Even managing the present portfolio of innovation initiatives get often so caught up in these underlying tensions, as it becomes another opportunity to open up the old wounds of bruising past battles and get back into those discussions again.
Suddenly the CFO becomes animated over the uncertainties; the research director grows defensive, and the marketing director more strident in why it is constructed that way. The HR director raises their concerns on stretching the resources too thinly and suddenly a fast and furious open debate erupts. Then the Supply Chain director throws in the concerns that the system will not cope with the sudden influx of new introductions in the remaining part of the year. Each has a valued perspective but much of these are based on past positions, attitudes built up from other pitch battles and scores to be settled.
Suddenly we have those three horrors of horrors appear: of lingering dogma, fixed mindsets and conflicting needs. Have you ever come across these? These might ‘feel’ familiar so let’s tell a short story about those three inhibitors to see if they are lurking in your board room.
Firstly, Lingering Dogma
Often the board is made up of strong personalities sitting around the table that tended to push certain personal views and try to make it the dominant logic. The very nature of these hotly contested ‘debates and exchanges’ was that they were not being left in the boardroom!
These opinions actually were seeping down into the organization and suddenly more of the organization was becoming at odds with each other, lined up on functional lines on where innovation ‘fits’ and what it requires as the clear way to solve ‘it’. Tensions continued to rise; victories were achieved by a siege mentality.
Often those that have this lingering dogma simply can’t recognize the damage they are doing in stopping change or progress to take hold. By not recognizing this own failings in the board room they were contributing to this ‘tautness’ that was found across the organization. Yet they simply fall back into old habits whenever they got around the board table to discuss issues that are more open ended.
Second, Fixed mindsets and biases
Holding onto fixed positions and pushing for those clear bias points in chosen positions actually does often hold the organization to ransom, as it rises up and dominates in these more open debates. It freezes positions, alliance are struck that become more opportune and less to do with the right decision for the business. It quickly spirals down the quality of debates and reduces options.
These seep down and are slowly forming more constraints on the ability of the organization to explore the best options on strategic design, let alone where innovation can support it. Like the ‘scale’ on a kettle, it takes longer and longer to heat the water. This further shrinks the size of the opportunity horizons that could be investigated as opinions were formed too early and not with open minds. Innovation becomes constrained and frustrated at every opportunity.
Third, Conflicting needs and holding positions
Often within any debate it is difficult for many individuals to change perspectives; they can’t even change their ‘established’ opinions even when they are being confronted with overwhelming evidence. They ‘dig in’ and become dogmatic, resort to well established and tested fear tactics.
Those old chestnuts come trotted out about “complexity, fast changing market conditions, uncertainties of key clients, the downturn effects, our limited resources” etc., to hold their favoured position and deliver their ‘push back’ in exchanges like this. No one ends up the winner or loser, it just becomes a further stalemate as positions are taken up and held as ground gained and needed to be defended, whatever.
So what happens to change these? Choices have to be made
Is it through mental dexterity or imposing authority becomes the choice for the CEO?
As always the debate has gone on well past its allotted time, the issues were getting caught up in more personal attacks and suddenly innovation becomes the ‘whipping boy’ for some of these disjointed failures occurring. Cool heads have left the room, replaced by accusation and counter accusation and rising tempers.
Suddenly the CEO springs into life, he has listened, observing and considering his options. The first idea he had was one of ‘how can I sack the lot’, but this was quickly dismissed as not sensible, because around this table was the best available talent for tackling their given areas of specialisation. Surprising it was known in the organization that when this team combined it was ‘awesome’. He recognized his job was to orchestrate this ‘tension’ into a more positive set of dynamics.
The choice he had to make was between the ‘carrot or the stick’. That final weapon could be produced of beating back these evils with an even more formidable ‘stick’- my authority. He could impose his opinion quiet strongly and had been known for this ‘stick’ approach many times in the past; he actually had become quite legendary for ‘shredding’ both the good and the bad. This time he hesitated.
Recently he had been going through his own discovery of what made up his mindset with a personal coach. The meetings had been brutally honest, still on-going, and were open and mind shifting as they could be, between two people who had shared experience, enjoyed each other’s life experiences and how they arrived at this point. So he took the option that he saw was the right one – the one that seeks and cajoles, that shifts perspectives and given mindsets. It seeks to reduce.
Learning different approaches can change perspectives
He brings order around the board table. He asks a series of open-ended question “where does innovation contribute to strategy,” “where can it contribute more?”, “what is holding US back from delivering on this promise?”, “why can’t we realize this potential?” and finally “how can WE change this?” Each question slowly reduces the negative tensions and replaces it with a positive, unifying set of positive tensions, the issue has moved from the ‘you or me’ into the’ us’ frame of thinking.
He begins to draw out the expertise around the table, he gets each to appreciate the proficiency of the other, and he draws out a ‘string’ of positive contributions. The individuals around that table only minutes ago clearly at each other’s throats, have united in finding plausible answers to these questions.
Applying the appropriate intervention
Suddenly the atmosphere changes with the deftness of this intervention. It has not been imposed; opinion has been sought out, through asking the experts within the room to tap into their areas of knowledge. The debate begins to move faster and faster, one good idea contributing to another, feeding off, building from and breaking down the issues that hold innovation back in its contribution to strategic direction.
Suddenly the discussion has significantly shifted. The focus has become one of applying different positive mindsets to approaching and linking innovation to strategic direction, depending on the challenge, complexity and time and by so doing they start sharing uncertainties that contribute even more positively to the debate that need resolution.
Respected solutions and changing context.
Dogma’s can also be extremely positive, they can reinforce solutions, they can underpin approaches that can shape and influence very different attitudes and beliefs. In introducing a framing approach that moves the discussion beyond, into the current drivers of innovation, then the trending aspects that can shape what an organization works upon, and finally, those emerging aspects that remain ‘sketchy’ but does have potential strategic implications, brings a galvanizing change. They keep looping back where they can, recognizing where they need further understanding or just placing a ‘watch’ on that aspect.
Innovation is suddenly linked to a process of change and strategic direction options that lifts the debate into a series of plausible and coherent set of activities. This focuses the energy around the table on to the defining, yet opening debate, of linking the future work to the shape and the organization’s needs, making the debate as strategic as it can be.
The three evils of lingering dogma, fixed mindsets and conflicting needs have slunk back into their dark corner seeking another day……just waiting for the subject of innovation to be raised again. Are they in your board room’s dark corner waiting to come out?
Or do you have you better ways to keep them at bay and even banish them and send them packing, hopefully over to the competitors. Got any to share?
image credit: radicaledge.co.uk
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.