The Narrow Innovation Pathway
By – Paul Hobcraft
Walking that narrow innovation pathway needs some rethinking.
“Innovation is the pathway to travel and seek out our future”
Today there is as much a gap between the aspiration to innovate and the ability to deliver on this. We still continue to ignore the constant suggestion that innovation should be systematic so the organization can provide some degree of reliability to innovate in a continuous fashion. We often allow the concept of ‘holistic’ to simply float over us and ignore the intimate connection between strategic thinking, innovation and their alignment. It is still sad we seem not to go beyond a certain point in our innovation thinking, it continues along a narrow path of limited understanding. Will it ever change?
I appreciate the statement, I think made by John Kao:
“Strategy is useless without innovation, innovation is directionless without strategy.”
Innovation can be strategies catalyst but is it still? I really do believe we need a new sense of the scale and scope of innovation; we do need to get a firmer grip on its complexities. I would certainly suggest we do need to align it far more to the organizations strategic imperative and recognize innovation’s role in this for this to be successful and to be repeatable. We must strive and push for more of a complete understanding of the innovation process to manage this thoroughly. Firstly innovation is never linear; it is iterative with lots of trial and error to learn from it.
Innovation leadership needs to step up to the plate and deliver.
Innovation leaders need to develop and execute an end-to-end innovation process that encourages discovery more, better screening and assessing earlier on to move discovery into exploration and concept generation that ‘fits’ with the strategy. The process today needs to manage ideas into conversion for profit and growth at increasing speed as well, it is demanded. Innovation is not an ad hoc process as many still see it, that eureka moment, innovation is a massively important strategic business process. We need to treat it as tackling an enterprise transformation designed to bring consistency into the thinking around innovation. It needs to cross functional boundaries, it has to transform current sub optimized silo’s that gets ‘richer’ through exchange, interface and learning from others and not dumped down as often is the case today. To make it work you need a common language and a common approach well understood by the innovation leader designated to deliver.
My last blog dealt with the new extended innovation funnel, with the argument that ideas that enter the internal organizations innovation process are actually in the middle of the process. Let me expand on this ‘extending’ a little more by discussing some of the parts of the innovation value chain that need to be thought through.
Extending innovations value – appreciating the whole system.
For me innovation needs to be treated more like a complete interlinked value chain. We must step back and see the whole value chain system for innovation. It constantly loops back and feeds back-in to add increasing value and experience. It has many connected parts that need to work together to deliver effectively and efficiently the new ideas and concepts being discovered through to final commercialization.
The innovation value chain needs the following, seemingly obvious often missed:
- An established system that is clearly repeatable to ‘push’ innovation through constantly
- It needs to be able to scale, scope and quickly adjust according to the concepts being pushed or even pulled through, often by spotting unmet customer needs.
- It needs flexibility, resilience and adaptability that constantly adjusts and shaped accordingly and cannot be ‘fixed’, rigid and overly managed or controlled as many seem to try.
- It needs to have break points for considering the innovation options- carry on, kill off, spin out, send back to rethink, to allow to grow at a different pace, to accelerate more.
- It needs to ‘capture’ the collective learning and experiences constantly gained from the past and build those into improving the process for future activities
- The people who have ‘oversight’ need to have some form of option resolution built in for deciding resources, directions, allocations and investments. They need that responsibility.
- All innovation ideas and concepts entering the extended tunnel need to align to the strategic direction, compliment or extend onto the platforms you are providing (core, adjacent or new) and feed the portfolio’s that drive the businesses growth aspirations.
- They must have a clear ‘fit’ within the strategy needs and be resourced well.
Designing the innovation pathway
To achieve increasing value in this, there is an innovation pathway you have to design and be ready to travel. It is highly dynamic and you, as the leader of the innovation activities, are required to constantly add the active innovation yeast by promoting the ‘fermentation’ needed for innovation to succeed, including:
- Establishing and encouraging a robust set of innovation processes and technologies to support that constantly adapts and adjusts to the needs of the innovation concept, not the other way around.
- The ability, energy and commitment to drive maturing ideas and concepts to realization.
- Create a powerful desire and motivation to innovate by encouraging the environment of what you do makes a contribution to our future.
- As ideas and concepts mature, you constantly build and restate the business case, again and again so it remains clear why this concept remains important.
- You actively seek out the different and often diverse points of connectivity with all the stakeholders so they can engage, contribute and lend their support and commitment.
- Constantly look for ways to empower individuals and groups to explore, challenge and improve constantly on what they know with what they need to find out and discover.
- You have to work actively (hard) at clarifying constantly the links of the idea and concepts across the innovation process for all involved to stay committed to the ‘long run’ between idea to commercialization in times of uncertainty and flux.
- Ensure you are actively working those networking, encouraging collaborating and building on the collective wisdom of many so that you are constantly exploring all the (emerging) options and expanding on the alternatives to extract maximum value.
- Seek ways to always measure, evaluate and see return through progress and impact so everyone involved or viewing the efforts can constantly ‘see’ the value and where their contribution is helping, not simply once a year in those organized ways and events that fit the calendar or bean counter needs.
- Strive for execution that builds from the best of the past by knowing what that is; remain open to what is all around you today in the wider world beyond your often more narrow confines and imagine what is really possible with that extra touch of imagination to ‘push’ by seeing beyond the knowns and traditionally accepted.
The concept-to-customer approach is an innovation pathway that constantly narrows down.
We do need a concept-to-customer approach across innovation. My 5C’s of capture, connect, convert, confirm and conclude shown in the extended innovation funnel can move this along.
Innovation is extremely strategic, it requires a more thoughtful understanding and we have to accommodate it within organizations by stating that it is often unpredictable, sometimes a chaotic process, it cannot be legislated or totally subscribed, thankfully certain significant parts can. It is by having this complete understanding of the entire innovation process so we can differentiate between the parts that can be made predictable and those that can’t. We can also constantly work at making innovation more predictable, in managing its many parts by making them more efficient and effective wherever possible. The more the deeper in innovation insight and understanding, the more we are adding to the internal knowledge. By often allowing for as much flexibility and adaptability for ideas and concepts as possible to ‘travel down’ and consistently improve the narrowing innovation path, the more it is likely to emerge as the right end-result.
As we progress from discovery to execution we need to offer more guidance and encouragement than prescriptive methods, currently prescribed and handed out in ad hoc doses. We DO need to understand innovation well. We then can manage our core well, expand into any adjacent spaces that strategically fit more comfortably and organize the associated activities to push the right innovation through a pipeline (depicted by the funnel in the previous blog). We will often have to go a lot nearer to the edge of uncertainly as we build this innovation path but knowing where these edges are is better than being constantly surprised. Innovation expertise inside an organization makes sound sense. Please see a previous post on some thoughts on this.
One last thing here, we must also rather surprisingly, reduce the many existing tools and processes we try to fit around innovation that ‘stress’ the existing core infrastructure but more on these in a further blog might be better.
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Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.
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