Tag Archives: training

London Calling

London Calling Braden Kelley

by Braden Kelley

I will be in London attending a reunion soon and have some availability May 15-17, 2024 if anyone would like to book a keynote, workshop, or advisory session while I’m there.

Are you looking to build a continuous innovation infrastructure in your organization?

Would you like to learn more about the Change Planning Toolkit?

Want to learn how to become your own Futurist using the FutureHacking™ suite of tools?

I’m also open to helping promote a get together if someone has a space in central London to offer up for hosting a Human-Centered Change and Innovation community meetup.

Contact me if you have interest in any or all of these!

p.s. Be sure and follow both my personal account and the Human-Centered Change and Innovation community on LinkedIn.

Win Customers Not Arguments

Win Customers Not Arguments

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

In a confrontation with a customer, you have a goal: win the customer, not the argument. I’ve written about this before, and it’s worth coming back to this topic from another angle with a different example.

First, an interaction with a customer should never result in an argument. The best people in customer service, sales, or any front-line customer-facing job avoid escalating a confrontation to the level of a dispute. Instead, the best people de-escalate a confrontation to a mutually agreeable solution.

Here’s what I witnessed this week. I was on a plane and noticed that the flight attendant greeting passengers was more interested in telling passengers the rules than offering a warm, friendly greeting as people boarded the plane. There was a woman with a small pack strapped to her belt. It was maybe an inch thick and barely larger than a cell phone. It probably held her phone and maybe her wallet, but it wasn’t big enough for anything else.

Rather than the flight attendant saying, “Welcome aboard,” he pointed at her belt and said, “That’s going to have to go in the overhead or under the seat.”

The passenger said, “I’ve been flying with this for 15 years, and nobody has ever asked me to remove it from my belt.”

The flight attendant replied, “I’ve been flying for 20 years, and I know the rules.”

Shep Hyken Win the Customer Cartoon

So much for trying to win the customer. As I watched this, it was hard for me not to go to the flight attendant to introduce myself and suggest an alternative response that might have been friendlier and helped him convey his message. First, he could have extended a warm greeting. Then, he could have worded his statement as a friendly request rather than an order.

How is this different from what I’ve written about in the past? First, the customer (or passenger) didn’t walk on the plane with a bad attitude. She wasn’t coming into the conversation upset or angry. She didn’t have a complaint that eventually could turn into an argument. The opposite was happening. The flight attendant started it. Even if he was right and had to enforce a rule, he could have approached his request in a friendly manner that included an attitude of diplomacy and an explanation. Instead, he started the confrontation with an aggressive tone and a command that put the customer on the defensive and made the passengers around her uncomfortable.

There’s no good ending to this story. The passenger complied, but the employee never made things right. His angry and militant attitude continued throughout the flight.

It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not about blame. It’s about a customer-focused, friendly approach that doesn’t taint the experience.

Image Credits: Shep Hyken, Pexels

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3 Innovation Types Not What You Think They Are

But They Do Determine Your Success

3 Innovation Types Not What You Think They Are

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

The Official Story

When discussing innovation, you must be specific so people know what you expect. This is why so many thought leaders, consultants, and practitioners preach the importance of defining different types of innovation.

  • Clayton Christensen encourages focusing on WHY innovation is happening – improve performance, improve efficiency, or create markets – in his 2014 HBR article.
  • The classic Core/Adjacent/Transformational model focuses on WHAT is changing – target customer, offering, financial model, and resources and processes.
  • McKinsey’s 3 Horizons focus on WHEN the results are achieved – this year, 2-3 years, 3-6 years.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options and worry about which approach is “best.”  But, like all frameworks, they’re all a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and the best one is the one that will be used and get results in your organization.

The REAL story

Everything in the official story is true, but not the whole truth.

“Innovation” is not peanut butter. 

You can’t smear it all over everything and expect deliciousness.

When doing innovation, you must remember your customer – the executives who make decisions, allocate resources, and can accelerate or decimate your efforts.

More importantly, you need to remember their Jobs to be Done (JTBD) – keep my job, feel safe and respected, and be perceived as competent/a rising star – because these jobs define the innovations that will get to market.

Three (3) REAL types of innovation

SAFE – The delightful solution to decision-makers’ JTBD

Most closely aligned with Core innovation, improving performance or efficiency, and Horizon 1 because the focus is on improving what exists in a way that will generate revenue this year or next. Decision-makers feel confident because they’ve “been there and done that” (heck, doing “that” is probably what got them promoted in the first place). In fact, they’re more likely to get in trouble for NOT investing in these types of innovations than they are for investing in them.

STRETCH – The Good Enough solution

Most like Adjacent innovation because they allow decision-makers to keep one foot in the known while “stretching” their other foot into a new (to them) area. This type of innovation makes decision-makers nervous because they don’t have all the answers, but they feel like they at least know what questions to ask. Progress will require more data, and decisions will take longer than most intrapreneurs want. But eventually, enough time and resources (and ego/reputation) will be invested that, unless the team recommends killing it, the project will launch.

SPLATTER – The Terrible solution

No matter what you call them – transformational, radical, breakthrough, disruptive, or moonshots – these innovations make everyone’s eyes light up before reality kicks in and crushes our dreams. These innovations “define the next chapter of our business” and “disrupt ourselves before we’re disrupted.”  These innovations also require decision-makers to let go of everything they know and wander entirely into the unknown. To invest resources in the hope of seeing the return (and reward) come back to their successor (or successor’s successor). To defend their decisions, their team, and themselves when things don’t go exactly as planned.

How to find the REAL type that will get real results.

  1. “You said you want X. Would you describe that for me?” (you may need to give examples). When I worked at Clayton Christensen’s firm, executives would always call and ask for our help to create a disruptive innovation. When I would explain what they were actually asking for (something with “good enough” performance and a low selling price that appeals to non-consumers), they would back away from the table, wave their hands, and say, “Oh, not that. We don’t want that.
  2. “How much are you willing to risk?”  If they’re willing to go to their boss to ask for resources, they’re willing to Stretch. If they’re willing to get fired, they’re willing to Splatter. If everything needs to stay within their signing authority, it’s all about staying Safe.
  3. “What would you need to see to risk more?”  As an innovator, you’ll always want more freedom to push boundaries and feel confident that you can convince others to see things your way. But before you pitch Stretch to a boss that wants Safe, or Splatter to a boss barely willing to Stretch, learn what they need to change their minds. Maybe it will be worth your effort, maybe it won’t. Better to know sooner rather than later.

Image credits: Pixabay

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Moneyball and the Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation

Moneyball and the Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Recently, pitchers and catchers reported to MLB Spring Training facilities in Florida and Arizona.  For baseball fans, this is the first sign of Spring, an occasion that heralds months of warmth and sunshine, ballparks filled (hopefully) with cheering fans, dinners of beers and brats, and the undying belief that this year will be the year.

Of course, there was still a lot of dark, dreary cold between then and Opening Day.  Perfect weather for watching baseball movies – Bull DurhamMajor LeagueThe NaturalField of Dreams, and, of course, Moneyball.

Moneyball is based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis and chronicles the 2002 Oakland Athletics season.  The ’02 Oakland A’s, led by General Manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), forever changed baseball by adopting an approach that valued rigorous statistical analysis over the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (coaches, scouts, front office personnel) when building a team.  This approach, termed “Moneyball,” enabled the A’s to reach the postseason with a team that cost only $44M in salary, compared to the NY Yankees that spent $125M to achieve the same outcome.

While the whole movie (and book) is a testament to the courage and perseverance required to challenge and change the status quo, time and again I come back to three lines that perfectly sum up the journey of every successful intrapreneur I’ve ever met.

The Beginning

I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall…he always gets bloody…always always gets bloody.  This is threatening not just a way of doing business… but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. Really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It’s threatening the way they do things… and every time that happens, whether it’s the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins – they have their hands on the switch – they go batshit crazy.”

John Henry, Owner of the Boston Red Sox

Context

The 2002 season is over, and the A’s were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  John Henry, an owner of the Boston Red Sox, has invited Bill Beane to Boston to offer him the Red Sox GM job.

Lesson

This is what you sign up for when you decide to be an Intrapreneur.  The more you challenge the status quo, the more you question how business is done, the more you ask Why and demand an answer, the closer you get to “tak(ing) it in the teeth.”

This is why courage, perseverance, and an unshakeable belief that things can and should be better are absolutely essential for intrapreneurs.  Your job is to run at the wall over and over until you get through it.

People will follow.  The Red Sox did.  They won the World Series in 2004, breaking an 84-year-old curse.

The Middle

“It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process”

Bill Beane

Context

Billy has to convince the ballplayers to forget all the habits that made them great and embrace the philosophy of Moneyball.  To stop stealing bases, turning double plays on bunts, and swinging for the fences and to start taking walks, throwing to first for the easy out, and prioritize getting on base over hitting a home run.

The players are confused and frustrated.  Suddenly, everything that they once did right is wrong and what was not valued is deeply prized.

Lesson

Innovation is something new that creates value.  Something new doesn’t just require change, it requires people to stop doing things that work and start doing things that seem strange or even wrong.

Change doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s not a switch to be flipped.  It’s a process to be learned.  It takes time, practice, reminders, and patience.

The End

“When you get an answer you’re looking for, hang up.”

Billy Beane

Context

In this scene, Billy has offered one of his players to multiple teams, searching for the best deal.  When the phone rings with a deal he likes, he and the other General Manager (GM) agree to it, Billy hangs up.  Even though the other GM was in the middle of a sentence.  When Peter Brand, the Assistant GM played by Jonah Hill, points out that Billy had just hung up on the other GM, Billy responds with this nugget of wisdom.

Lesson

It’s advice intrapreneurs should take very much to heart.  I often see Innovation teams walk into management presentations with long presentations, full of data and projections, anxious to share their progress, and hoping for continued funding and support.  When the meeting starts, a senior exec will say something like, “We’re excited by the progress we’re hearing about and what it will take to continue.”

That’s the cue to “hang up.”

Instead of starting the presentation from the beginning, start with “what it will take to continue.”  You got the answer you’re looking for – they’re excited about the progress you’ve made – don’t spend time giving them the info they already have or, worse, could raise questions and dim their enthusiasm.  Hang up on the conversation you want to have and have the conversation they want to have.

In closing

Moneyball was an innovation that fundamentally changed one of the most tradition-bound businesses in sports.  To be successful, it required someone willing to take it in the teeth, to coach people through a process, and to hang up when they got the answer they wanted.  It wasn’t easy but real change rarely is.

The same is true in corporations.  They need their own Bill Beanes.

Are you willing to step up to the plate?

Image credits: Pixabay

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‘Innovation’ is Killing Innovation. How Do We Save It?

'Innovation' is Killing Innovation. How Do We Save It?

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

How do people react when you say “innovation?”

  1. Lean forward, eyes glittering, eager to hear more
  2. Stare blankly and nod slowly
  3. Roll their eyes and sigh
  4. Wave their hands dismissively and tell you to focus on other, more urgent priorities.

If you answered C, you’re in good company.

Innovation is a buzzword. Quick searches of Amazon and Google Scholar result in 100,000+ books and 200,000+ articles on the topic, while a scan of the SEC’s database yields 8,000 K-1 filings with the word “innovation” in 2020 alone.

“Innovation” is meaningless, like all buzzwords. There’s a reason that practitioners and consultants insist on establishing a common definition before starting innovation work. I’ve been in meetings with ten people, asked each person to define “innovation,” and heard 12 different answers.

But all this pales in comparison to the emotional response it elicits. Some people get incredibly excited, bouncing out of their seats, ready to bring their latest idea to life (whether it should be brought to life is a different story.). Some nod solemnly as if confronted by a necessary evil, accepting a fate beyond their control. Most roll their eyes because they’ve been through this before and, like all management “flavors of the month,” this too shall pass.

“Innovation” is killing Innovation

The emotions and opinions we tie to “innovation” overwhelm the dictionary definition, making it difficult to believe that the process and, more importantly, the result will be different this time.

We need a different word.

One that has the same meaning and none of the baggage.

This may feel impossible, but if “literally” can mean “figuratively” (do NOT get me started on this 2013 decision) and the Oxford English Dictionary can add 700 new words in 2022, surely we can figure this out.

10 alternatives to ‘Innovation’

The following options are sourced primarily from conversations with other experts and practitioners.

  1. Invention
  2. Ideation
  3. Incubation
  4. Improvement
  5. Creation
  6. Design
  7. Growth
  8. Transformation
  9. Business R&D*

Yes, #10 is intentionally missing because…

What do you think?

Finding a new word (or maybe changing how “innovation” is perceived, understood, and pursued) is a group effort. One person alone can’t do it, and a few people on a call complaining about the state of things certainly won’t (we’ve tried).

What do you think?

Do we need a different word for “innovation,” or should we keep it and deal with the baggage?

If we need a different word, what could it be? What do YOU use?

If we keep it, how do you combat the misunderstanding, eye rolls, and emotional baggage?

Let us know in the comments.


* This option came directly from a conversation with a client last week, and I kinda love it. 

We discussed the challenge of getting engineers to stay in a discovery mindset rather than jumping immediately to solutions. Even though they work in R&D (the function), he observed that 99.9% of their work (and, honestly, their careers) is spent on the D in R&D (development).

That’s when it clicked.

Research begins with investigation and inquiry to understand a broad problem and then uses the resulting insights to solve a specific problem. It is a learning process, just like the early stages of Innovation. And, just like in the early days of Innovation, you can’t predict the result or routinize the work.

Development focuses on bringing the “new or modified product or process to production,” Just like the later phases of Innovation when prototyping and experimentation are required, and risk is driven out of the proposition.

Traditional R&D focuses on technical and scientific exploration and solutioning,

Innovation focuses on market, consumer/customer, and business model exploration and solutioning.

It is R&D for the business. 

Business R&D.

Image credits: Pixabay

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Design Thinking Facilitator Guide

A Crash Course in the Basics

Design Thinking Facilitator Guide

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Are you interested in facilitating a design thinking session at your workplace or for another organization? Have you learned about design thinking and want to get started or deepen your skills? If you are a newbie to design thinking facilitation, this is the guide for you. We’ve highlighted the basics you need to know to lead a design thinking or innovation workshop. Facilitation skills are essential to navigating complex business problems, and a skilled facilitator can supercharge the team’s performance. We encourage you to attend our Facilitation Lab, a weekly virtual meetup to support effective implementation.

Read this design thinking facilitator guide, and you’ll have solid tools to be successful from start to finish.

What is Design Thinking?

To start, let’s define some key terms. First, design thinking. Design thinking is a process used for creative problem-solving; a methodology that puts the end-user or customer at the center of decision-making. Design thinking is also characterized by an emphasis on prototyping and testing ideas and working in a highly collaborative manner with a cross-disciplinary team. Design thinking isn’t a passing business trend. It’s a powerful and widely-implemented approach to strategic work adopted by both startups and major corporations to tackle business challenges. Here are a few of our favorite design thinking books we recommend adding to your library for an in-depth background.

A design thinking facilitator leads collaborative working sessions that utilize design thinking practices to reinvigorate creative growth. The gatherings include brainstorms, innovation workshops, executive summits, design springs, multi-day workshops, and long-term projects.

A design thinking facilitator is a coach to innovative, productive group think and work.

Design thinking facilitators help teams focus on the customer throughout the process and uncover new insights and ideas typically aren’t revealed during business as usual (ex. the boss has an epiphany in the shower and tells the team to execute). In a nutshell, a design thinking facilitator is a conduit to innovative productive group discovery and creation. Facilitation skills are key to maximizing these outcomes.

Want to learn the basics of how to facilitate a design thinking workshop? Read our 7-step guide below, then consider our Workshop Design Course to help you get started.

Step 1: Get Focused

Your first task as a design thinking facilitator is to clarify and define what you need to accomplish through your workshop or meeting. You want to determine the focus based on team needs or challenges. Record the primary goal and high-level questions to answer, and make sure participants are aligned on defined objectives.

Pro-tip: Before planning the workshop, consider 30-60-minute conversations with each stakeholder before the design thinking session to make sure objectives are clear.

Step 2: Make the Guest List

Now that you’ve defined objectives, you and the key stakeholder(s) need to determine fitting participants. Who’s taking part in the workshop? Your client will likely have a strong hand in building the guest list. As the design thinking facilitator, it’s crucial that you advise here.

Too many people leads to chaos. Too few people means too few ideas.

Diversity in skillset, expertise, attitude, tenure, etc. is essential to an informed perspective. The more points-of-view that are represented, the more applicable your solutions. In terms of number of participants, somewhere between 7 to 15 is ideal. Too many people leads to chaos. Too few people means too few ideas.

Step 3: Make Your Agenda

With the objective and participants determined, the next step of facilitating a design thinking workshop is the agenda. A wise way to plan your agenda is to start at the end: With what tools do you need to leave the design thinking session? Are you prioritizing alignment? A system or process in place? A collection of novel ideas? Are you looking for a prioritized roadmap or a paper prototype of a new experience? When you clearly define your goals, you can plan the design thinking activities to build toward the conclusion.

The individual activities you will implement varies greatly based on the challenge. Need inspiration to kick off your Design Thinking activities? There are many free resources to help guide you and your team on your journey. We’ve also outlined exercises for virtual workshops here.) No matter your timeline, prioritize time for introductions, icebreakers, and short breaks to check inboxes.

Pro tip: Be generous when time-boxing your design thinking activities. Everything will take longer than you think. A good rule of thumb is to double the time you imagine an individual activity will take.

Step 4: Get Your Space

Next up: Where are you going to host your design thinking workshop? While it might sound like a minor detail, the space affects the day’s success.

We recommend getting participants out of their workspace(s) to inspire fresh thinking and distance from day-to-day work. Whether you need to offer a hybrid option, have the budget for an offsite space, or need to use the office, consider the following to enhance the experience:

  • Look for good natural light and character. (A windowless hotel conference room is not ideal.)
  • Provide comfortable seating for all. (Simple, but we’ve seen it happen.)
  • Guarantee wall space or boards for pinning materials and capturing ideas.
  • Don’t forget AV needs: a projector for presenting, a screen if someone needs to collaborate remotely, etc.

Want more information on choosing a space? Check out 7 Things to Consider When Choosing a Workshop Venue here.

Step 5: Gather Supplies

With space, participants, and a solid agenda, you now need supplies to execute your workshop. Your exact supplies will be driven by your activities, agenda, and chosen space. Here are some basics to get you started:

If you want to dive deeper into the specific supplies that are recommended for a design sprint (which are helpful for any workshop), read here.

Pro-Tip: If possible, bring a filling breakfast and lunch so you don’t have to leave to eat. Also, healthy snacks, water, and coffee will keep people engaged as the day goes on.

Step 6: Be the Leader

It’s the big day! It’s time for you to lead the group through the agenda and activities you worked so hard on. The more you facilitate, the more skilled you become. 

Make sure to be yourself and keep the following things in mind as you lead the team in design thinking:

  • You’re the boss: People are looking for you to guide them. You’re prepared and are the expert. Establish your authority early and feel confident making decisions and telling the group when it’s time to move forward in the agenda.
  • Establish rules: Let the group know the rules of the day. Encourage people to stay off their phones and to fully participate in the session. Let them know that there are designated breaks.

Give everyone a voice: As the facilitator, you are responsible for making sure everyone is heard. If you notice someone being quiet, pull them into the conversation. You designed the guest list with their contribution in mind.

Step 7: Wrap It Up & Play It Back

After the workshop has come to a close, recognize your role as a design thinking facilitator to equip the group with tools for long-term success. Consider these in the days afterward:

  • Photograph and document: Make sure you photograph important output from the meeting: Post-its, diagrams, or worksheets that may have been created.
  • Synthesize the learnings: Take time to reflect on the session and the ideas that came of it. Create a MURAL board or a short presentation to share with participants and their teammates.

Get the group back together: Schedule time to share back your learnings with the participants and make plans together for how to implement thinking and learnings into daily work.


Looking to become a Design Thinking Facilitator?

What’s the importance of bringing in a professional to lead the session? A design thinking facilitator positively disrupts the team dynamic. Read up on why professional facilitation can make a difference.

We hope you’re excited to become a Design Thinking facilitator. Voltage Control has design thinking facilitator training will maximize your facilitation skills. Our Facilitation Certification programs will guide you through key facilitation skills and provide you with ample opportunities to practice.

Article originally published at VoltageControl.com

Image credit: Pexels

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Innovation and the Silicon Valley Bank Collapse

Why It’s Bad News and Good News for Corporate Innovation

Innovation and the Silicon Valley Bank Collapse

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Last week, as news of Silicon Valley Bank’s losses and eventual collapse, took over the news cycle, attention understandably turned to the devastating impact on the startup ecosystem.

Prospects brightened a bit on Monday with news that the federal government would make all depositors whole. Startups, VCs, and others in the ecosystem would be able to continue operations and make payroll, and SVB’s collapse would be just another cautionary tale.

But the impact of SVB’s collapse isn’t confined to the startup ecosystem or the banking industry.

Its impact (should have) struck fear and excitement into the hearts of every executive tasked with growing their business.

Your Portfolio’s Risk Profile Just Changed

The early 2000s were the heyday of innovation teams and skunkworks, but as these internal efforts struggled to produce significant results, companies started looking beyond their walls for innovation. Thus began the era of Corporate Venture Capital (CVC).

Innovation, companies realized, didn’t need to be incubated. It could be purchased.

Often at a lower price than the cost of an in-house team.

And it felt less risky. After all, other companies were doing it and it was a hot topic in the business press. Plus, making investments felt much more familiar and comfortable than running small-scale experiments and questioning the status quo.

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of corporate investors increased more than 6x to over 4,000, investment ballooned to nearly $170B in 2021 (up 142% from 2020), and 1,317 CVC-backed deals were closed in Q1 of 2020.

But, with SVB’s collapse, the perceived risk of startup investing suddenly changed.

Now startups feel riskier. Venture Capital firms are pulling back, and traditional banks are prohibited from stepping forward to provide the venture debt many startups rely on. While some see this as an opportunity for CVC to step up, that optimism ignores the fact that companies are, by nature and necessity, risk averse and more likely to follow the herd than lead it.

Why This is Bad News

As CVC, Open Innovation, and joint ventures became the preferred path to innovation and growth, internal innovation shifted to events – hackathons, shark tanks, and Silicon Valley field trips.

Employees were given the “freedom” to innovate within a set time and maybe even some training on tools like Design Thinking and Lean Startup. But behind closed doors, executives spoke of these events as employee retention efforts, not serious efforts to grow the business or advance critical strategies.

Employees eventually saw these events for what they were – innovation theater, activities designed to appease them and create feel-good stories for investors. In response, employees either left for places where innovation (or at least the curiosity and questions required) was welcomed, or they stayed, wiser and more cynical about management’s true intentions.

Then came the pandemic and a recession. Companies retreated further into themselves, focused more on core operations, and cut anything that wouldn’t generate financial results in 12 months or less.

Innovation muscles atrophied.

Just at the moment they need to be flexed most.

Why This is Good News

As the risk of investment in external innovation increases, companies will start looking for other ways to innovate and grow. Ways that feel less risky and give them more control.

They’ll rediscover Internal Innovation.

This is the silver lining of the dark SVB cloud – renewed investment in innovation, not as an event or activity to appease employees, but as a strategic tool critical to delivering strategic priorities and accelerating growth.

And, because this is our 2nd time around, we know it’s not about internal innovation teams OR external partners/investments. It’s about internal innovation teams AND external partners/investments.

Both are needed, and both can be successful if they:

  1. Are critical enablers of strategic priorities
  2. Pursue realistic goals (stretch, don’t splatter!)
  3. Receive the people and resources required to deliver against those goals
  4. Are empowered to choose progress over process
  5. Are supported by senior leaders with words AND actions

What To Do Now

When it comes to corporate innovation teams, many companies are starting from nothing. Some companies have files and playbooks they can dust off. A few have 1 or 2 people already working.

Whatever your starting point is, start now.

Just do me one favor. When you start pulling the team together, remember LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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There are Only 3 Reasons to Innovate

Which One is Yours?

There are Only 3 Reasons to Innovate

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You know that innovation is something new that creates value.

(But not too new)

Sometimes the value can be hard to describe, let alone quantify. You know that, ultimately, the value needs to be financial – more revenue, lower costs, higher profit. You also know that the value created in the short term will likely be more intangible – increased satisfaction, improved brand perception, and greater loyalty.

Your challenge, especially in tough economic times, is to tell a story that connects success indicators seen in the short term to the financial returns realized in the long term and maintain support and funding as the story unfolds.

That is a HUGE challenge! One that overwhelms most managers because they don’t know where to start let alone how to maintain support and momentum.

But you are not “most managers.” You know that the best place to start is at the beginning.

What is the Goal of Innovation (i.e., why are we investing in this)?

Goal #1: Create (or keep) a competitive advantage

Innovation is essential because it keeps you ahead of the competition.

Your business is already a leader in something that creates a competitive advantage, and your innovation efforts focus on keeping it that way.

For example, imagine you’re the President of Big Machine Co (BMC). You’ve been in business for decades in an industry with commoditized products, few competitors, high barriers to entry, and medium barriers to switching (i.e., it can be done, but it’s a pain).

You know that customer relationships and loyalty are the fuel that drives your business and why you’re #1 in the market. As a result, you focus your innovation efforts on creating new products or services that deliver unique value to your customers and provide easy and fast resolution to service issues.

Goal #2: Avoid (or overcome) competitive disadvantage

Innovation is essential because it keeps your business alive.

Your business is falling behind the competition either because you’re not keeping up with their pace of innovation or because you’re failing to deliver on table stakes like quality, price, or accessibility. You invest in innovation to catch up to the competition or regain your place in customers’ consideration.

Let’s go back to Big Machine Co.  Because of the amazing growth you achieved as President, you’re now CEO (congrats!). The new President continued your innovation strategy but got so excited by everything new he forgot to pay attention to the “old” things – existing products, manufacturing capabilities, and people. Now, you’re #2 in the market and losing customers at a concerning rate.

It’s time to get back to basics and invest in “new to BMC” innovations by creating products that customers want and competition can already offer, investing in manufacturing equipment and processes that improve efficiency and quality, and retaining people who have the knowledge, experience, and relationships that are the heart of the business.

Goal #3: Build a reputation for being innovative

Innovation is essential because doing it makes the company look good (and executives and shareholders feel good), regardless of whether it produces results.

Your business demands innovation, new news, and big splashes. Your customers want novelty, not perfection. Image is everything, and perception is reality. You invest in innovation to show what’s possible, provoke conversation, and stay in the spotlight.

Believe it or not, this is on your mind as CEO of Big Machine Co.  Your customers demand perfection, not novelty, but they need to shed the perception that they’re boring companies in a boring industry moving at a glacial pace to attract and retain the next generation of talent. You can help.

You look beyond the market to identify trends and technologies in the news but not yet in your industry. You identify the ones that could transform industries and make your customers’ eyes light up with wonder and excitement. You create proof of concept prototypes that make the vision tangible and discuss the plan and timing of the first step toward that vision.

How to Goal Helps

Your reason for innovating informs everything else – your strategy, structure, activities, metrics, and governance.

That is why you can only have one ‘Why’ at a time.

Yes, it’s tempting to try to do a bit of everything, but that often results in achieving nothing.

Think back to Big Machine Co:

  • If the products break, don’t perform as they should, or aren’t available when needed, it doesn’t matter how excellent the customer service is or how cool the new products are. You must achieve Goal #2 (avoid or overcome competitive disadvantage) to earn the right to pursue Goal #1 (create or maintain competitive advantage)
  • If the products are the right quality, perform as expected, and arrive on time but the customer service is poor, and there are no new products, it’s hard to believe that a company that struggles to deliver incremental innovation can deliver on a radically innovative vision. You must make progress against Goal #1 to have permission to pursue Goal #3 (build a reputation).

The next time you face the challenge of connecting your innovation’s short-term success indicators to the long-term financial returns and maintaining support and funding, don’t be overwhelmed.

Go back to the beginning and explain, “It achieves (Goal #) so that we earn the right to invest in (Goal #).”

Image credit: Pixabay

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Kickstarting Change and Innovation in Uncertain Times

Kickstarting Change and Innovation in Uncertain Times

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

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

Six Strategies to Kickstart Change and Innovate in Uncertain Times

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

Strategy #1

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

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

Strategy #2

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

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

Strategy #3

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

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

Strategy #4

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

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

Strategy #5

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

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

Strategy #6

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

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

Taking the first steps to change and innovate in 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Unsplash

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3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team

3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

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

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

“People. It’s always people.”

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

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

Type of Innovation

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

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

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

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

Time to launch

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

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

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

Tasks to accomplish

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

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

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

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

Taking Action

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

Image credit: Pixabay

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