Unfreezing the Innovation Permafrost
At a recent Australian innovation conference, one of the presenters stated that “inertia leads to irrelevance” suggesting that organisations that are inactive, passive and even lazy about seeing innovation as a strategic lever for improving the bottom line, whether it be a people, profit or planet focussed one, are actually in a state of resistance.
This made me wonder what really causes organizations to resist or disincline motion, action, or change? What Causes organizations to essentially resist innovation as an accelerator of business change, competitiveness, growth and value?
Another presenter called this a state of “permafrost“ suggesting that organizations are behaving as if they are permanently frozen, year after year.
Unfreezing the permafrost
So why might some organizations be “staying at rest” when there are so many possibilities and opportunities available to them, in the current business environment, to grow, nurture and sustain their competitiveness and relevance to their customers and key stakeholders?
It’s quite simple really; all organizations only exist because they are successful at being relevant, in some way, to a customer, who is generally willing to exchange value (usually money) for a benefit (usually functional, purposeful or emotional) they receive from their experience, a product or a service. With globalisation, data overload and digitisation making so many more options and choices available to savvier, smarter and discerning customers, it seems quite bizarre that so many organizations have allowed the permafrost to set in. Not just because it causes stagnation, it also depletes capability, resources and loss of motivation and minimisation of efforts.
It starts and ends with culture
At ImagineNation™ we know that culture is easily described as “the way things get done in an organization” what most people don’t understand is that it is formed and expressed by the “messages” that get sent.
These are most often demonstrated by peoples’ (especially leaders) behaviors, which in turn, are generated by their needs, values, beliefs and mindsets about what’s important or valued mostly by the organization.
People often build affiliation and comply so they can fit in, get their jobs done, and will do whatever it takes to survive in an uncertain world by focusing on securing their jobs, even if they hate them.
Messages are also communicated by the organizations’ core focus (sales, customer, production, and/or profit), systems (especially communication and reward and recognition) and artefacts (what’s important to show others, often to illustrate how important you or they are).
4 steps to unfreeze a ‘permafrosted’ organizational culture
Rather than resist, and allow the permafrost and winter to really set in, what if brave organisations consider exploring and experimenting with the four key fundamentals that will accelerate innovation as a lever of business change competitiveness, growth and value?
- Articulate a really, really compelling and coherent reason to change; be-come passionately purposeful
To venture down the innovation path the first crucial step is to articulate a really compelling and coherent “why” or necessity for innovation – because “necessity is the mother of all invention”.
At ImagineNation™ we describe this as igniting your “passionate purpose” and it’s usually to solve a business or customer problem or to exploit an opportunity that may or may not yet exist in the marketplace.
Doing this makes innovation a “necessity” which is demonstrated by the executive teams’ conviction that a solution to the problem or the opportunity exists, and is not yet known, because is exists as a “hidden possibility” that has infinite potential to make a difference to the quality of peoples lives in ways they value and cherish. This requires entering a set of discovery mind states of being able to work “both” with “what is” (already in existence) and with “what could be” (the solution that lies hidden).
This involves stepping into a “not knowing” mind state, one which allows something new to emerge. This is also very challenging for some leaders, because it is not something you “do” as a task or as an activity, that you can “control” or wilfully force into a pre conceived solution. It involves “be-ing” willing to let go of limiting beliefs and “be-ing” present to the whole system and the potential and possibilities it offers.
- Develop a common understanding of the impact and role of culture; be intentional to leverage culture strategically as a lever for innovation
To shift a culture, it’s important to have a common understanding, acknowledgement and acceptance of:
- What is really going on to cause or create the existing organizational culture?
- What the desired or target future innovation culture might look like?
- What are the gaps between the current and desired cultural states?
- What are the key supporting and inhibiting factors and adaptive business problems?
- What are the key priorities and possibilities towards “both” closing the gaps “and” creating the desired future state?
At ImagineNation™ we know that an innovation culture can be contextualised, measured, diagnosed and benchmarked through applying human centred design processes and the OGI® quantitative tool and by qualitative research to identify both the explicit and implicit factors impacting innovation.
Seeing innovation a lever for effecting changes that customers want and need, and don’t yet know they want and need, that adds value, in some emotional, purposeful or functional way, to the quality of their lives.
- Develop a clear strategic intent to innovate; be willing to align and contextualise what innovation means, and what it doesn’t mean, in your own organisation
To develop an innovation culture, it’s crucial to have a clear systemic perspective and strategic intent, supported, enacted and embodied by the board and executive team, and aligned to the Passionate Purpose and BHAG and;
- Define innovation in your unique organizational context
- Focus on the type of innovation to pursue; disruptive, breakthrough, differential or incremental
- Develop an explicit language around innovation that people can relate to and habitually use
- Develop an engaging communications plan about the intent, role and nature of the innovation intervention/process to enrol people in it.
At ImagineNation™ we know that organizations that see innovation systemically and strategically, and not as “tick the box” episodic and short term solution, program, training course, workshop or event, deliver sustainable outcomes. They see it as a long term strategy, to really reap the business benefits and results that innovation offers them.
- Be prepared and risk mitigate the permafrost from really setting in; be curious, confident, courageous, compassionate and connected to the human factor, the people in your organization
At ImagineNation™ our research revealed five innovation killers that are alive and well in the majority of organizations.
Because innovation involves unlocking, igniting and harnessing people’s collective genius then knowing both how to acknowledge, and work with the five innovation killers is critical:
- Risk Adversity
- Resistance to change
- Fear of failure, unknown, uncertainty, loss of control, status, looking silly
- Competitiveness and not collaboration
This can be done by investing in cultivating people’s innovation agility, to engage, enrol and empower them to execute a successful innovation culture development process.
Creating a psychologically safe holding space and environment are critical for maximising rather than minimising the crucial human and people factors in innovation enables organizations to respond constructively and reduce the impact of the five killers on business performance.
Quoting my esteemed colleague, Paul Hobcraft:
“Organizations need to work at ways to reduce fear, discomfort and resistance. To allow for opposing views, seeking out a diversity of opinion and establishing that one thing we all would love to be part of, this is an authentic culture that matches the promise with the reality. One that shifts away from conventional thinking to embrace risk and not try to always control but to seek actively experimentation. It is through experimentation we gain our best learning. Equally experimentation should be at the core of every organizations drive to innovate; we accelerate our knowledge the more we attempt something different, proving or disproving is exciting work.
Shaping ideas, taking risks, allowing experimentation, providing tolerance, exploring the unknowns all should be an integral part of innovation. Innovation is risk-taking”.
What to do about it?
Our combined years (too many perhaps) of experience at ImagineNation™ with some of the world’s best companies globally in the high performance culture, leadership, team and innovation arenas assures us that the root causes of organizational permafrost; resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change, essentially to resist innovation, can potentially be resolved by boldly committing to these five key steps;
- Align the board and executive team to demonstrate conviction and commitment to embracing “both” a strategic “and” a systemic perspective to innovation.
- Flow with “both” with “what is” “and” with “what could be” in regards to clarifying a meaningful passionate purpose for innovation.
- Work “both” with “what is” “and” with “what could be” in terms of your current and target cultures and building the internal capability to transform it, aligned to technology, systems and artefact innovations.
- Respond constructively by creating a psychologically safe holding space and environment where people have permission to experiment and fail, to challenge convention, and collaborate rather than compete with one another.
- Build peoples’ readiness and receptivity to innovation, cultivate their agility confidence, capacity and competence through customised agile education and blended learning programs and awaken them from complacency, arouse discomfort and resolve their fears, and ultimately accelerate change.
So what might be your fundamental choice towards unfreezing your organizational permafrost?
image credit: disney.com
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Janet Sernack is an ICF ACC accredited executive coach, corporate trainer, group facilitator and culture and change consultant with some of Australia’s and Israel’s top 100 companies. She is the Founder of ImagineNation™ a generative and provocative innovation education company that provides innovation e-learning programs including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program™ experiential learning events including The Start-Up Game™. Follow @JanetSernack
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