Tag Archives: Strategy

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Many years ago, Clay Christensen visited his firm where I was a partner and told us a story*.

“I imagine the day I die and present myself at the entrance to Heaven,” he said. “The Lord will show me around, and the beauty and majesty will overcome me. Eventually, I will notice that there are no numbers or data in Heaven, and I will ask the Lord why that is.”

“Data lies,” the Lord will respond. “Nothing that lies can be in Heaven. So, if people want data, I tell them to go to Hell.”

We all chuckled at the punchline and at the strength of the language Clay used (if you ever met him, you know that he was an incredibly gentle and soft-spoken man, so using the phrase “go to Hell” was the equivalent of your parents unleashing a five-minute long expletive-laden rant).

“If you want data, go to Hell.”

Clay’s statement seems absolutely blasphemous, especially in a society that views quantitative data as the ultimate source of truth:

  • “In God we trust. All others bring data.” W. Edward Deming, founding Father of Total Quality Management (TQM)
  •  “Above all else, show the data.” – Edward R. Tufte, a pioneer in the field of data visualization
  • “What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker, father of modern management studies

But it’s not entirely wrong.

Quantitative Data’s blessing: A sense of safety

As humans, we crave certainty and safety. This was true millennia ago when we needed to know whether the rustling in the leaves was the wind or a hungry predator preparing to leap and tear us limb from lime. And it’s true today when we must make billion-dollar decisions about buying companies, launching products, and expanding into new geographies.

We rely on data about company valuation and cash flow, market size and growth, and competitor size and strategy to make big decisions, trusting that it is accurate and will continue to be true for the foreseeable future.

Quantitative Data’s curse: The past does not predict the future

As leaders navigating an increasingly VUCA world, we know we must prepare for multiple scenarios, operate with agility, and be willing to pivot when change happens.

Yet we rely on data that describes the past.

We can extrapolate it, build forecasts, and create models, but the data will never tell us with certainty what will happen in the future. It can’t even tell us the Why (drivers, causal mechanisms) behind the What it describes.

The Answer: And not Or

Quantitative data Is useful. It gives us the sense of safety we need to operate in a world of uncertainty and a starting point from which to imagine the future(s).

But, it is not enough to give the clarity or confidence we need to make decisions leading to future growth and lasting competitive advantage.

To make those decisions, we need quantitative data AND qualitative insights.

We need numbers and humans.

Qualitative Insight’s blessing: A view into the future

Humans are the source of data. Our beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions are tracked and measured, and turned into numbers that describe what we believed, wanted, and did in the past.

By understanding human beliefs, motivations, and aspirations (and capturing them as qualitative insights), we gain insight into why we believed, wanted, and did those things and, as a result, how those beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions could change and be changed. With these insights, we can develop strategies and plans to change or maintain beliefs and motivations and anticipate and prepare for events that could accelerate or hinder our goals. And yes, these insights can be quantified.

Qualitative Insight’s curse: We must be brave

When discussing the merit of pursuing or applying qualitative research, it’s not uncommon for someone to trot out the saying (erroneously attributed to Henry Ford), “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a horse that goes twice as fast and eats half as much.”

Pushing against that assertion requires you to be brave. To let go of your desire for certainty and safety, take a risk, and be intellectually brave.

Being brave is hard. Staying safe is easy. It’s rational. It’s what any reasonable person would do. But safe, rational, and reasonable people rarely change the world.

One more story

In 1980, McKinsey predicted that the worldwide market for cell phones would max out at 900,000 subscribers. They based this prediction on solid data, analyzed by some of the most intelligent people in business. The data and resulting recommendations made sense when presented to AT&T, McKinsey’s client.

Five years later, there were 340,213 subscribers, and McKinsey looked pretty smart. In 1990, there were 5.3 million subscribers, almost 6x McKinsey’s prediction.   In 1994, there were 24.1M subscribers in the US alone (27x McKinsey’s global forecast), and AT&T was forced to pay $12.6B to acquire McCaw Cellular.

Should AT&T have told McKinsey to “go to Hell?”  No.

Should AT&T have thanked McKinsey for going to (and through) Hell to get the data, then asked whether they swung by earth to talk to humans and understand their Jobs to be Done around communication? Yes.

Because, as Box founder Aaron Levie reminds us,

“Sizing the market for a disruptor based on an incumbent’s market is like sizing a car industry off how many horses there were in 1910.”

* Except for the last line, these probably (definitely) weren’t his exact words, but they are an accurate representation of what I remember him saying

Image Credit: Pixabay

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

Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

Successful strategy and innovation are about how fast you can become aware of your assumptions.

Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

When it comes to strategy and innovation, success depends on how fast you become aware of your assumptions and then modify them. But it’s a paradox:  You can’t see your most fundamental assumptions until you overcome them. This means that you can only understand your mindsets that were barriers retrospectively.

Let’s look at how this works. I have a quick story for you, then a question.

A bus driver was heading down Van Ness Avenue in my hometown of San Francisco. He went through a stop sign without even slowing down, then turned onto a one-way street going the opposite direction as the rest of the traffic. A police officer saw the whole thing but he didn’t stop him or issue a ticket because no laws had been broken. The question for you is this: How can this scenario be possible?

If you answered that the bus driver was walking down the street, you are correct. This is a very simple example to illustrate how we all make assumptions. Most people just assume that a bus driver is always driving a bus. But of course, that’s not the case. The most important part of this exercise isn’t to point out that an assumption may have been made in the first place – it’s only natural to do so. It’s to show that most of us only recognize that we’ve made an assumption after we’ve discovered that our thinking was invalid or that it led us astray. And by then, it can often be “too late.”

Let’s go back to the bus driver for a moment. What if I had framed things up in the scenario a little differently and included another statement up front that said “In San Francisco, people use cars, take the bus, or walk down the street to get where they’re going.”  How would this have impacted your assumptions? For most people, the idea that it’s possible the bus driver could be walking down the street would have been planted in their brains as they read the rest of the scenario – and they would have more easily overcome their limiting assumption that bus drivers only drive buses. The goal is to continually broaden your perspective so that you can overcome your assumptions before they limit your options or slow you down.

Here are a couple of tried and true approaches I’ve used to challenge and expand mindsets.

Identify Areas of Intrigue

When it comes to developing your strategy or innovating, get clear on what you need to know and learn. List up to 4-5 topics. Examples might include things like board games children like most, the healthiest yet best tasting desserts, or the most successful social media influencers. For each topic, create a list of guiding questions that, if answered, would really give you a solid understanding of the area. For instance, using the board games children like mostexample, you could come up with questions like: What are the most popular children’s board games? How long do the best games take to play? Do adults usually play with the children? What does it take to win? This exercise will help you better understand what’s most important to further explore so you can broaden your perspective.

Adapt a Business Model

Find a company completely outside of your industry or market and look at what makes them different and what they do really well.  Then adapt their model to your cause.  Use the format “I want to be the ____________ of ____________” by putting a company name into the first blank and the area of your target market or innovation area into the second blank.  For example, if you want to transform the fashion industry, you might try “I want to be the Netflix of fashion”, which could lead you down the path of high-end evening gown rental services like Rent the Runway.  Consider companies like Starbucks, Twitter, Domino’s, NIKE, Home Depot, or any other innovative company you can think of.

Your mindsets naturally constrain your ability to consider alternatives and possibilities that go beyond the boundaries of your thinking. Your limiting assumptions can be about personal skills, team knowledge and abilities, organizational capabilities, market needs, technology, financial limitations, partnership possibilities, competition, or just about anything else. The goal is to recognize you hold assumptions and then act to surface them.

As the writer John Seely Brown once said, the harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions, the more likely there’s gold in letting go of them.

Image credit: Pexels

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

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

You Must Play and Experiment to Create and Innovate

You Must Play and Experiment to Create and Innovate

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Growing up in the fashion industry, in 1980’s Paris, I forged an exciting global career and experienced, first hand, a diverse range of the most amazingly innovative fashion presentations ever.  It was the dawn of an explosive era where fashion really mattered and wonderful events became really fantastic happenings featuring a lot of playful and experimental theatrical performances and fabulous guest stars on the catwalk. “From Claude Montana to Thierry Mugler, from Giorgio Armani to Franco Moschino, from Jean Charles de Castelbajac to Christian Lacroix, there were many designers who shaped the aesthetics of the era with their creations and shows” – whose creativity, still impact us across the arts and other key industries today.

Being playful and experimental

Reinforcing that in the arts and other industries, and in our professional and personal lives, newness, creativity, and innovation only happen through people being willing to be both playful and experimental.

This is useful to know, especially with the range of constraints and restrictions occurring globally as a result of fierce governmental reactive response to managing the Covid-19 pandemic. Coupling these with the challenges and limitations of a remote and hybrid workplace, are combining to cause many of us to achingly long for more freedom, fun, play, and adventure.  Yet, many of us, are feeling bound to our laptops, TV’s and kitchens, and are locked within the boundaries of our homes and local neighbourhoods.

It is possible to shift the range of negative feelings that lockdowns produce by exploring possibilities and opportunities for expanding our knowledge and learning, by knowing how to be more playful and experimental, and especially by taking up a set of regular reflective practices.

A unique moment in time

Using this unique moment in time to take up a set of reflective practices to ignite our creative juices and expand our appetite and capacity for creativity.

At the same time, use this moment to explore opportunities to learn and expand our knowledge, because, knowledge plays an important role in the productivity and prosperity of economies, organisations, and individuals and the post-Covid-19 world is going to need a lot of new knowledge in the coming decade of both disruption and transformation.

Expanding our knowledge

Most of us are aware that, our desire to create, and actually be playful and experiential usually involves learning from some kind of direct experience.  Like painting, where our hands are likely to get dirty, where we may produce a number of poor efforts (which we often hide) before we eventually create one, we can accept and live with.

Learning from a direct experience is more effective if coupled with reflection – that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.

Where research reveals that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by a greater perceived ability to achieve a goal in that it improves your confidence, self-belief, and conviction that you can achieve it.

Learning from reflecting on experience

Making the learning experience a playful and experimental one allows us to have fun, in ways that engage our multiple intelligences – our cognitive brains, and heart and gut brains in ways that create meta-shifts that challenge our mental maps.

This also helps us develop our learning agility – “learning what to do when you don’t know what to do” especially important in a world of constant and disruptive change.

Which will especially be a very vital and critical skill set to cultivate in the post-Covid-19 world, where there is no playbook, or reliable template for long-term planning the results we might want, in a disruptive and uncertain future.

Starting with elastic thinking

It starts with developing our elastic thinking skills, where according to Leonard Mlodinow  –  it is now prime time for people to harness the power of “elastic thinking” to navigate an unstable world and underpins our ability to adapt and be creative.

And involves “developing the capacity to let go of comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction; the capability to rise above conventional mindsets and to reframe the questions we ask; the ability to abandon our ingrained assumptions and open ourselves to new paradigms; the propensity to rely on imagination as much as on logic and to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas; and the willingness to experiment and be tolerant of failure.”

At ImagineNation™ we developed a four-step cognitive process to help people stretch their mental maps, feelings, thinking, behaviours, and actions, enabling them to be playful and experimental by focussing on these key elements that enable reflective practice:

  1. Discovering
  2. Sensemaking
  3. Internalising
  4. Applying

Exploring the role of failing fast

Getting to the creative and innovative outcomes, when playing and experimenting with thinking or acting differently, usually involves some kind of failure, where we fail flat on our faces!

Yet when being brave playful and courageous, and experimenting, you have to be willing to make mistakes and fail. The key is to try out things, and experiment, like children, do, and not worry about what others think and say about you, when you make a mistake or fail.

At the same time, adopting a reflective practice supports our willingness to let go and come from a beginners mind, to unlearn what may have worked previously, whilst being vulnerable and open-hearted, minded and willed to deeply reflect on what happened and what knowledge you may gain and what you might learn from it.

Continuously learning from reflective practice

This means that “work must become more learningful” where an organisations’ or teams’ collective aspiration is set free and people have permission, safety, and trust to be playful and experimental.

To “learn by doing and reflecting” through being:

  • Encouraged to continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire,
  • Re-educated to elasticize their thinking and develop new mental maps and where expansive patterns of feeling and thinking are nurtured,
  • Committed to continuously learning how to learn together, at a speed faster than the competition.

Resulting in the intelligence of the organisation or team exceeding the intelligence of individuals in the team and in the organisation, and by harnessing the collective’s capacity to create, invent and innovate through enacting a set of habitual reflective practices.

CCS Cards for play and critical reflection:

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning a tool we like to use that can provide both a sense of play and an opportunity for critical reflection. As many of you may know, CCS Cards are image cards containing a special set of photos, illustrations, and words. Just holding them, sorting them, and talking about what particular cards might mean for you, is an enjoyable, playful activity that often leads to fresh, creative responses.

Furthermore, as a tool for reflective practice, CCS Cards give people a powerful way to recall and recreate their lived experiences by incorporating their feelings and emotions. The cards provide participants with self-selected representations that they can link to all the associated concepts, feelings, words, and actions that were part of the lived experience. Armed with this clearer picture, they are better able to reflect upon and learn from their experience.  The cards also provide an easy way to share and compare their reflections with others, which is vital for effective collaboration.

Bringing together theory and practice

Enacting a set of reflective practices helps us effectively bring together and integrate theory and practice, where through reflection, people are able to:

  • Discover new mental maps, feelings, thoughts, and ideas,
  • Make sense of these in their own context or situation,
  • Internalize and assimilate the impact of these mental maps, thoughts, feelings, and actions by introducing options and choices for being, thinking, and acting differently,
  • Apply that information to add to their existing knowledge base and reach a higher level of understanding,
  • Adapt how they feel, think and act as resources in new, unknown, unexpected, and disruptive situations, as well as in how they plan, implement, and review their actions.

Surely, these might comprise a helpful set of strategies to embrace to help you thrive in these challenging times?

Isn’t there an inherent opportunity for all of us to discover and explore new ways of having more fun, by being playful and experimental?

Perhaps we might discover new ways of adapting and thriving individually and collectively co-create more individual freedom, wonderful fun, and exciting adventures that we are all craving, and become future-fit, in our constantly changing, uncertain, and unstable world.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, February 1, 2022. 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, to upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique context.

Join our next free “Making Innovation a Habit” masterclass to re-engage 2022!

Our 90-minute masterclass and creative conversation will help you develop your post-Covid-19 re-engagement strategy.  It’s on Thursday, 10th February at 6.30 pm Sydney and Melbourne, 8.30 pm Auckland, 3.30 pm Singapore, 11.30 am Abu Dhabi and 8.30 am Berlin. Find out more.

Image credit: Unsplash

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

Creating 21st Century Transformational Learning

Creating 21st Century Transformational Learning

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

I was privileged to attend one of the first Theory U; Presencing Leadership for Profound Innovation and Change Workshops presented by the Sloane School of Management, in Boston in 2008. This means that I have been able to observe, engage with and participate, from both Israel and Australia, in the evolution of Presencing and Theory U as powerful resources and vehicles for effecting profound transformational change and learning.

Intentional Change and Learning

I have seen and experienced the growth of the global Presencing community, as it transformed from a small, diverse, thought-leading group in the USA, seeding a range of deeply disruptive core concepts, as described in their groundbreaking book – Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future into a global movement.

Where they introduced a radical new theory about change and learning, I also participated in its evolution into its current manifestation, as a global movement for profound transformational change. Which seeks to create, within the whole system, intentional shifts that break old patterns of seeing and acting that continually create results, on a planetary level, that are no longer needed or wanted. Achieving this by encouraging deeper levels of attention and intention, as well as deep and continuous learning, to create an awareness of the larger systemic whole, ultimately leading to us to adopt new and different mindsets, behaviors, actions, and systems that can help to shape our evolution and our futures.

A Turning Point

It is suggested by many, that we are at a turning point, a critical moment in time, where all of us, individually and collectively, have the chance to focus our attention toward activating, harnessing, and mobilizing transformational change and learning to shape our evolution and our futures intelligently. To maximize the emergence, divergence, and convergence of new patterns of consumer and business behaviors that have emerged at extraordinary speed and can be sustained over long periods of time because digitization, coupled with the impact of the global pandemic, have accelerated changes faster than many of us believed previously possible.

Paradoxically, we are facing an uncertain future, where according to the World Economic Forum Job Reset Summit – “While vaccine rollout has begun and the growth outlook is predicted to improve, and even socio-economic recovery is far from certain” no matter where you are located or professionally aligned.

Leveraging the Turning Point

This turning point, is full of possibilities and innovative opportunities potentially enabling organizations, leaders, teams, people, and customers to embrace the opportunity to change and learning in creative and inventive ways to shape our evolution and to co-create our futures, in ways that are:

  • Purposeful and meaningful,
  • Embrace speed, agility, and simplicity,
  • Scale our confidence, capacity, and competence through unlearning, relearning, and innovation.

Resulting in improving equity for all, resilience, sustainability, growth, and future-fitness, in an ever-changing landscape, deeply impacted by the technologies created by accelerated digitization, by putting ourselves into the service of what is wanting to emerge in this unique turning point and moment of time.

Forward-looking leadership

This is validated by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), who outlined, in a recent article the key strategies employed by most innovative companies in 2021 that “forward-looking leaders soon looked to broader needs affecting their companies’ futures, such as resilience, digital transformation, and customer relevance”.

Realizing, like the authors of Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, the need to build the systemic ability to drive change, learning and innovation, by transforming their ambitious aspirations into real results through:

  1. Clarifying a clear ambition: that is meaningful and purposeful, compelling and engaging that aligns to people’s values and helps build “one team” mindsets.
  2. Building systemic innovation domains: that are strategically and culturally aligned, enabling people and technology to connect, explore, discover, design, and deliver the ambition through making changes and learning, collective and ecosystems approach that provides clear lines of sight to stakeholders, users, and customers.
  3. Performance management: that acknowledges and rewards collaborative achievements, results in transformational change and learning through smart risk-taking, experimentation and drives accountability, and celebrates success.
  4. Project management: that provides rigor and discipline, through taking a human-centered, and agile approach that allows people and teams to make the necessary shifts in assigning and delivering commercially astute, ambitious, radical, and challenging breakthrough and Moonshot projects.
  5. Talent and culture: by exercising leadership that brings people and teams together, collaborating by fostering openness, transparency, permission, and trust so people can safely unlearn, relearn, adapt and innovate. By supporting and sponsoring change initiatives, by harnessing and mobilizing collective genius, by granting prestige to innovation roles and valuing radical candor, generating discovery and challenges to the status quo.

A Moment in Time

Some thirteen years later, in a recent Letter, Otto Scharmer, one of the original authors of the Presence book, shared with the global Presencing community, that it:

“feels as if we have collectively crossed a threshold and entered a new time. A time that was there already before, but more as a background presence. A time that some geologists proposed to refer to as the Anthropocene, the age of humans. Living in the Anthropocene means that basically all the problems, all the challenges we face on a planetary scale are caused by… ourselves”.

He then stated that “Being alive at such a profound planetary threshold moment poses a critical question to each and every one of us: What is my response to all of this, what is our response to this condition, how am I – and how are we – going to show up at this moment?

Showing up at this moment

Change and learning today involve people, developing their knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors, skills and habits. So, making a fundamental choice about how you wish to show up right now, as a leader or manager, business owner or employee, consultant, trainer, or coach, is crucial to making your contribution and commitment to shaping your own individual, and our collective evolution and our futures.

Taking just a moment

It may, in fact, be beneficial, to take just a moment – to hit your pause button, retreat into reflection, stillness, and silence and ask yourself Otto’s question – how am I, and how are we as a business practice, team or organization going to show up at this moment?

Drawing on my experience as an innovative start-up entrepreneur in Israel, people can either be forced to change and learn through necessity, conflict, and adversity in order to survive. Alternately, they can choose to change through seeing the world with fresh eyes, full of possibility, positivity, optimism, and self-transcendence, to innovate and thrive.

  • How might you develop the courage to make transformational and systemic changes and learning and innovation your key priorities to survive through necessity and adversity, or thrive through unleashing possibilities, optimism, and positivity?
  • How might you develop the compassion to focus on developing both customer and human centricity in ways that are purposefully meaningful and aligned to people’s values and contribute to the good of the whole (people, profit, and planet)?
  • How might you be creative in transforming your time, people, and financial investments in ways that drive out complacency, build change readiness and deliver the deep and continuous change and learning that equips and empowers people to deliver tangible results that are valued, appreciated, and cherished, now and in the future?

Not only to take advantage of the moment in time but to also use transformational change and learning to extend your practice or organizations future fitness and life expectancy, because, according to a recent article in Forbes –  “Half of the giants we now know may no longer exist by the next decade. In 1964, a company on the S&P 500 had an average life expectancy of 33 years. This number was reduced to 24 years in 2016 and is forecast to shrink further to 12 years by 2027”.

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

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centered approach and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, within your unique context.  Find out more

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

Re-Skilling and Upskilling People & Teams

Re-Skilling and Upskilling People & Teams

The pandemic has increased the pace of change in a digitally accelerated world, and at the same time, it is forcing organizations, leaders, and teams to become more purposeful, human, and customer-centric. Where managing both the future and the present simultaneously requires people to unlearn what has worked in the past and relearn new mindsets and behaviors as to what might be possible, useful, and relevant in the future.

This is crucial to enabling people to perform at their best, and it requires investment in reskilling and upskilling people to be future-fit to meet the needs of previously unheard-of occupations, newly emerging flexible job options. All of which are being transformed by the pandemic, coupled with technologies created by accelerated digitization. Where organizations, leaders, and teams can increase speed, agility and improve simplicity and strategically generate new ways of tapping into the power of and harnessing and mobilizing people’s collective intelligence.

To better enable them to balance and resource organizational digital, agile, or cultural transformational initiatives with the needs of its people, users, customers, and communities, and execute them accordingly.

Collective Intelligence

Collective intelligence is group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, efforts, and engagement of diverse groups, tribes, teams, and collectives. Which poses a great opportunity, which is also critical to recovery, for organizations to attract, retain, manage and leverage talent  through reskilling and upskilling people to be future-fit by:

  1. Enhancing flexible work options

The recent World Economic Forum Job Reset Summit reported that – “in 2020, the global workforce lost an equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs, an estimated $3.7 trillion in wages and 4.4% of global GDP, a staggering toll on lives and livelihoods.”

McKinsey & Co in a recent article state that – as many as 25 percent more workers may need to switch occupations than before the pandemic.

This means that in a hybrid work environment, without the constriction of location, and with the ability to leverage connection digitally, at little, or no cost, there is a greater talent pool to draw from. Including, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article “What your future employees want most” untapped pools of talent such as the “home force” which includes bringing people back into the workforce including people who put their careers on hold due to raising children, caring for the elderly and retired baby boomers.

It also means that some people will be more likely to prioritize lifestyle (family and personal interests) over proximity to work, and will pursue jobs in locations where they can focus on both – even if it means taking a pay cut. Workers will be more likely to move out of cities and other urban locations if they can work remotely for a majority of the time, creating new work hubs in rural areas.

  1. Measuring the value delivered and not the volume

Designing people and customer-centric work experiences, roles gives people the space to unlock their full potential, maximize their impact by delivering transformative results that contribute to the common good and to the future of humanity.

It also encourages cross-fertilization of creative ideas through teaming and networking, maximizing the power of collaboration and collaborative technologies to create and capture value, through inventing new business models, services, and products that users and customers appreciate and cherish.

  1. Prioritizing continuous learning, reskilling and upskilling

At the same time, customer expectations and preferences are also constantly changing, giving rise and opening doors to new roles and opportunities, that may have never previously existed.

Organizations also need to discover and explore new ways of competing and future-proofing against uncertainty and disruption. They also need to invent new ways of boosting productivity and improving efficiency, through adapting and flexing to flow with the new reality and to ultimately grow and thrive within it.

There are also opportunities to solve complex problems by increasing reciprocity and collaboration through cross-functional partnerships, collectives, tribes, and ecosystems, designed to capture and deliver value co-creatively.

Continuous learning

Reskilling and upskilling people to be future-fit by maximizing collective intelligence require disrupting complacency and stagnation and creating an environment of continuous learning and trust.

Where people are focused on delivering a great customer experience and have the permission and safety and are “allowed” to:

  • Value and leverage differences and diversity in ways that evoke, provoke, and create new ways of being through unlearning, and through relearning to adopt a beginner’s mind, develop a paradox lens, and elastic thinking strategies to pivot quickly into new roles and structures as situations demand.
  • Challenge the status quo, by withholding judgment and evaluation, through developing vital generative questioning, listening, and debating skills to deep dive into and unleash creative and inventive ideas.
  • Continuously learn, to remain both agile and adaptive, collaborative and innovative, to discover, evolve, and grow talent in ways that are both nimble and sustainable.
  • Create lines of sight between strategy, structures, systems, people, and customers, identifying and maximizing interdependencies, through intentional collaboration where everyone knows that their efforts contribute to, and make a difference to the delivery of organizational outcomes.
  • Provide rigor, discipline by driving accountability and by constantly measuring and sharing feedback and results to allow for engaging people in continuous learning, iterative process, and real-life pivots.

Leveraging collective genius

Only by prioritizing reskilling and upskilling people to be future-fit organizations will leverage people’s collective genius and enhance their agility to survive and thrive, flow, and flourish in a VUCA world.

Organizations that are future-focused will create meaningful and purposeful hybrid workplaces that increase peoples’ job satisfaction and support.  That provides flexible work options, continuous learning, and focus on generating value delivery will build people’s loyalty and retention and lower hiring costs over time.

An uncertain future

According to the World Economic Forum Job Reset Summit – “While vaccine rollout has begun and the growth outlook is predicted to improve, and even socio-economic recovery is far from certain”.

Yet, with so much uncertainty about the future, there is one thing that we can all control and is controllable, are our mindsets – how we think, feel, and choose to act in any situation, especially in our communication, problem-solving, and decision-making processes.

All of us have the freedom to choose, to develop our independent wills, and create new ways of being, thinking, feeling, and doing – to meet the needs of a wide range of previously unheard-of occupations that are emerging, to provide more flexible, meaningful and purposeful job options.

To leverage the current turning point, which is full of possibilities and innovative opportunities for enabling organizations, people, and customers to be more equitable, resilient, sustainable, and future-fit, in an ever-changing landscape, impacted by the technologies created by accelerated digitization.

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

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

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

Image credit: Pixabay

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

Where Do Innovation Strategies Usually Go Wrong?

GUEST POST from Jesse Nieminen

Innovation strategy is a common source of anxiety for many innovation managers: they always want one, but few think their organization has a clearly defined one.

However, the good news is that innovation strategy is just a set of decisions on how to best fulfill the company’s overall strategic goals related to creating something new or improved. So, even if your organization doesn’t yet have a clearly defined innovation strategy, it’s often a surprisingly straightforward task to derive it from the overall corporate strategy.

Having said that, there still are a handful of ways in which innovation strategies often go wrong. In this article, we’ll explore some of these more common mistakes, and seek to provide you with some actionable tips for avoiding them.

Innovation Strategy

The Classic Strategy Mistakes

Let’s start by covering the five classic strategy mistakes. These are not specific to innovation strategies but are by far the most common problems in those too.

The Five Classic Strategy Mistakes

At first glance, these classic mistakes seem like very basic rookie mistakes that no senior leader worth their salt will make. However, they are actually very difficult to avoid completely in a large organization. Most strategies, even some of the best, thus usually include some of these elements.The point is that if you start to see more than one or two of these, or if they’re obvious issues, odds are that your strategy will run into challenges down the road. Let’s next cover each of these mistakes briefly.

  1. Daydreaming. This is the classic case of management coming up with a big, bold vision but not having any idea on how to get there, and no concrete plans for figuring that out. For front-line employees and managers, it’s immediately obvious that the strategy just isn’t rooted in reality.
  2. Alignment is a related, but more nuanced challenge, and one that almost every large organization struggles with. Bridging the gap between the big picture goals and the day-to-day across the entire organization is just a very difficult task that is nearly impossible to get right from the get-go. The key is getting most of the way there, and then actively working to further improve alignment as you execute on the strategy.
  3. Hoping for the best is a classic mistake for the big-picture style of leaders who think that their job is to get the big picture right, and its’ then other people’s job to make things happen. In reality, as Professor Martin well put it, it just doesn’t work like that. If your strategy doesn’t consider the execution, you’re just hoping for the best and usually that won’t happen. There’s a reason for the CEO being the Chief Executive
  4. Not deciding is probably the second most common challenge right after alignment. We’ve all seen strategies that are basically a variation of “we do everything for everyone because that’s the biggest market”, and that lack of focus can only lead to spectacular failure when it comes time to execute the strategy. Another variation of this is strategies like “we focus on growth”, “we will become a market leader”. These aren’t meaningful choices; they are the end results, and very abstract ones at that. Nevertheless, growth can be made into an effective strategy if it’s focused on a very specific area, and the strategy includes the compromises you’re willing to make to achieve that growth, for example profitability. However, that’s just not what most companies are doing when they say their strategy is growth.
  5. The 5-year plan is our nickname for running an extremely intensive one-off strategy process where a detailed roadmap is created for the next five (or however many) years. The problem is that no matter how well you know the business and do your research, no one gets it right from the get-go, and even if you theoretically would, there are very few markets that are so stagnant that nothing significant will change in the next five years. Good strategies are always a result of an iterative, on-going process.

In a nutshell, innovators plan for the long-term and towards specific goals – but remain flexible on the ways to get there and make strategy an iterative learning process focused on getting things done and continuously moving in the right direction. There are many good frameworks for this. Be it Future-Back, Discovery-Driven Planning, Blue Ocean Strategy, or the Lean Startup, they all essentially talk about variations of the same thing.

The Real Challenge is Implementation

Let’s say you get the big picture right and avoid the classic mistakes we’ve just covered. The good news is that you’re now in the game! The bad news is that you’re still a long way from successfully pulling off your strategy.

The implementation is the hard part, and the part that makes all the difference. In essence, a great strategy, be it an innovation strategy or any other kind of strategy, sets the upper limit for the performance of the organization. A poor strategy, even when executed perfectly, will still lead to poor performance. But so does a perfect strategy when implemented poorly.

Strategy execution is the hard part

Reliable figures for the failure rate of strategy execution are hard to come by, but the consensus seems to be in the range of 60-90%. I haven’t seen research on the same figures for innovation focused strategies but based on the stats that are available, I’m quite confident they aren’t much better.

Anyone can, after all, say that they want to change the world or become a global leader at something, but few can make that happen.

So, a great innovation strategy is built on a nuanced understanding of an organization’s operating environment and is built on choices that give the organization the best possible odds of success. And, in that, keeping the implementation and the day-to-day realities top of mind during each phase of the strategy work is key.

A great innovation strategy is built on a nuanced understanding of an organization’s operating environment and is built on choices that give the organization the best possible odds of success.

The details will naturally vary depending on the business and industry, but before we wrap up, we’ll briefly cover some of the key principles that most organizations pursuing an innovation focused strategy should pay attention to.

Getting Implementation Right

1. Tell the What, focus on the Why, and leave room for the How

The first of our principles is to understand that you as a leader don’t have all the answers. Whatever plan you create will need to be adjusted, and it should be done by the people executing the strategy. So, make sure your strategy tells the big picture mission and key choices you’ve made (the What), but focuses especially on the rationale behind them (the Why) while leaving room for people to figure out what the best methods are for achieving those goals (the How).

Statistically speaking, no one will remember your strategic goals, but with a couple of well-chosen examples, you can get your employees to remember the rationale behind key choices, which has far reaching consequences throughout the organization. If you get that right, alignment and execution will become dramatically easier.

2. Speed is key, systematically seek out and remove barriers for it

As we’ve covered earlier, executing an innovative strategy is an iterative learning process. The faster you can move, the faster you will learn, and the more you can accomplish. This leads to compounding returns, and that’s why I think pace of innovation is the ultimate competitive advantage any organization may have.

There are a number of things that can help make an organization more agile, innovative, and faster, but in the end it comes down to systematically seeking out and removing any and all barriers that prevent people from executing the strategy – and innovating. Sometimes this is straightforward if you just keep an ear to the ground, but often you may need to resolve more complex structural issues.

3. Decentralize

While it’s been shown that an extraordinary CEO can temporarily get an organization to execute well with sheer will of force, things will unravel the moment they leave if capabilities and responsibilities aren’t spread out across the organization. Thus, smart leaders will focus on controlled decentralization and capability building from the get-go.

The same principle applies for both strategy execution and innovation. Simply put, decentralization will help your organization make more informed decisions and move even faster.


As we all know, strategy plays a big role in determining the success of any organization. It essentially sets the upper limit for their performance, and a poor one will prevent the organization from ever reaching its full potential.

But, in any industry, there are likely dozens if not hundreds of companies with great, often even nearly identical strategies. Some just seem to pull it off, where others don’t.

Thus, it’s the implementation that makes the difference and really determines the success of an organization, and planning for execution and adapting to a changing reality must be crucial parts of your strategy from the get-go.

Image credits: Unsplash, Jesse Nieminen, unsplash

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

Co-creating Future-fit Organizations

Co-creating Future-fit Organizations

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our second blog in this series of three, we opened the door to a threshold for a new kind of co-creative, collaborative and cohesive team spirit that catalyzes change through “innovation evangelism”. Focusing on building both internal and external talent, through empowering, equipping, and enabling internally cohesive and effective innovation teams.  They apply their collaborative and collective intelligence towards initiating open innovation initiatives co-creating future-fit organizations that are human-centric, adaptive, engaging, inclusive, collaborative, innovative, accountable, and digitally enabled.

Innovation evangelists are change catalysts who courageously experiment with different business models and processes, to crowdsource broad and deep innovation capabilities. Usually in new ways that breakthrough corporate antibodies and barriers and deliver sustainable, meaningful, and purposeful change.  Where, according to the recent Ideascale “Crowd Sourced Innovation Report 2021”crowdsourced innovation capabilities have grown and innovation output indicators like implementation rate and time to implement have improved. In fact, businesses that were able to rapidly adapt and focus on innovation(in 2020) are poised to outperform their peers in the coming years”.

Innovation teams don’t innovate

The purpose of an innovation team is to create a safe environment that unlocks organizational and its key external stakeholder’s collective intelligence and innovation agility (capacity, competence, and confidence) to build the capability to change as fast as change itself.

Where the goal is to create a high performing, connected, and networked workplace culture where people:

  • Understand and practice the common language of innovation, what exactly it means in their organizational context, as well as exactly what value means to current and potential customers as well as to the organization,
  • Develop a shared narrative or story about why innovation is crucial towards initiating and sustaining future success,
  • Have the time and space to deeply connect, collaborate, and co-create value, internally and externally with customers, suppliers, and other primary connection points to build external talent communities and value-adding ecosystems,
  • Maximize differences and diversity of thought within customers as well as within communities and ecosystems,
  • Generate urgency and creative energy to innovate faster than competitors,
  • Feel safe and have permission to freely share ideas, wisdom, knowledge, information, resources, and perspectives, with customers as well as across communities and ecosystems.

How innovation teams learn and develop

Sustaining success in today’s uncertain, unstable, and highly competitive business environment is becoming increasingly dependent on people’s and team’s abilities to deeply learn, adapt and grow. Yet most people and a large number of organizations don’t yet seem to value learning and adaptiveness as performance improvement enablers, especially in enabling people and teams to thrive in a disruptive world.  Nor do they understand how people learn, nor how to strategically develop peoples’ learning agility towards potentially co-creating future-fit organizations that sustain high-impact in VUCA times.

At ImagineNation™ we have integrated the four E’s of learning at work; Education, Experience, Environment, and Exposure with 12 key determining factors for co-creating future-fit organizations that sustain high-impact in VUCA times through our innovation team development, change, learning, and coaching programs.

Case Study Example

  1. Educational customisation and alignment

After conducting desktop research and key stakeholder sensing interviews, we customized our innovation education curriculum specifically to align with the learning needs of the innovation team.

We aligned the program design to the organization’s strategic imperatives, values, and leadership behaviors, we reviewed the results of the previous culture, climate and engagement surveys, as well as the range of business transformation initiatives. We then applied design thinking principles to “bring to life” the trends emerging, diverging, and converging in our client’s and their customer’s industry sectors.

Focusing on:

  • enabling people to perform well in their current roles,
  • building people’s long-term career success,
  • developing their long-term team leadership and membership development capabilities,
  • laying the foundations for impacting collectively towards co-creating future-fit organizations.
  1. Experiential learning a virtual and remote environment

We designed and offered a diverse and engaging set of high-value learning and development experiences that included a range of stretch and breakthrough assignments as part of their personal and team development process.

Focusing on:

  • encouraging people to engage in a set of daily reflective practices,
  • offering a series of customized agile macro learning blended learning options, that could be viewed or consumed over short periods of time,
  • engaging playful activities and skills practice sessions, with structured feedback and debrief discussions,
  • providing an aligned leadership growth individual and team assessment process,
  • introducing key criteria for establishing effective team cohesion and collaboration,
  • linking team action learning activities and evidence-based assignments to their strategic mandate ensuring their collective contribution towards co-creating future-fit organizations.
  1. Environment to support and encourage deep learning

We aimed at creating permission, tolerance, and a safe learning environment for people to pause, retreat, reflect, and respond authentically and effectively, to ultimately engage and upskill people in new ways of being, thinking, and acting towards co-creating future-fit organizations.

Focusing on:

  • developing peoples discomfort resilience and change readiness,
  • encouraging people to be empathic, courageous, and compassionate with one another, to customers as well as to those they were seeking to persuade and influence,
  • allowing and expecting mistakes to be made and valued as learning opportunities and encouraging smart risk-taking,
  • reinforcing individual learning as personal responsibility and team learning as a mutual responsibility and establishing a learning buddy system to support accountability,
  • offering a series of one-on-one individual coaching sessions to set individual goals and support people and the teams’ “on the job” applications.
  1. Exposure to different and diverse learning modalities

We designed a range of immersive microlearning bots by providing regular, consistent, linked, multimedia learning options and a constantly changing range of different and diverse learning modalities.

Focusing on:

  • providing an informative and targeted reading list and set of website links,
  • setting a series of coordinated thought leading webinars, videos, podcasts, and magazine articles aligned to deliver the desired learning outcomes,
  • outlining fortnightly targeted team application and reinforcement tasks,
  • helping the team to collaborate and set and communicate their passionate purpose, story, and key outputs to the organization to build their credibility and self-efficacy,
  • designing bespoke culture change initiatives that the innovation team could catalyse across the organization to shift mindsets and behaviors to make innovation a habit for everyone, every day.

Collectively contributing to the good of the whole

Co-creating future-fit organizations require creativity, compassion, and courage to co-create the space and freedom to discuss mistakes, ask questions, and experiment with new ideas. To catalyse change and help shift the workplace culture as well as crowdsource possibilities through open innovation.

In ways, that are truly collaborative, and energize, catalyze, harness, and mobilize people’s and customers’ collective genius, in ways that are appreciated and cherished by all. To ultimately collectively co-create a future-fit organization that contributes to an improved future, for customers, stakeholders, leaders, teams, organizations as well as for the good of the whole.

This is the final blog in a series of three about catalyzing change through innovation teams, why innovation teams are important in catalyzing culture change, and what an innovation team does, and how they collectively contribute toward co-creating the future-fit organization.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centred approach and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more

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

Accelerating Complexity vs. Accelerating Change

Accelerating Complexity vs. Accelerating Change

Does the quickening pace of change or the accelerating pace of complexity pose a greater threat for humans and organizations?

Change can be incredibly disruptive to both humans and organizations.

So much so that I decided to create a more modern, visual, collaborative and effective set of methods and tools to help organizations beat the 70% change failure rate and better keep pace with the accelerating pace of change – the Change Planning Toolkit™ – introduced in my latest book Charting Change.

In the book I highlight that the pace of change is accelerating, and use the increasing rate of change in the S&P 500’s membership as a proof point:

Innosight Average Company Lifespan

Another proof point is the fact that all of our high technology has been developed in roughly the last 100 years.

There can be no doubt that the pace of change and disruption is quickening.

But how much of the accelerating disruption that we see can be attributed to what I see as an increasing pace of complexity?

If anyone doubts that we live in a time of accelerating complexity, I encourage you to check out the book The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites, or this TED talk given by Thomas:

I find this video quite frightening because it highlights how fragile our high-technology society is, and how much we need each other.

If a single person can’t make the simplest of electrical appliances by themselves, even over the course of a year, then imagine the complexity that organizations must manage to make even more complicated products.

Imagine the challenge of making changes to our organizations after we’ve optimized things to successfully manage this complexity.

If both complexity and change are accelerating, how can we cope?

Here are four key ways to better manage complexity and change:

  1. Choose carefully which complexity to inflict upon the organization
  2. Learn how to architect the organization for continuous change
  3. Continuously evaluate your organization’s trade-offs between flexibility and fixedness
  4. Leverage the modern, visual, and collaborative tools from the Change Planning Toolkit™ that are easily adapted to our new virtual work environment

Grab the ten free tools from the Change Planning Toolkit™ before purchasing a license so you can keep these three key frameworks front and center as you plan a more modular and conscious approach to managing the growing complexity in your organization:

  • PCC Change Readiness Framework
  • Organizational Agility Framework
  • Architecting the Organization for Continuous Change

Download the 10 Free Tools

Keep innovating!

Accelerate your change and transformation success

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

13 Change Management Experts Share Their Tips

13 Change Management Experts Share Their Tips

Recently my colleague Daniel Lock collected and published points-of-view (POV) from 13 change management experts on implementing fast, dramatic and powerful change.

Here is mine:

If your change effort or project begins in a Microsoft Word document, you’re already in a whole world of trouble. Change is a human endeavor, so the most powerful way to embark on creating a dramatic and powerful change on an aggressive timeline is to surface the key challenges and opportunities as early as possible.
That doesn’t happen with a single individual tapping away at the keys entering prose or data into a traditional project charter. Instead, I recommend taking the following three steps to accelerate your change effort or project and increase its chances of success:

1. Evaluate the Change Readiness of Your Organization

Too often we just jump in and announce the start of projects and change initiatives without even looking around to see if the resources that are going to be crucial to our success are even available.

Convene a cross-functional change planning team to identify the resources you are going to need to successfully complete the project (physical, financial, human, etc.). Then begin to draft an initial high level project schedule including when different resources will need and map that against their availability (including their commitments to other existing and potential projects and change initiatives) to create a change readiness heat map.

My PCC Change Readiness Framework and Worksheet from the Change Planning Toolkit™ are also useful tools for evaluating your change readiness.

2. Architect Your Organization for Change

One of the biggest barriers to successful change initiatives is viewing change management as a subset of project management when we should really all be instead viewing project management as a subset of change management, and but one of Five Keys to Successful Change.

Consciously approaching the design of our organization and how it operates from the outside as changes in the environment dictate changes inside our organization can benefit from using a tool like the Architecting the Organization for Change framework.

3. Develop a Holistic View of the Change You’re Trying to Make

Change planning should never be a solo activity. You must identify those individuals who can verbalize the current and desired states, the risks and resources, identify the potential barriers and benefits, craft effective communications, etc.

You need to also involve people who know how to leverage a human-centered approach to affecting change using The Eleven Change Roles and who can build and maintain momentum by understanding and harness The Eight Change Mindsets that cause people to choose change.

I truly believe that only by taking a more visual, collaborative approach to change and capturing the key information on a single page using the Change Planning Canvas™ as you build your change plan, will you ever create and sustain the alignment necessary to beat the 70% change failure rate.

Click here to read responses from the 12 other change management experts

Accelerate your change and transformation success

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

Taking Four Different Paths to Innovation

Taking Four Different Paths to InnovationInterview with Gijs van Wulfen

I had the opportunity recently to interview fellow Innovation author Gijs van Wulfen to talk with him about his new book The Innovation Maze, which is a follow-up to his great first book The Innovation Expedition.

1. In the book you cite a study saying companies reported a drop in breakthrough ideas between the mid 1990’s and 2010. What do you attribute this drop to?

The share of breakthrough new products has been halved in the last decades from 20.4% in the mid-1990s to only 11.5% in 2010. Companies tend to prefer incremental innovations in small steps over breakthrough innovations in big jumps as they can be implemented faster with less perceived risk and fewer resources needed. Just take a look at how innovation budgets are spent: 58% of R&D spending is directed at incremental or renewal innovations, 28% at new or substantial innovations, and only 14% at breakthrough or radical innovations. It seems there’s a growing dislike for risks what causes incremental innovations to dominate. I like to quote the CEO of BMW AG, the German luxury car producer, Dr. Ing. Norbert Reithofer. When asked why BMW started the risky E-car project with the BMWi-3 and i-8 he responded very openly: “Because doing nothing was an even bigger risk.”

2. At the beginning of your book you highlight “15 Obstacles Hindering Innovation At Its Start”, if you could only eliminate three, which three would you choose?

Actually my personal goal is to eliminate all 15 obstacles which hinder innovation at the start, Braden. With the right approach, I even think it’s possible too. That’s why I’ve written The Innovation Maze. If I could eliminate three, I would choose the ones which are hindering people in organizations the most:

  1. No priority for innovation. This is relatively easy to solve, as you only have to pick the right moment. Never present a new radical innovation project to your board when business is going up fine.
  2. No market need. The biggest problem for start-ups or R&D-projects in big firms is that they provide solutions without a problem. Connecting to customers and matching potential solutions with relevant customer frictions at the start of innovation is essential. With out a customer need there is no market.
  3. No business model. Innovations are not viable without a business model. Experimenting with pretotypes or prototypes in the early phases of the development process is essential to test if your business model is viable.

Gijs van Wulfen3. Google no longer does 20% time, why do you think that is?

In 2013 Google began cutting back on their policy to give employees 20 percent of their work time to pursue projects they are passionate about, even if it is outside the core job or core mission of the company. They replaced it with a more focused approach to innovation instigated by CEO Larry Page. It resulted in more tightly targeted innovation activities, rather than the ‘scattergun’ innovation approach that was created by Google ‘20% time’. I am a fan of focused innovation, as this will increase the chance of success as less projects will get better people and more funds. It fits better Google, as a big company, with more than 60.000 employees.

4. People love to ideate and often equate ideation with innovation (which they shouldn’t). What tips would you offer to help people have a great ideation session?

Well, I have found 25 elements which are necessary creating a perfect ideation session:

Highly relevant
— Define a relevant innovation assignment, which is a challenge for the organization and the people you invite.
— Make the assignment concrete and s.m.a.r.t.
— Create momentum for ideation. Something important must happen now!

Diverse group of participants
— Invite people for whom the assignment is personally relevant.
— Invite people for both content as well as decision-making capabilities.
— Include outsiders and outside-the-box thinkers.
— Include an even mix of men and women, young & old, et cetera.
— Invite the internal senior problem-owner (CEO or vice president) to participate.

Special setting
— Look for a special and harmonious venue, fitting your innovation assignment.
— Create an (emotionally) safe environment where you can be yourself.
— Don’t allow smartphones and iPads to ring or flash.
— Never- and I really mean never do any brainstorming at the office.

Effectively structured process
— Allow at least two days for effective ideation to reach concrete new concepts.
— Spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
— Plan and prepare an effective combination of idea-generating techniques.
— Be open to suggestions from the group to adapt the process.
— Make sure it is enjoyable. Fun promotes good results.
— Time box. Make sure everybody is aware of the time limits- and sticks to them.
— Hire a visualizer or cartoonist to visualize the results
— Keep up the pace; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.

Facilitated by a professional
— Appoint an (internal) facilitator, who stays in the background and exercises light control.
— The facilitator should reflect the opposite energy of the group. If the group is too active: exert calmness.
— The facilitator mustn’t lose sight of sub groups; constantly monitoring their progress.

Concrete output
— Make the output very concrete and clear to anybody.
— Creating concepts together with your colleagues generates maximum internal support.

The experience of sharing ideas in a structured process and drafting concrete concepts from the best ideas has a great impact on group dynamics. At the end the whole group feels ownership of all the concepts. That is essential. New ideas need a lot of ‘parents’ to survive the product development process in a corporate culture.

4 Different Paths to Innovation

5. Where do you stand on breakthrough innovation vs. incremental innovation debate?

Should you focus on incremental innovations, radical innovations, or both? This depends on your role and situation. Startups mostly enter a market with a radical innovation. Facebook, and Twitter created new markets with new-to-the-world offerings. Tesla, Uber and AirBnB broke into existing markets surprising the incumbents with their new-to-the-world offerings. Existing organizations are mostly reactive innovators, which puts them in the situation where they have to quickly come up with innovations as the urgency is high. For them, incremental innovations are faster to develop with less risk. However, that won’t be enough in the long term as they also have to come up with radical innovations in order for their organization to grow again in the longer term. It’s essential that you find a good balance between incremental innovations, improvement of present products and services, and radical innovations focusing on big ideas which are outside the present comfort zone of your organization. With incremental innovations you prove to your customers and staff that you indeed can innovate and thereby build the confidence you will need to make bigger strides, once your radical innovations hit the market later.

6. Why is ‘checking for fit’ so important? What do people risk if they skip this step?

When you (and your innovation team) have come up with great ideas the question is how to make them reality. In practice, I have learned that if they don’t fit your personal goals as a start-up founder or your organizational goals as a corporate innovator, nothing will materialize in the end. It is essential to check this fit as early as possible in your innovation journey. If you skip this step you can almost be certain that someone will stop you later. The best excuse ever for risk-avoiding-bosses is “it doesn’t fit the strategy”.

7. Understanding customers is of course important, so what are your favorite tools for achieving customer understanding?

My three favorite tools for understanding customers are: customer journey mapping, identifying customer frictions and lead-user research. With the first one you identify all the factors influencing the customer experience from the customer’s perspective in a customer journey map. This is a great technique to use in service innovation, as a service is often so intangible and the user experience is actually your offering. The second technique identifies customer frictions via focus groups. This is a very practical technique which you can use in any innovation project to get to know a better understanding of your customers likes and dislikes. The third one is lead user research. Identifying the behavior of lead-users and co-creating with them is intensive and time-consuming and especially useful when you want to discover unmet latent needs and create more revolutionary ideas.

8. What is the best way for people to document the business case for an idea?

For more than 10 years, I have been using and giving instructions on a handy, practical framework for a new business case. My advice is to just use PowerPoint (or keynote) instead of writing a full written report, as nobody will read it anyway. Here’s the framework of a seven (7) page new business case, which you can present in 20 minutes at the most.

Slide 1. The Customer Friction.
— The customer situation.
— The customer need.
— The customer friction (problem/challenge).

Slide 2. Our New Concept.
— The customer target group (qualitative and quantitative).
— The marketing mix of the new product, service or business model.
— New for…. (the world, the market, our company).

Slide 3. This Makes our Concept Unique.
— Buying arguments for the customer.
— Current solutions and competitors.
— Our positioning.

Slide 4. It will be Feasible.
— We are able to develop it.
— We are able to produce it.
— The development process.

Slide 5. What’s in it for us.
— The number of customers (in year three).
— The projected revenues (in year three).
— The projected profits (in year three).

Slide 6. Why now?
— Why to develop it now.
— What if we say no.

Slide 7. The Decision to Proceed.
— The major uncertainties.
— The development team,
— The process, costs and planning.

Thanks for the interview Braden. I wish everybody great – and successful journeys through the innovation maze.

Thanks to you Gijs for sharing your insights with our global innovation community!

To learn more about Gijs’ four paths to innovation, grab yourself a copy of his new book his new book The Innovation Maze.

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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