Innovation Performance: 'Beyond Predictable'

by Paul Hobcraft

Innovation Performance: Going 'Beyond Predictable'It is not an easy job to achieve the level of consistent innovation expected within any organization. Often those breakthroughs never seem to be repeated, we struggle to understand the reasons why we can’t achieve that regular rhythm or dependable outcomes from the innovation portfolio, that we would have expected or the board demands.

If you ever look at high performance in sport it is in the consistent, hour-upon-hour, day-upon-day of dedicated practice, hard work and consistent honing that gets you to that performance point. You seek to reduce deviance; you look to achieve a certain consistency.

Business Organizations will like that approach, it ‘plays’ to the efficiency and effectiveness message, it offers up a predictability and reliability that allows for dedicated planning and ‘predicting’ solid performance and certainly. This is the ideal for those investors looking for a consistency in results and dividends and the Executive Board yearns for.

Today’s uncertainly asks for a different performance

Today, we face a different type of performance – one that is not ‘just’ dependable but one that is often unpredictable, one that seems perhaps more suited to innovation that outsmarts others in unique ways. We need to be ‘beyond’ predictable in innovation performance; we need to deliver unpredictable innovation that wows our customers and the markets to achieve this. To do this you have to run today’s organizations faster, better, in more active and engaged ways to extract the best from it but to allow it to exploit options consistently and with clear purpose.

This engagement needs a different honing than most organizations are certainly not capable of delivering, without thinking long and hard about the way they must undertake a more transformational pathway, one that can connect and deliver a consistent and coherent innovating performance across the organization.

With so much around us, of unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainly, unrelenting competitive pressure, fickle markets and customers, it creates either a ‘freezing at the top’, a paralysis-effect focusing just on short-term incremental measures or the “going for it” with huge ‘big bets’ that risk losing the whole farm. There must be better ways to manage in these times of uncertainty without having to choose one end of the spectrum or the other?

We need to cascade innovation down the organization.

I believe there is an essential gap within the way we set about innovation today. There is a need for a well-articulated and well-communicated innovation strategy that can be delivered in an organizing framework that has been called the Executive Innovation Work Mat.

You simply can’t delegate innovation down the organization. Innovation needs to be as aligned, as honed to strategy, to extracting from its available resources as anything else in organizations. It needs connecting, it needs articulating, it needs framing, it needs cascading throughout the organization. In obtaining the right innovation engagement at the top of our organizations, we have the best chance to consistently raise innovation performance

Triggering the cascade-effect is seeking out broad adoption.

How do we achieve firstly, a change in performance that is both rapid but also one that works on consistently looking for improving performance over the longer-term? We need to think ‘velocity’ not only down organizations; we need to encourage this sense of movement in multiple directions, flowing back up organizations in knowledge and understanding with the ‘result’ of going out performing in greater successful innovations, time and again.


We need to achieve alignment, all sorts of alignment. We need to convey throughout the organization and encourage a closer alignment on not just what to do but also to support the how to do it as well as the where to do it.

Choice Cascade Model 1

The Choice-Cascade Integrative Model used in the Executive Innovation Work Mat solutions

· We need to leverage across the entire ecosystem that makes up the organizations place where we consciously work on immediate impact points in this year’s innovation outcomes but also what is going to give us this longer-term transformational effect.

· We need to find more fluidness and flexibility within organizations for innovation consistency. They need to have a ‘flow’ of knowledge, of clarity, of a sense of scale in their learning and dialogues that promotes greater successful innovation outcomes as the sense of on-going mission.

· We need to align, offer clear vision and purpose and this needs orchestrating from the top of the organization to the bottom. Organizations need an integrated innovation strategic framework that can deliver commonality in understanding, in purpose, in language.

The Choice-Cascade throughout the Organizations Environment, used for the Executive Innovation Work Mat

The Choice-Cascade throughout the Organizations Environment, used for the Executive Innovation Work Mat

What we are looking for is a cascade of better choices to achieve the desired innovation outcomes that only an integrated innovation design can achieve. This is where the engagement from the top of the organization becomes pivotal. They ‘frame’ the design; they offer the alignment and integrated approach through the Executive Innovation Work Mat methodology and what it can potentially provide.

A choice-cascade of better choices used in the Executive Innovation Work Mat methodology

A choice-cascade of better choices used in the Executive Innovation Work Mat methodology

The work mats aim is to engage the top of our organizations to lay out the conditions and result impact they expected from innovation. Then it needs to be cascaded throughout the organization.

The Cascading-effect offers better, aligned choices for innovation

Through this cascading-effect you move closer to better choices that can get so much closer to the desired innovation outcomes all involved want to seek out. A performance that reflects a team’s or organizations best efforts to be best at what they do; the outstanding innovation performance consistent to the needs and growth expectations demanded in today’s constantly changing world.

Today, our organizations need a consistency in their innovation, yet this needs to be fluid, flexible, aligned and agile in everything that draws out innovation – that’s the new target performance standard needed- delivering innovation consistently and through a connected, well designed framework.

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  1. Am quite worried about this repeated focus by several authors, including Paul here, on ‘unpredictable innovation’. In theory and concept, it is surely a romantic one, hence is fun and catchy. But unless someone clarifies what exactly is meant by it, I take ‘unpredictable’ to be a wrong approach for any businessman to put his money in. SOME money is OK to play wild bets, but it cannot be a business POLICY.
    In principle and in general – Is business to be run toward desired end results, or unpredictable ones?
    This question must be answered by the business owner who has to put his money in it and not by innovators.
    Any business owners here?

    • I think it is where your worries stem from. If we follow the TRIZ school, or come from a more Six Sigma background we are searching for the predictability, far enough. The unpredictable within innovation happens.

      It is far from romantic, fun or catchy when you stretch your thinking, seek to break through existing barriers, thinking or products available in today’s world.

      It certainly can be the wrong thinking if you don’t apply your mind to what you believe unpredictable means. We sometimes term radical and disruptive because they were unexpected, they were not ‘predictable’ or expected by the markets or customers yet they have that ability to change the dynamics, the perceptions and acceptance of future innovation. They raise the bar and there are a number of CEO’s who will place significant bets on elements that are unpredictable as they change the nature of competition.

      Today we are searching less for ‘predictable’ innovation, we are looking for ones that can generate game changes and these require more ‘unpredictable’ aspects.

      Equally within, again within a business policy or strategy, you can seek out ‘unpredictable events’- these are consciously looked for, not stripped away, unless the policy and organization is a very conservative one that does not want to infuse their innovation with some level of risk.

      Business owners are under increasing pressure from intense competition, you don’t progress by being simply predictable, do you?

  2. I like this piece and the idea of a systems-driven approach to unlocking the potential of the innovative organization. I’m researching different approaches to “what is high innovation performance” and this work resonates. At System Growth Consulting we coin the phrase Systemic Innovation to mean more than the sum of the parts.

  3. I think Paul is correct about the increasing stress coming from competition and the need be beyond predictable. However, these flow charts actually expose an organizational weakness which I knew was there in nearly 85% of organizations – the lack of supercreative people.

    Supercreative people come up with solutions faster, better fit to the demand specifications, don’t require as much supervision and management oversight, and will be the unpredictable, not just think of it. But most innovation people don’t know any supercreative people and for good reason – they are very few and far between and few people even understand where creativity even comes from, let alone how to make “super”. While your typical creative staff are like a SWAT team, the supercreatives are like well trained Ninjas.

    So how to get these supercreatives? You don’t get them, you make them. But it takes a supercreative to do that. I know. I am one.

  4. Paul
    This looks like good work but seems to be missing something. Marshall has alluded to a problem but mine is similar but perhaps more basic. I do not see where you are “Generating the IDEAS” in your model/map. They certainly do not come from management (usually).
    A model which might convey some of my concerns is the SECI model for Knowledge Capture/Management from Nonaka san etal.
    This describes the starting point as a “Tacit” (Originating)phase (I assume your implicit) which moves through various phases of “Explicit” processing.
    Have a look at this model and see what you can glean. It might help clarify some ideas for you (it has for me in the past).

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