Friday, July 25, 2008

Innovation Should Not be Left to Chance

I originally wrote this feature article and published it in the Spring 2001 issue of the American Electronics Association newsline. I am sharing it here...

Ask yourself, “How does my organization rate on achieving innovation? When and how do we talk about innovation?”
It will come as no surprise that certain activities, practices, and people are conducive to innovation while others act as anchors in the sand. Imagine all the individuals in your company serving your organization’s purposes. The challenge for leadership is to create an environment that fosters innovation.
We’re in the Information Overload age. Everyone in your organization is afflicted by information assault. How can you work together like a well-oiled machine when you haven’t discussed what the machine looks and acts like? This is exactly my point in writing this article. Use it as a tool to have some authentic dialogue with your team.
Innovation Framework is structure upon which to turn opportunities into desired outcomes. It involves a formal process as well as a nebulous social contract. Your Innovation Framework helps generate a binding social fabric that is woven among all of the individuals in your company so your firm can innovate reliably and successfully.
What follows are four fundamentals to explore in creating or reviewing the Innovative Framework within your organization.

Innovation requires Shared Knowledge
Human nature dictates that most people do not thrive on chaos or uncertainty. Thus, it is essential that individuals have opportunity to gain understanding. What are the desired features in the new product? What is the new business process to be adopted and why? A previous mentor of mine, and CEO of a Fortune 500 company, believed that employees needed to be informed in excess of 50 times on major initiatives. These weren’t stupid people, incapable of comprehension; they were people living in a state of Information Overload.
Because learning is often a slow iterative process, individuals must have the opportunity for re-exposure through repeated messaging and visual communications. Great visuals can reinforce innovation. Examples of reinforcing visuals include “Clearly expected deliverables” and “Milestone accomplished”. “Product attributes v. timing” worksheets are also useful for detailing product innovations and painting the big picture. Might as well provide a visible view to your innovation portfolio; chances are you have various products and services at different stages of maturity. But this is more valuable when people share the same view and can have dialogue about how to realize it or improve it. While shared knowledge is a necessary component of your innovation framework, it alone is not sufficient.

The challenge for leadership is to create an environment that fosters innovation.

Organizational Attitude can Make or Break Innovation
The attitude of the leader(s) permeates the culture within an organization. What messages are being sent from your leadership and what attitude does the social fabric within your organization reinforce? Individual attitudes of employees can retard or propel innovation. A popular motivational poster captures the essence, “Attitudes are contagious, is yours worth catching?”
Worth exploring is your organization’s attitude toward employees suggesting new products and services. Do you have an environment in which employees are comfortable making suggestions? Does your organization listen well, prioritize well? Or, does it embrace each individual idea to the point of including it in the current offering? Great ideas often come at the wrong time, serve as a distraction for the time being, and are not captured for later recall.
When the social fabric within an organization and leader are in alignment, individuals take notice – the boss is talking the talk and walking the walk. This is a bandwagon that is easy to get on and when an organization has such believers the stage is set for innovation.

Innovation Requires Action
It is not sufficient that individuals have knowledge and promising attitudes if they are not moved to action. Some individuals will be self guided, sharing the vision; others will require some help. Leaders should encourage an environment of reviewing and recognizing individual contributions that are aligned with the desired outcome. This practice alone helps to motivate individuals to move from thought to action. This also imprints that nebulous social fabric at play within the organization – individuals step up to the plate as they realize that words alone are not an investment.
A great Innovation Framework allows individuals to personalize innovation. Give a stakeholder the freedom to question, influence and suggest. Create individual measurements and deliverables that are meaningful and you have afforded individuals the opportunity for personal wins. Persistent wins form individual habit, which transforms individuals from thought to action. When multiple individuals have transformed from thought to action your Innovation Framework is beginning to foster innovation. At this point innovation will take on new life with the organization.

Innovative Organizations often start with Small Groups

Organizations do not become innovative upon command. Since individuals adopt innovation at different rates, individuals who have already moved from thought to action form an initial subgroup replete with a subculture. Members of this subculture seek comfort in their own company and naturally act to pull-in or influence individuals outside their “norm”.
A great Innovation Framework recognizes and makes use of these human dynamics by leveraging the influence of peers. Relentless focus of the subgroup on the desired outcome will help pull others into the group. Authentic dialogue concerning failures as well as success along the way will help to build trust. Peers have a way of affecting outliers that is unbeknownst to senior management. Incidentally, this is not unlike the peer effect v. parental effect on teens. In time, it comes as no surprise that outliers conform or self-select out of the process, joining other organizations in which they are more comfortable. Allowing the subgroup to recruit others into the organization is also paramount to speeding adoption and bolstering the Innovation Framework. In this way, Small Groups grow up into innovation organizations and the social fabric is woven even tighter among individuals.
Your Innovation Framework may be well defined or may be under construction. In either case, these four fundamentals should serve as discussion points among your team. Your Innovation Framework, just like product development is an iterative process. Begin with a prototype, and then define 1.0, building layers upon it as your needs and understanding evolve. Good luck innovating – there’s much to do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How to Avoid an Innovation Ship Wreck

Innovation as opposed to invention is a highly collaborative affair. An inventor can work in isolation, deep in the bowels of a lab. In contrast, innovation that is realized in the marketplace, as measured by delighted customers and revenue, necessarily involves many people in a highly collaborative and iterative process.

Though the innovation (concept to commercialization) process differs by organization, successful products and services launched today and in the future involve many people within and beyond the immediate organization. These people contribute relationships, knowledge, and experience.

The Relationship, Experience, Knowledge Distribution (REKD) diagram conveys this idea. You, denoted by the largest box, have a finite amount of relationships, experiences, and knowledge that is useful to realizing an innovation. The box to the right of “you” represents your colleagues, others in your organization. To be successful you need to partner with others in your organization. For example, if you are the lead inventor, you might need a product development team to build your widget. You will need marketing and executive sponsorship to carry it forward and get noticed in a crowded marketplace. Further ensuring your success, you will involve media, analysts, channel partners, customers, etc., all denoted by the bottom box since these people typically exist outside of and in spite of your company. Note, the relative sizes of the boxes may be different than shown depending on what each party brings to the table. It is likely that you are the tiny, tiny postage stamp inset box and with those around you bringing many more relationships and much more knowledge and experience.

To be successful in the marketplace it is essential that you tap into your colleagues as well as the ecosystem that lies outside of your organization. Swimming and Diving is a metaphor for shared learning and evangelism inside and outside of the organization.

Think of the realm of possibilities (all possibilities as the ocean). This is fitting since people often say things like there is an ocean of opportunities out there. Yeah - sure there is but what are you doing to realize those opportunities? Hopefully you are not trying to "boil the ocean." See, the metaphor continues to work... The ocean is deep and wide. All others exist in this vast space as well, customers, alliances, partners, investors, future employees, competitors, devices your product or service will interact with, etc.

Your challenge is swimming out of your immediate vicinity to others in your organization. You need to share with them your knowledge, experience, and relationships as well as make sure you are leveraging the same from them. Sometime this will be a surface activity; at other times this will be deep dive stuff. The metaphor continues to work. In the first case you have a swim partner, sometimes even synchronized swimming; whereas in the deep dive you’ll need a dive partner. This metaphor doesn’t stop at the boundaries of your organization. You will also need to swim and dive with suppliers, partners, customers, and others in the ecosystem to deliver compelling experiences around products and services.

Dive deeper for more knowledge and swim across to reach out to others in companies that can help you realize your innovations in the marketplace.
Good swimmers and divers find treasure, save isolated, endangered swimmers, and stay fit. Remember you can’t swim everywhere or you will fatigue - stay focused. Also, you can’t hold your breath for too long; even with a high capacity dive tank you’ll eventually need to surface. Swim and dive responsibility and help others to do the same. While you might not make the Olympic swim or dive team you may win in the marketplace and the hearts and minds of your customers, partners, investors, and colleagues.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Business of Innovation Quotes I Like Very Much

"Imagination works so quickly, quietly, and effectively that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products."

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard College Professor Psychology at Harvard University. Author, Stumbling on Happiness.


"No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution."

"And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly...."

"Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage."

Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian diplomat, political philospher, musician, poet, and playwright (1469-1527).


“It's not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference."
Paul William "Bear" Bryant, American college football coach best known as the longtime head coach of the University of Alabama football team (1913 – 1983).


"The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn't want to go bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

"Don't get so set on your goal that you lose your humanity."

"We must not say every mistake is a foolish one."
Cicero Roman author, orator, & politician (106 BC - 43 BC).


"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."
African proverb.


"As the births of living creatures are at first ill shapen,
so are all innovations, which are the births of time."

"Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable."
Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, spy, Freemason and essayist (1561 – 1626).


“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood — and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”

Daniel Hudson Burnham, American architect and urban planner (1846 – 1912).


"People go from denial to despair stage so quickly that they don't stop right in the middle and do something about it."
Al Gore, an Inconvenient Truth


"If you cannot do it inside the company - you cannot extend it beyond."

"If you could do it on your own - you would have done it by now."

"Sometime you have to let the monkeys drive."

"Sometimes you have to slow down, in order to speed up."

"Words alone are not an investment."

"Our ambitions will always exceed our ability to execute given the available level of resources."

"The world is finite; we become larger."
Greg J. Olson, writer, thinker, entrepreneur, business catalyst, doer.