questions, engage in experiments, and welcome the experiences that will inform your decisions.

Show up when people question what the innovation team is doing and why. Especially when they complain that those resources could be put to better use in the core business. Explain that the innovation resources are investments in the company’s future, paving the way for success in an industry and market that is changing faster than ever.

You can’t lead if you don’t show up.

Early in my career, a boss said, “A leader without followers is just a person wandering lost.” Your followers can’t follow you if they can’t find you.

After all, “80% of success is showing up.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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Imagination versus Knowledge

Is imagination really more important?

Imagination versus Knowledge

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Is imagination really more important than knowledge? How does imagination link to catalyzing collective innovation and unleashing corporate vitality?

When I did my research, I discovered that the answer is actually paradoxical!

Albert Einstein famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Why is the answer so paradoxical?

According to a well-researched and scientific article “Einstein’s most famous quote is totally misunderstood” in BIGTHINK magazine, the author suggests that he’s really doing is encouraging people to look beyond the current, conservative frontiers of what we know and into the realm of what we’re compelled to explore next.

He describes that imagination, in Einstein’s mind, is shorthand for a thought experiment: to simulate the consequences of a theory in a regime that’s yet to be tested, where the imaginative predictions were all well-quantified far in advance of the observations/experiments.

  • Both knowledge and imagination

This means that for your imagination to take you to worthwhile places, you also need a strong foundation of knowledge of the subject to build your theory or idea.

This makes it a “both/and” paradox.

This means that you need both a deep knowledge of the subject or problem and a capacity to create, evolve and exploit mental models of things or situations that are often counterintuitive and counterfactual and don’t yet exist.

Doing this enables you to generate new lines of feeling and thinking, and to connect fields, problems, and ideas that others find unrelated. To ultimately inspire, and result in collective innovation.

How does this relate to innovation?

Most of us are already aware that companies increasingly need to innovate — across strategies, operations, offerings, and business models. Especially when business environments are experiencing a range of global and local crises, accelerating change and ongoing, relentless instability and uncertainty. Where many have become survival focused, and adopt a short-term reactive lens in attempts to restore “normality” and arrest a decline in long-term growth rates and competitiveness.

As well as arrest a serious decline in their corporate vitality.  Which is crucial for long-term success, growth, and sustainability. Yet some companies are unaware that imagination is upstream of innovation. Sadly lack the focus towards entering this critical realm and leveraging it to stimulate a capacity for collective innovation which is needed for corporate vitality to thrive.

Corporate vitality enables organizations to thrive

An organizational culture that embraces corporate vitality enables them to thrive, by knowing how to shape visionary strategies in the imagination age that enables it to:

  • Rebound and reinvent themselves, under pressure.
  • Ignite people’s imagination to co-create ideas.
  • Collaborate to accelerate collective innovation.
  • Deliver and accelerate growth in a VUCA/BANI.

Yet, according to research by the BCG Hendersen Institute in an article “Competing on Imagination”

“Big businesses often struggle to make use of imagination. They may try to make it a predictable process, and end up with routine and incrementalism. Or they may treat it like a magical power, celebrated in tales of great innovators, in the hope that good ideas will appear as needed. As companies grow, it becomes harder to be imaginative. Larger companies tend to focus on exploiting what they know and what originally gave them scale”.

What else inhibits the development of corporate vitality?

The BCG research also reveals that most companies don’t yet know how to ignite people’s imagination. Which is required to co-create ideas and collaborate.

Often because they usually lack the motivation, rigor, and knowledge required to:

  • Clarify, ignite, and activate imagination: what it means and how it works at either an individual or collective level.

Which restricts an ability to develop the capacity required to deviate from the norm and emerge creative insights and breakthroughs, invent, and innovate on a scale.

  • Strategically and systematically improve the individual and collective capacity to imagine: which keeps them stuck within their own spheres, and focuses on averages rather than on exceptions.

This also restricts individual and collective investment in creating free time and space for daydreaming, mind wandering, and meandering into the unknown.

  • Cultivate individual and collective imaginative capacity through social transmissions: that evoke new questions and provocative ideas.

Which keeps them restricted to the confines of their own, or current mental models, rigid role parameters, and focus on metrics and conventional short-term siloed approaches.

Ultimately inhibiting our capacity to alter our cognitive habits, allowing our minds to make new associations, develop, and experiment with new ideas.  That forms the foundations for cultivating a culture that catalyzes collective innovation and unleashes corporate vitality.

Taking a neurological approach

Research presented by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Dr Martin Seligman, in their recent book Tomorrow Mind enables us to take a neurological approach towards igniting people’s imagination – to arouse our curiosity and co-create ideas, that result in collective innovation.

  • Default Mode Network (DMN)

Stating that when we allow our minds to wander and daydream, our brain doesn’t just “power down.” Instead it “switches to a new mode of thinking, one so vital that it is our default – or the activity our brains jump to in every free moment” which specializes in two processes: imagining and planning.

This is known as our Default Mode Network (DMN). Which activates when we let our minds wander or drift into a daydream, to create spontaneous oscillations that allow us to observe novel thought streams and extract new patterns, generalizations, interpretations, and insights.

It is the place our best ideas come from.

  • Discovering what does not yet exist

In this realm, our minds break the bonds of space and time, blending memory and fantasy, creating an eternal cycle that dances between exploitation and exploration.

Allowing us to exploit our “knowns” and explore new possibilities by imagining scenes that differ radically from the actual past and the actual present, allowing us to discover and learn deeply about what does not yet exist.

What does this mean to organizations, leaders, and coaches?

  • Power of provocation

ImagineNation™ has pioneered innovation coaching by presenting The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, globally online for more than 10 years.  To teach the traits, mindsets, behaviors, and skills to ignite people’s imagination, based on our experience that consciousness, imagination, and curiosity are the precursors to both creativity and innovation.

Where consciousness contains the states and qualities of the mind, which is where our imagination is located, creativity is the process of bringing something new to the mind, and innovation is bringing the new to the world.

  • Being a disruptive provocateur

We teach participants to become “disruptive provocateurs” who know how to compassionately, creatively, and courageously create collective holding spaces.

That creates the permission, safe space, and trust for developing generative thinking processes that enable peoples to see and solve challenging problems that evoke and emerge new discoveries, and creative ideas and generate learning by:

  • Disrupting peoples’ habitual feelings and thought processes and comfort zones,
  • Co-creating the permission, safety, and trust to deviate and differ,
  • Space and time for elasticizing and stretching habitual thought processes.

Imagination can be provocative because it arouses scenes that differ radically from the actual past and the actual present. This allows us to discover and learn deeply about what does not yet exist. It enables us to focus on being intentional, in taking intelligent and right actions to solve the problem differently and develop corporate vitality.

  • Power of prospection

Developing the co-creative frequencies requires us to alter our cognitive habits, allowing our minds to make new associations, develop, and experiment with new ideas, and cultivate a culture that embraces corporate vitality. This involves the capacity to imagine alternate futures, and developing prospection skills – “the ability within each of us to think about the future and envision what’s possible.”

According to USA-based leading global coaching platform BetterUps’ Report on the Future Minded Leader:

“Imagining ourselves into alternate futures and evaluating them as a way to make decisions and guide present action is unique”.

These occupy at least one-quarter of our waking thoughts, and when it comes to imagining the future, we are at once both our most optimistic and pessimistic selves, which is, in essence, also contradictory. Because we can both project optimism about what is to come and make risk-averse decisions to build the foundations for envisioning a range of desirable and alternate futures.

  • Sparking corporate vitality

Building an “imagination machine” – an organization where the imagination of individuals work together is fully supported intentionally and by design involves creating space for our Default Mode Networks (DMN) to activate and lay the foundations for collective innovation by:

  • Creating space and time for reflection enables people to regain control of their attention and minds, and to allow spontaneous, generative mind wandering – by engaging in simple activities like walking, reading, bathing, exercising, and free writing.
  • Making it safe and permissible to regularly expose people to the unfamiliar and the unknown – by building their discomfort resilience, provoking and elasticizing their core and habitual thinking processes.
  • Coaching, teaching, and training people to view their worlds systemically, to wander and daydream at the edges of the social fields – to sense, perceive and emerge anomalies, and counterintuitive and counterfactual patterns and trends.
  • Coaching, teaching, and training people to safely disrupt and challenge their habitual mental models – by creating mindset flips and paradigm shifts, developing their curiosity, and enhancing their cognitive diversity and agility.
  • Introducing more playfulness into the working environment – by improvising, exploring, introducing business simulations, and learning events, as well as gamification, to generate insights, that saturate us with ideas that we can then incubate.

Imagination, collective innovation, and corporate vitality

When we combine a rigorous approach to expanding and applying both our knowledge and our imagination, we can co-create ideas, and innovate in ways that illuminate people’s hearts and minds.

By altering and elasticizing our cognitive habits, allowing our minds to make new associations and unlikely connections, we can develop, and experiment with new ideas, and cultivate a culture that leverages and scales collective innovation that unleashes real corporate vitality.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Turn Cynics into Believers in Three Simple Steps

Turn Cynics into Believers in Three Simple Steps

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a leader, an innovator, and an optimist. You see what’s possible, and you sell people on your vision, encouraging them to come on the journey of discovery with you. You’re making progress, getting things done until *WHAM* you run right into that one person. You know who I’m talking about.

Dr. No.

Sometimes you see them coming because they’re from Legal, Regulatory, Finance, or another function that has the reputation of being a perpetual killjoy.

Sometimes you hear them coming:

  • “Why are we doing this? Don’t we have enough to do?”
  • “We tried this in 19XX. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.”
  • “I don’t have time for this. I have real work to do.”

Sometimes they sneak up on you, privately supporting your efforts only to undermine your efforts publicly.

But they’re always there. Waiting for the opportunity to not just rain on your parade but to unleash a category 5 Hurricane of obstacles, barriers, and flat-out refusals on your innovation efforts.

This is precisely why Dr. No is among the first people to invite to the parade.

Why You Need to Say Yes to Dr. No

Let’s be honest, no one wants to do this. At best, Dr. No’s negativity and smug predictions of inevitable failure are downers, dampening and discouraging the culture of questioning, experimentation, and learning you’re trying to create. At worst, it can feel like working with a saboteur hell-bent on doing the “I told You So” dance atop the ruins of your innovation team.

But just like eating your vegetables, you need to do it because it will make you and your innovation efforts healthier, stronger, and more likely to live longer.

How to Say Yes to Dr. No

Step 1: Be Human. Together.

As with many things in life, the first step is changing how you think and behave. Naturally, you have feelings, perceptions, and even predictions about Dr. No and their likely behavior. Set them aside. Not because they’re incorrect but because you can’t move forward if you’re standing in a hole.

So, start with what you have in common – Dr. No is a human being, just like you.

Like other human beings, Dr. No needs to feel connected and accepted. When they don’t feel connected and accepted, they will feel defensive and under attack and respond by taking steps to protect themselves and their jobs. But when they connect and feel accepted, you have the foundation for psychological safety

To establish a connection and foster a feeling of acceptance, try:

  • Acknowledging the importance of the job they’re doing and its impact on the business
  • Asking questions to understand better how they think and what they prioritize
  • Building a rapport by sharing some of your aspirations and concerns and asking about theirs

Step 2: Invite Them on the Journey

People love what they create. It’s the only way to explain why people have outsized attachments to IKEA furniture, distorted art projects, and failed products. 

Invite Dr. No to be part of the creation process. Don’t tell them they’re part of it, that’s the business version of kidnapping, and no one likes being kidnapped. 

Instead, express your desire for them to be involved because you value their perspective. Ask them how and when they want to be involved. Share how you want them to be involved. Then work together to find a solution that works for both of you. Stay open to experimenting and changing how and when involvement happens. Make this a learning process for both of you as you work to do what’s best for the business.

Step 3: Stay curious

One of the most valuable lessons from Ted Lasso (and not Walt Whitman) is the importance of being curious, not judgmental.

As you do the work of innovation, there will be times when Dr. No lives up (or down) to their name. No matter how much time you invested in your relationship, how much psychological safety you built, or how involved they were in the process, they will still say No.

If you are judgmental, that No is the end of the conversation. If you’re curious, it’s the start.

So, get curious and ask,

  • What causes you to say that? (probe on what they see, think, and feel)
  • Have you seen something like this before? What was the context? What happened?
  • What do you need to see to say Yes?

Engage them in solving the problem with you rather than defending themselves against you.

Can Dr. No become Dr. Yes?


I’ve seen it happen, even to the point that Dr. No became the team’s loudest champion.

I’ve also seen it not happen. But even then, the No is less harsh, devastating, and final.

You won’t know until you try. Certainly, you won’t say no to that.

Image credit: Pexels

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