Tag: innovation

Innovation Constipation – Are You Sufferng?

innovation constipationInnovation Constipation? It sounds painful, is it?

The answer to this question really does depend on your definition of pain. We are not dealing with a medical condition here, just using it as a metaphor.

The employees of a business will not experience pain although stress and discomfort might feature if they have to forgo pay rises or worse, experience redundancy.

The most important thing is to think of what a lack of innovation might do to your business. Will it stop it growing (or growing as intended)? Will it lose out to competition and shrink? Will you lose out to competitors when tendering for opportunities?

A business can embrace innovation to varying degrees. See my previous post about creating a super chameleon.

At the very least, Innovation could lead you to:

  • New products, services or processes
  • Greater advantage over competitors (knowledge cannot be easily copied)
  • First mover advantage (you will be looking externally)
  • Leveraging your most precious assets (employees)

There are many more things that Innovation could do for you but this is sufficient for now.

So, without doing an in-depth diagnosis of your Constipation (the Innovation variety of course), can you see if you have a problem?

The answer is yes, and it is surprisingly easy. Innovation depends on a supply of existing knowledge and new shiny ideas. Somehow, they must meet and be investigated, prototyped or captured for future use if not useable right now.

It is possible to do a full-blown analysis of Innovation potential, knowledge usage and creativity climate for really serious businesses but a simple analysis can be done by simply answering the following questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

  • Do you have an effective way of capturing and evaluating ideas (a suggestion box ranks as a ‘no’ I’m afraid)?
  • Does every employee have an opportunity to contribute ideas (be honest here, asking ‘have you got any ideas’? at a weekly meeting or performance review counts as a ‘no’)?
  • When evaluating ideas do you ensure that all employees can provide an opinion/evidence (senior managers gating ideas is a ‘no’ here)?
  • When initially evaluating an idea do you ignore cost?
  • When initially evaluating an idea do you ignore risk?
  • Do you have a method of assessing the value of the knowledge of employees?

Really you should be able to answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions. One ‘no’ might not be serious but the more you have, the more problems you are likely to have.

Reading through the list of questions, it might seem that I have a thing about letting everyone have a say or perhaps a downer on senior management. This is not so. These indicators are themselves indicative of many other things that might not be going quite right within your business.

If you are alarmed by the state of your Innovation Constipation or want to measure the potential of your business or organisation to innovate then please get in touch.

No More Change Programs – Meet The Super Chameleon

super chameleon, no more change programsNo more change programs? Really?

You are thinking that I must be out of my mind. Of course, a business needs to change according to the various market and competitive conditions that it faces.

A business does have to change but I believe that it is perfectly possible for it to change itself. Why is this not a popular point of view? Well, many businesses do not believe that they can stand on their own two feet or have not yet acquired the know-how to do this.

Secondly, there are a number of very large consultancy companies that stand to lose a lot of revenue from managing change programs.

So how can this be done? Well, it is a process that I call ‘Creating The Super-Chameleon’. Everyone knows the classic trait of a Chameleon, which is to adapt to its surroundings, to blend in. Well, I advocate creating a super chameleon, one which adapts automatically, but also one which stands out.

Such a business will adapt to market and regulatory conditions, create new products, services and processes as necessary and also change its structure when it no longer is appropriate for the business that it is in.

So far so good but how on earth can this be? The answer is (conceptually at least) very simple. The answer is ….. Innovation.

I don’t mean new shiny gadgets or electronic wizardry, but a change to behaviours and organisational culture. Such behaviours exist in many social enterprises or businesses where employees have a stake in the company. Sadly most of our larger enterprises have yet to see the light.

One of the initial issues is that this idea appears to clash with the concept of Lean which is popular just now. Many bosses, in an attempt to please shareholders are cutting costs. The more flexible organisation will, of course, have a certain amount of overhead costs.

It is also true that the workers at the ‘coal face’ often have a better idea of how to remove cost or improve performance than those seated around the boardroom table. Senior managers will say that workers do not have sight of company strategy and so do not fully understand what has to be done.

So, get some of your workforce involved!! For a good example of this, I suggest reading ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler. This is just part of the story.

This is too small an article to provide a complete blueprint but below is a list of things that you need to consider. Break them down into their constituent parts and they are all possible to achieve.

Your list of things to ponder should contain:

  1. Removing as many of your hierarchies as possible. By all means, employ skillful Leaders and Managers but do not add layers simply because your managers need managing. Your Chameleon works on lines of communication not lines of control, so the flatter and more open your business is, the better it will work.
  2. A method of scanning the external environment and feeding the data directly into the decision-making process.
  3. Some idea of the skills and knowledge within the company that is currently not used  (e.g. someone with an HGV licence, skills in mechanics or welding).
  4. A method of identifying and diagnosing ‘problems’
  5. A method of gathering ideas and know-how and generating new ideas and know-how and storing it for future use
  6. A mechanism for disseminating and gathering information (a bit like the ripples on a pond but going backward too)
  7. A mechanism for allowing play/prototyping so that any new ideas can be tried quickly without the need for committees etc.
  8. A method of spreading this new way of working (linked to number 6 above) according to your business sector and company size.

There are many more things but the thing to remember is that each of these will be different according to the type of business that you have.

Beware of blindly copying what most call ‘best practice’. I know of many successful companies that are visited by those wishing to achieve the same success. They copy the open-plan offices, cool meeting rooms and expensive technology but miss out the unseen and most important aspects (culture, behaviour, etc) as well as not understanding the context in which all of these factors operate.

If you like the sound of this way of working or want to measure the potential of your business or organisation to innovate then please get in touch.

Creating An Innovation Centre of Excellence

innovation centre of excellenceSo you want to create an Innovation Centre of Excellence? Let us first check that we are speaking about the same thing!

First of all, the concept that I am describing could be applied directly to a company or perhaps an academic institution. It is however generic.

If the ideas here interest you but you have any unanswered questions then please do get in touch and I will do my best to answer them for you.

The most important concept for your Innovation Centre of Excellence (CoE) is that it touches all aspects of Innovation and if you are a business it will touch all parts of the business also. This is the only way that you can create the processes and behaviours that define and sustain Innovation. It should be obvious already that we have gone beyond the stage of the common business incubator (although these may be incorporated).

Given that the CoE is going to have an influence everywhere it must be correctly set up. Here are 5 things that are absolutely essential.

Create A Board or Steering Committee

It does not matter what you call it or how you create it but do not spend time ‘waiting for the right moment’. Do it! By all means include an adviser or two but the majority of members should be closely involved and should be rotated at regular intervals. This keeps things fresh but also helps spread Innovation throughout the organisation.

This is important so you need a major sponsor. This could be the CEO, a Vice Chancellor of a University or a Principal of a Higher Education establishment. They need clout!

Next you must start, announce your purpose, create a bang!

Creating The Bang (or a Vision if you are that way inclined)

Define what exactly it is that you want to achieve. Do you want to be the go to place for knowledge and tools or a repository for teaching materials or perhaps a breeding ground for academic theories and testbed for the latest management science?

Put these into words, pictures, song or even video but use a medium that will arose and/or capture the interest of your intended audience. For instance video might be good if you are setting up a CoE in a University and wish to ensure that students or PhD students are backing the idea.

Do not think about what current organisational structures are currently in place. The CoE must not conform to these, even if its overall governance does have to conform somehow. To be different, you have to feel different!!

Develop A Strategy (or Two)

The word ‘Strategy’ usually makes my heart sink when I see it in a business document. It means that someone has got out their dictionary of ‘grown up’ words to use, even if they do not know what they mean.

At the risk of teaching people to suck eggs, you should be creating some statements about what it is you are going to do but leaving out the ‘how’ for now. You could even write these as massive goals (see my previous blog post) if it helps.

Given that you will be including individuals from many different disciplines, you might find that there are issues with language or terminology. If you are serious for the long term then invent your own vocabulary.

Work On Innovation Culture

This is where the (slightly) standalone CoE of say, a University, might differ, although there is no reason why this should be.

Your CoE is not going to be a traditional academic institution or training function. After working out your vision and creating some strategies or goals you will need to start creating a culture that supports this.

Remember that essentially there are two types of culture, organisational (the one that grows automatically amongst your workforce) and corporate (the one that is handed out/decreed by those at the very top). I am making the big assumption that you will already have high level sponsors so that corporate culture is taken care of.

The question is, what sort of working environment and behaviours will support your vision. Do you want a reconfigurable workplace, walls that you can write on, lots of technology, collaborative workspaces and cafes?

The list is endless but your budget will not be!!

Develop A Set of Un Processes

I use the word un process because I simply do not like the word ‘process’ and cannot think of another suitable or cool word to use.

We must standardise some of the work that we do. For instance if your CoE was working with outside agencies then the interface would need to be fixed in some way. If your CoE was part of a University then your methods of interacting with academic departments or rotating staff and students would need to be fixed.

Other than this sort of thing, there should be no boundaries.

This can be neatly summed up by a conversation that I had with the Director of Compliance of a large bank. She really liked all the stuff in my workshop about using Creativity and Innovation but said that their hands were tied because of compliance. Both true and untrue.

As with many regulated industries there is a tightly defined boundary between an organisation and its customers. Just as this definition does not define what customers do when not interacting with the bank, it does not need to define the internal workings of the bank. There is much excitement to be had here!

Three Ways To Ensure Your Innovation Efforts Fail

Innovation tips. Innovation successAs you might have guessed, I do not really want to see your Innovation efforts fail!

I am not saying that if you accept all of my advice you will succeed either. Ignore all of these and I can almost guarantee failure in the near future.

Avoid Groupthink

Groupthink is probably the biggest killer of Innovation. It occurs when a group of people collectively decide to simply follow what the group thinks. Usually, this is done with no communication at all.

This often happens when there are very few contributors with nobody willing to challenge them. There may very well be ideas that do not get put forward and those that do are not thoroughly evaluated.

Try This:

Get someone to play the role of ‘Devil’s Advocate’. This person’s job is simply to question and challenge the ideas provided. Hopefully, such challenges will be made in a non-repetitive manner (i.e. not asking the same questions or waiting until the same point in time) which will force critical thinking within the group.

Ensure There are Sufficient Resources

Sometimes, it’s not the lack of ideas that stops us – it can be a lack of resources. It is true that rationing resources can lead to enhanced creativity but if you go too far you will find that your Innovation output will decrease. It also makes it exceedingly unlikely that you will actually manage to implement anything concrete.

Try This:

You need Innovation champions who are able to lobby the right (high level) people for money, manpower, and materials. You will need your ‘Innovation Manifesto’ to ensure that people know the importance of Innovation with regard to competitive advantage and sustainability (and of course your bank balance).

Without adequate resources, any money you spend will simply be a cost, not an investment!

Believe In Your Ideas

Even organisations that come with hundreds of ideas can stumble along the wayside. Assuming that you get a heap of ideas you must DO something with them. From the point that ideas are generated, there are many barriers that lie in wait.

Ideas may not be evaluated because they do not come from ‘the right people’, or you tried something similar last year or there is an arbitrary decision made about resources required (we don’t have the money, it’s too hard, etc).

Try This:

You must have a process in place for ensuring that action is taken. And you must also ensure that whatever you decide to do with an idea, you ensure that the originator knows what has happened to it and why. If you do not at least do this, then your sources will dry up quickly. Have you ever wondered why the typical company suggestion box does not work?

These are just the tip of the iceberg, something to get you going. If you are serious about your Innovation projects then I’d like to talk to you to see how I can help ensure your projects succeed.

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