There Is No Better Moment

by Paul Hobcraft

There is No Better MomentSo after many months, or so it seems, we have some sun on our backs after a long period of winter. Don’t you always feel life is so much better going forward? Life seems to reawaken within. I often wish we could capture the ‘sense’ of spring and what it promises to bring from this change of season. Those of us who witness the change of seasons are so lucky.

Recently I was reminded about that phrase offered by different leaders to explain a positive encouraging shift in our economy, it goes like this: “we do see some green shoots that are offering some early signs of growth and recovery.” Not for all I must admit but we do have some encouraging signs.

Spring captures that growth moment. It is often talking to us of renewal. Innovation needs that capturing opportunity as well.

Freezing the moment to stop and listen

Tell me why are we so notoriously bad at not learning from our past downturns? We still fail to talk to each other, to spend the time to reflect, to learn, to adjust, and too observe. So much is “brushed under the carpet.”

We still can’t find a common language of understanding within organizations, or dealing across organizations or even in dealing with each other. We just simply end up spending a ridiculously large part of our time “talking at each other, or across each other” We lose so much time, energy and opportunity.

We are simply losing so much time in the innovation debates

Innovation is challenging, it is complex, yet we chose to ignore so much of what is available to us to ‘spot’ new possibilities, resolve those unmet needs or improve on what is offered to help in our daily needs.

There is no better moment than to stop and rediscover how to listen, to truly listen. Just stop for one minute. Innovation is calling for a common language, a common understanding yet all I hear is the consistent throb of different views, making it difficult to interpret what is right, what is wrong.

With there being so much conflicting advice being offered in this innovation space we ‘freeze’; regretfully not for the right reason, to enjoy the moment, to learn from it, to take something positive away to improve our lives but more than often we become even more unsure and stop listening. We shut out many of the sounds because they conflict, they are jarring and not as they should be, in harmony.

The search for a common language within innovation

I’ve argued, as have others, we need to find a common language for innovation. Alexander Osterwalder in his opening to his concept of the Business Model Canvas always starts by posing the question on Business Models “We lack a common language” as everyone see’s the business model differently, if at all. The brilliance within his canvas approach is that it offers a unique way to bring everyone onto the same page. We need to do this across more of innovation’s activities- to bring everyone on the same page.

I see the canvas approach taking hold in many different ways. I’ve read about the Enterprise Canvas, the Business Architecture Canvas, the Lean Canvas, and recently the Business Case Canvas.

I watch with growing interest the approach taken by Paidi O’Reilly, along with some of his colleagues in Ireland, who are presently working on the development of their view of an Innovation modelling software tool. It offers up at its heart, an Innovation Model Canvas, for moving from generation to commercialization.

I’d come up one level on what I’ve seen and read of Paidi’s work and argue we need an Innovation Structure Canvas as well. One that articulates the innovation environment we would wish to operate within. Something that ‘frame’s’ innovation from that firms perspective so we can keep going back to this overarching ‘innovation canvas’ to confirm and test where we are going to see if we are achieving the climate and environment we agreed .

We do need to combine forces

If we could learn to capture,  articulate and explore what we want to achieve on this “Innovation Structure Canvas” we can really begin to talk to others in a shared language. Open innovation, collaborative innovation is fraught with misunderstanding. Whenever we engage with others we must work hard at overcoming differences of opinion, if we want to engage them in our venture.

Structuring our conversations firstly around this canvas perhaps is a good way to test and validate what is in there, shown on this one page canvas so we can gain far more quickly from the other person’s reaction in smarter ways. They can identify or challenge what we want to achieve and we all can achieve and go to a deeper level of conversation by sharing this common starting point.

Steve Blank argues we all need to get out of the office more and test our hypothesis. Innovation is uncertain, it is often made up of guesses and hunches, of sparks of ideas and the more we can ‘show’ its potential value, the more others can relate and improve on that concept. Steve has a customer development process based on two distinct parts- search and execution.Creating a right environment for innovation is made up of a constant ongoing search and execution also.

Business the world over is in search of growth, more today than for a long time. We are ‘emerging’ from a severe downturn, a shock to the world’s economies and one thing recently struck me as a gap to fill, to build a bridge across a divide.

Seeking each other out

Large organizations are desperately searching for ways to change, to adapt to the new circumstances and challenges happening. The problem for many is they simply don’t know how too, the more they try, the more it seems complex. They often lack the real courage to rip up the existing business model and all that supports it. They presently are searching for the how too so as to navigate in these choppy waters of change.

Small organizations are seemingly more nimble, less burdened with heritage, legacy, superstructures that weigh you down and they can see so many breaking opportunities on where change is happening. They are closer to the ground from ‘seeing it’ to ‘reacting to it’ quickly but so often get held back for the lack of the very resources large organizations have, often in abundance, to mobilize and capitalize once they are set on a course.

Now is a good time for both large and small to find their ‘complementaries’, to recognize that have value even more to collaborate together. The large organization might have to moderate it ‘predatory’ behaviour though, the small organization’s fear of ‘David and Goliath’ and worried their ‘single shot’ is not going to make the mark does need careful and consideration in managing.

They both need to find new ways to combine, so the ones that have resources work with the ones that have the ‘sharper’ pulse of seeing opportunity, and this combination of ‘creative juices’ and ‘appropriate resource and energy’ are combined for mutual gain far more in collaborative, mutually sharing ways. Not in the old ways of simply ‘acquisition’ that so often tended to destroy the very entrepreneurial essence that gave the success to the venture.

The back of a napkin

Great ideas are often captured on a napkin, on one page. We need to find ways where that initial capture of a great idea, of a real reason for instance on why ‘we’ should combine forces, needs some capturing mechanism.  The concept of the one page canvas can be the place to paint our vision but in a structured way and the initial meeting place for innovation to come alive for all those that choose to go there.

A road map that ‘speaks’ of growth, of differentiation, of operational and execution excellence and customer potential/ acceptance as the necessary building blocks, of how to achieve it, so others can ‘see it’, challenge or improve upon it because they are “speaking the same language.”

By the way check this out: the Napkin Academy on

The pressing need is in finding a different ways to engage

If we do want to move beyond our past ways to manage, top down, bottom up, we need to engage far more people, across a far more diverse marketplace of interested parties. We need to draw them in, to seek their participatation and understanding, within our innovation canvas design, so we are all on this same page.

We might want to extend the concept of the canvas across business in even more novel designs than the Business model canvas so we can quickly sketch, to discuss and to listen to all those who chose to want to engage, who equally want to share and seek out fresh opportunity.

Innovation might be made of many things intangible but it can be captured. We need to allow it to be seen, just like those first ‘green shoots’, so it can be nurtured, improved upon and fully shared in common understanding.

Just like spring, we need to ‘trigger all our senses’ for  the need to grow, to talk to each other in a common language and appreciate how we are going to ‘set about’ innovation by achieving this new growth that can only be really achieved in a different way of shared understanding.

image credit: girlytwitter .com

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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.

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