Blended Action Learning Meets Innovation

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Blended Action Learning Meets Innovation


Exploring the interface between Blended Action Learning and Business Innovation is filled with challenges and new opportunities but will clearly require an effective portfolio approach to both the tools of the trade and different modes of building a foundation of knowledge, skills and experience. To be cost effective, these programs clearly need to deliver bigger, better, bolder and faster results at the same time they build sustainable High Performance Innovation Capability.

As Action Learning Project coaches, team sponsors and participants, we’re interested to share numerous success stories with you, and provide new opportunities to participate or learn about accelerated Action Learning for your enterprise.

The Rapid Evolution of Blended Action Learning

Over the last five years there has been a dramatic increase in Blended Action Learning Solutions (defined as solutions that combine a mix of virtual and in person learning tools to build a foundation of knowledge and stories, of skills and tools, and of practical experience in driving results) — across a wide range of disciplines and industries:

  • Business Leadership Teams have become frustrated by the high cost and limited effectiveness of traditional training. They are shifting their focus to action and experiential learning and development programs that BOTH Deliver Results AND Build Capability.
  • Leadership and Development Research has demonstrated the power of more evidence-based action learning approaches that combine embedded knowledge and stories with acquired skills and application experience.
  • Software-Enabled Collaboration and E-learning tools as well as enhanced communications capabilities now offered through systems like Webex and Telepresence have enabled dramatic improvement in learning outcomes and results.

The Application of Blended Action Learning in Innovation

Addressing the demand for blended action learning solutions has become particularly critical and challenging in the field of Business Innovation (operationally defined as the Creation AND Capture of New Value in New Ways through new products, services, business models, value propositions and experiences,) where:

  • Innovation Leadership Teams are being challenged to build a more disciplined and broad-based Innovation capability that delivers bigger, bolder and better 10X results across the extended enterprise – more sustainably and cost-effectively than the competition –requiring both High Performance and Lean Innovation
  • The Innovation Profession is being challenged to develop a more disciplined and consistent language and set of tools and capabilities that can support the development of the innovation competencies most critical to success – in the areas of strategy, capacity and discipline, the first set of global standards that have now been developed and endorsed by the Global Innovation Management Institute
  • Individual Practitioners and Development Teams are being challenged to engage in a wide range of new ways thinking and acting required to be successful in an arena as complex, uncertain, and ambiguous as innovation – skills not delivered through conventional training or be conventional business and technical schools —  but now accessible through a range of blended on-line sources and certification programs

Blended Action Learning Meets Innovation at Cisco

The Cisco Services Innovation Center has built action learning into many aspects of its Innovation Capability Development Program and Readiness Assessment:

  • On-line Self-Assessment Tools are built upon an innovation maturity model which is enabled through a blend of both live instructor led training and VOD training modules
  • The Innovation Idea Pipeline leverages a diverse set of action learning tools and is supported by a series of short interactive instructional videos designed to be specific for the ideators’ needs and designed to prompt network leveraging and outreach in the spirit of open and collaborative innovation. This is in turn complemented by monthly on-line review and senior leader coaching sessions designed to drive accelerated prototyping, piloting, and testing with lead customers and partners
  • The Cisco Services Innovation Toolkit blends a combination of face-to-face workshops with virtual innovation brainstorming that enables the programs to efficiently and effectively tap into hundreds of minds and perspectives to generate new ideas, connections and productive conversations in the core team as it pursues different platforms and common themes that can serve as new engines of growth for Cisco.

Blended Action Learning meets Innovation at JCI

Johnson Controls has embarked on an aggressive Innovation Capability Building and Results program across all three of its major business involving participation from across not only marketing, R&D and Engineeering but also across Sales, Manufacturing, Finance, and Legal functions:

  • Innovation Opportunity Workshops involve both in person and virtual participation from around the world and across functions to assure the most diverse set of idea fragments around specified themes.  These fragments are then organized in on-line tools that enable continued expansion as well as use to connect into broader concepts or platforms with more compelling value propositions.
  • Innovation Pursuit Teams work intensively but often virtually to accelerate the pursuit and development of candidate concepts and ideas into more complete business cases with pressure-tested value propositions, clear business models and simulations, lead customer development, and contingency plans/options.  Trained Innovation Catalysts and Coaches help expedite this process with considerable virtual participation and use of on-line collaboration and co-development tools
  • Innovation Realization Team Members then work in parallel to more rapidly develop prototypes, pilots and early applications that manage both the risk and the upside opportunity in ways that assure more accelerated results with higher value to the business.  Stakeholder and Influence maps can then be used to drive more effective and accelerated launch across what is often a complex value chain.

Blended Action Learning meets Innovation at the Hult International Business School

Hult International Business School has embraced Action and Experiential Learning across its entire curriculum but nowhere more aggressively than in its Capstone Action Learning Programs and in the Global Hult Prize which involves more than 400 different business schools and the Clinton Global Initiative:

  • The Hult Innovation Olympics Action Program provides each client sponsor with its own five dedicated teams of International MBAs who compete to develop the best solutions and options to address the sponsors stated growth or innovation challenge.  These programs blend professional action coaching and direct in-person team collaboration with a wide range of on-line idea sourcing, testing, and validation efforts involving software-enabled innovation tools that also involve client inputs to the intensive six-week process.
  • The Hult Competing for the Present Action Program also provides each client sponsor with its own dedicated teams of International MIBs who compete to come up with the best solutions and innovative approaches to navigate rapidly changing and complex competitive landscapes .  These programs also blend professional action coaching with creative competitive intelligence gathering and intensive competitive simulations where each team role-plays different types of competitors and partners before integrating their findings into final action recommendations for the sponsor
  • The Hult Prize focuses on a social enterprise challenge that is developed by Hult and IXL with the Clinton Global Initiative and then distributed to over 400 competing teams who compete in regional events in March from which winners are selected to participate in a Social Enterprise Accelerator before making their final presentations for the $1Million dollar prize in September with President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative in NYC.

Lessons Learned

Key observations about the meeting of Blended Action Learning and Business Innovation include:

  • Different Functions, Different Cultures, Different Ways of Thinking and Acting all need to be embraced and recognized with a blending of different action learning tools and collaboration vehicles – in person and virtual
  • Different personalities and ways of working patterns require tools that enable people to learn and do alone, in pairs and in teams – 24×7
  • Innovation is a contact sport and requires a mix of working virtually and face to face in person — requiring both action coaching, skilled innovation catalysts, and effective forcing functions and enablers
  • Innovation is as much about sparking and connecting the dots as it is about generating them, and also requires effective forcing functions and enablers – both software enabled and professionally facilitated
  • Information is available here for participating in the Hult Innovation Olympics

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Ron JonashRonald Jonash is Professor of Strategy and Innovation, Hult International Business School, and Senior Partner the Center for Innovation, Excellence and Leadership (IXL Center).

Hitendra PatelDr. Hitendra Patel is Managing Director at Center for Innovation, Excellence and Leadership (IXL Center), and Professor of Growth and Innovation at Hult International Business School.

Kate O'Keeffe

Kate O’Keeffe is Senior Innovation Manager at Cisco Systems. As the global leader of the Services Innovation Excellence Center (SIEC), Kate drives sustainable innovation capability for Services; with 10,000 staff and customers participating in innovation initiatives.

Michael WarsawMichael Warsaw is the vice president of global innovation and design at Glendale-based Johnson Controls Inc (JCI). He oversees the innovation process, learning & development programs and portfolio of new business ventures for JCI; and supports the company’s overall commitment to growth through creativity and design.

Jonash Patel OKeeffe and Warsaw




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