Shaping Innovation – two sides of the equation

Shaping Innovation - two sides of the equationTo manage innovation you have to move across a broad spectrum of activities. You need to think through issues relating to Structure, Strategy, Processes, Culture, Metrics and a host of other aspects to support a robust innovation management system.

When it comes to fostering innovation we do get more into the fuzzy part. This is for many manly made up of more the intangibles within innovation that covers culture, climate and conditions to innovate. These when combined make up the environment for innovation. Yet there is also another side, more tangible but still very much within the equation that equally contributes to providing the right environment to innovate and that is its governance.

For me, the importance of focusing on providing the right environment and conditions through clear governance make up the formal and informal part of fostering innovation. We often forget to put considerable thinking through these aspects when we build any innovation management system.  I’d like to explore these two sides of the equation: environment and governance within this post.

Firstly correlating the two aspects

There are clear correlations between having formalized innovation governance and structuring your environment well and this needs thoughtfully working through. If you do this then perhaps you avoid this scenario depicted in the carton below – a reliance on “something” simply left to chance simply because the critical middle evaluation is missing and you are simply reliant on a miracle just occurring. With constructing an innovation environment or governance these must be explicit.

The two sides of the equation: environment & governance for innovation:

There is much to be gained by managing both sides well. They make up both formal and informal sets of innovation approaches, where the value of both sides of this equation are addressed in tandem, one reinforces the other, they are mutually reinforcing. By working through the environment and governance guidelines well, you are setting a clear set of operating conditions ‘signalling’ how you want to ‘treat’ innovation.

You are setting the tone and atmosphere that make up the environment and “spelling out” the governance of innovation- their principles and guidelines. One part is more specified, considered and driving innovation, the other is more articulating, nurturing and encouraging. Lets look at both separately:

The Environment for Innovation

There is always far more written about the culture of innovation than the environment for it. Why is that?

The fostering of the environment to pursue innovation means different things to different people. An innovation environment is made up of creating the atmosphere to encourage and nurture, it needs a vision which totally connects innovation in people’s minds. It could translate in its meaning for many just being in ‘an amazing place to work’ or it means creating and encouraging new spaces to stimulate different thinking. It might encourage through simply providing the space to stimulate; the generation of ideas, a place that fosters interaction and collaboration. The environment offers the place and space to chase after those challenges, to be somewhere that inspires, to be pushed and stretched, both in minds and bodies, to achieve new and great innovation.

Changing the environment by encouraging certain attributes does change people’s behaviour and beliefs. In thinking through the environment you wish to achieve, you are just not looking to sow the seeds for the new that is about to happen but to harvest the crop that is often simply residing. You want the current box to get bigger and  you seek others to push out its sides but in realistic and managed ways, that meet the organizations objectives but give them growing pride and satisfaction.

To achieve this you need to link this and communicate it in ways that resonate, that become the common language of the organization and this also partly comes through the other side, the Governance of Innovation. This needs thinking through well, articulating and ensuring it is in place, each day on a consistent basis. Getting the right environment in place for innovation needs to be pursued and worked upon at all levels but the leadership must set the tone, the vision and provide the means to achieve this.

The Governance for Innovation

Governance sets out different procedures to capture and translate an array of diverse thinking and interactions, to make innovation effective in providing that right environment. Establishing a more formal innovation governance structure that deals with issues surrounding funding, balancing short and long-term objectives, seeking alignment and allocating clear responsibilities all can fall under this. It can also be the decision-making point of reference.

Recently there has been a great series on Governance by Jean-Philippe Deschamps, professor of technology and innovation management at IMD Lausanne, Switzerland. the first in a series of articles is here

Governance is often about struggling to obtain consistency, to balance demands; the environment is about pushing the bounds of stimulating and promoting fresh thinking. This stimulating environment needs its evaluation and how it sets about how ‘it’ fosters interactions and collaboration. It is the atmosphere and conditions put in place as the environment that seeks to achieve out of the ordinary, great innovation, it is the governance that tries to make this orderly and fitting. This is a constant ‘dance’ and you need the environment and governance to tango to make this happen.

Complexity in Degrees

As innovation increases in complexity, you can get a decrease in the effectiveness of the innovation function. You need to constantly balance between freedom to explore and experiment and achieving accountability and control. This is the ‘dance’ between managing the environment for allowing innovation to flourish with the guidelines to shape this.

Managing both does take a certain amount of creativity, especially when you are working on those big bets. As you work across functions, across boundaries and sometimes across known, established categories you need that governance to revert too.  If you don’t have clear governance you can quickly poison the atmosphere and create a negative environment.

Within this balance you do need to seek alignment to have available intervention tools but keep checking against innovation ambitions. If you don’t know what the environmental conditions should be and how people should behave and you fail to provide the formal mechanisms you can end up with a unhealthy innovation environment, even though some of the other innovation factors are in place.

The Meeting in the Middle

To orchestrate both a thriving environment for innovation and being able to provide the guidelines of the governance, needs to meet in the middle. The two sides within this equation need to find common cause, a common language, develop the protocols and appropriate communication methods. Openness and trust fosters innovation and the environment so that can have a consistent flow of internal communications across the organization that promotes. Putting openness and trust into the heart of innovation you encourage and infuse the environment and in so doing, help the governance.

Working innovation well” needs a focus on relationships so each person can relate to each other and seek other out in a collaborating atmosphere built on trust and openness.  It needs constant information sharing in feedback and more structured ways. It needs clear decision-making, built up around ground rules that are both formal and informal that sets the tone but does not suppress innovation. Finally, you need innovation leadership effectiveness that encourages certain behaviours, sets the standards and norms and constantly talks about the vision and mission that innovation is set around.

Achieving Balance

Balancing the two sides, of building the environment to promote innovation and the governance to formulate and guide you, enable you to get far closer to successful work execution. By setting about in constructing the rules, offering guidelines, promoting norms and values, along with encouraging openness and trust you can transform your innovation efforts. By supporting and promoting certain behaviours and skills that build upon knowing what capabilities and competencies can promote innovation, you do actually get a lot closer to the contextualize of the innovation framework in all these combined efforts. This more integrated approach gives organizational intent, commitment and growing fit.

To offer both clear boundaries and freedom needs the environment and governance to dance in tandem for great innovation. Are you taking innovation dancing lessons?

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Paul HobcraftPaul 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.

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft is recognized for his consistency to champion and informs on innovation. He focuses on building innovation capacity, competencies, and capabilities and promotes innovation in informative, creative and knowledgeable ways, piecing together the broader understanding of innovation. Paul continually constructs a series of novel and relevant frameworks to help advance this innovation understanding and writes mainly through his posting site of where he regularly publishes his thinking and research based on solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at




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No Comments

  1. Bud Taylor on November 10, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Totally agree. Vijay Govindarajan & Chris Trimble hammer tis point in “The Other Side of Innovation.”

    Creating a new idea is easy; implementing an old on is hard

    The governance structure for innovation is an attack on the the legacy of the business. Without governance the tar pit of the organization will defeat innovation.

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