8 Widening Cracks in our Innovation Process

by Paul Hobcraft

The innovation process and the structures build into our organization certainly need to be changed. Innovation is not delivering, our innovation systems are breaking down.

Our current structures and processes for innovation are holding us back and will continue to not deliver the expected results needed today or the future, giving real growth and sustainability. We do need a far more radical approach to a solution for managing innovation inside our organizations.

Poor collective leadership of innovation, functional design, slow decisions and innovation not being focused enough, along with a lack of appropriate skills or decision empowerment, are some of the inhibitors around innovation today.

Eight massive gaps we are failing to bridge:

(1) The constant strategic innovation breakdown

The primary reasons for the breakdown in the strategic planning process that fails to connect strategy with operations are:

  • A disconnect exists between corporate strategic plans, which typically define the company’s targets for growth, and their day-to-day execution activities.
  • The annual operating plans are quickly out of date due to constant changes in market, product, technology and competitive situations.
  • The connection between corporate plans and the innovation strategy for new product development and product innovation strategy doesn’t exist in most companies – this is one critical gap.
  • The operational side of the organization frequently doesn’t understand the strategy or how its execution connects to business goals.

We forget to alter our ‘thinking’ across different opportunity horizons, to direct resources around those innovations that address (a) the burning needs to improve on the existing here and now, with those that can build into the (b) next  and different winning positions and finally, those that (c) explore fundamental different premises that can (radically) alter your innovation landscape.  Mapping across all three is often missing, we stay trapped in the ‘here and now’ mindset far too much.

To achieve consistent, sustainable long-term growth and profitability in your company, you must have systems and processes in place to close this gap and connect your corporate plans with innovation strategy and operational activities.

(2) Our planning sucks, how can we be more responsive?

There is the fashionable argument that you abandon annual plans and you seek fresh planning ways to  create an organization ready to react to critical changes in the marketplace. That is great for the little fella, all nimble and lean but for the larger complex organization they struggle.  Each of the different organizational parts have different reaction and response times, are governed in totally different ways. Plans are essential as the instrument of strategic design but how can these become more reflective and responsive, this is a real thorny problem to crack.

A recent report by Strategy& suggests being more agile requires a clear focus on two attributes of ‘strategic responsiveness’ and ‘organizational flexibility’ being built into the design of the larger organizations so they can move far quicker as conditions change. A combination of ‘sensing new risk and opportunities’ to craft quick responses and also being able to “shift execution rapidly”, applying fast retooling and rework, applying this progressively over weeks and months.

(3) For innovation to fit within these far more fluid challenges, much within the current process and structures needs changing

Any ‘rapid action’ requires very different skills and infrastructure to support it. Organizations will need to encourage a higher level of experimentation, with even more of a constant focus on reducing all the unnecessary complexity. How are we managing today all the different concepts flowing through the innovation pipeline?  It often seems chaotic. We require a far more corporate-wide support and consistent engagement to drive these through the system to meet these critical new opportunities that meet changing market need or strategic goals. To do this alignment becomes essential.

(4) Pulling together the broken pieces and silos of knowledge will need different approaches

The operational areas in an organization have their own functional execution systems which are often not connected to planning and  innovation systems and processes. They remain separated as there is no real depth in the integrating process, this needs addressing. High degree’s of resistance and communication breakdowns need real solutions.

I’ve written extensively on this lack of alignment (for example) and certainly believe there are far better ways to move forward in thoughtful, constructive ways that begins the movement to establishing a clearer innovation management system.

Also we focus too much on cascading down organizations, I would argue the cascading effect of flowing back up, from the ‘grass roots’ needs a far more robust system, it provides for a deeper choice of better, connected decisions. It is this ‘cascading’ both up and down on where we often lack the real alignment and fail to incorporate within our future plans.

(5) Leadership constantly laments about ‘poor innovation’

Many organizations are failing to build and nurture any design towards the ‘innovation ecosystem.’ We are also not formulating and communicating where innovation links into strategy, we are not connecting all the different parts. Innovation stays often poorly articulated, lacking understanding of what makes-up a holistically designed innovation ecosystem.

Often innovation ‘appeals’ because we can build compelling stores. Organizations are poor at building a compelling narrative and lack the skills and communicating methods that will engage us. Innovation understanding is often left to others to interpret what it means to them to figure out their part, with a hope that their decisions will fit somehow.

Because there is often lack of internal clarity, there is also a poor connection to the external environment where opportunities are never recognized for their internal value to develop. Leadership lacks much in addressing these issues.

(6) We let ourselves down as we constantly fail in building lasting client value

Equally where the customer remains dissatisfied with the present offering, as one not meeting their explicit needs and where they often have to continue to compromise, they are ripe for change. Often the very leadership of organizations has a less than adequate ‘grasp’ of all the necessary levers for clients innovation ‘need’ to not design this in a sustaining, repeatable process with constant customer engagement they keep these ad hoc, project specific, they miss ongoing value building opportunities.

Innovation stays resolutely one-off, targeted and specialized and disconnected from planning out a series of solutions built through a well thought through road map of evolving value that builds for the longer-term lasting client engagement. There are notable exceptions here, mostly based around technology solutions, constantly evolving, adding increased benefits over time.

(7) There is such a disconnect going on between ‘talking and walking’ innovation

The organization ‘demands’ innovation, the leadership presents innovation at every opportunity, often more as a ‘fig leaf’ for the embarrassment that eventually arrives, as innovation into the market place. We need to set up a real connection between rhetoric and real value, delivering substance not just ‘promise’ or intent.

The leader needs to engage become the source or energy point to make valuable innovation really happen, no one else can. It cannot be simply delegated away. Whoever wants a leader that simply delegates growth, new wealth creation and your future to others? The need to both ‘walk and talk’ innovation consistently not just in annual meetings or board reports but in their daily engagement and detailed understanding of what makes innovation happen..

(8) We are constantly switching on and off of our innovation activities

Organizations constantly do this switching on and off, believing by pressing the innovation button, it springs back into life and delivers on demand. We just can’t simply switch innovation ‘on or off’ to meet short-term needs, it is certainly not faddish, it provides future wealth and sustainability and needs sustaining and nurturing consistently. We need a system that not just monitors the innovating health of the organization but its variances are as vigorously discussed as any operational variance.

We switch innovation ‘on and off’ at your own eventual peril, as you will eventually short-circuit the organization and the source of your future will simply drain away. People leave when they see no future or are fed-up with all the constant change. We need to make innovation our core to drive future organization performance and keep it burning bright for all to see and ‘fuel’ into to make it sustaining.

In Summary:

Can we continue to paper over these real gaps in managing innovation? How long will they continue to widen, undermine and constrain our innovation activities?

Can you see any real change to resolving these or are we just waiting for the really big one, the seismic quake that brings it all to a total stop and then we begin the painful rebuilding that should have been undertaken years ago.

image credit: bigstockphoto.com

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


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. Find him @paul4innovating

Leave a Reply