Getting to a root cause of innovation blockage
So what does block innovation? Arguably there are plenty of things up and down organizations: a lack of resources, an overcrowded portfolio of ideas, a lack of dedicated people, treating innovation as one-off, keeping it isolated and apart from mainstream activities.
The list could go on and on, no question but to seek out a meaningful exchange of minds let me offer these outlined below as ones to tackle. Get a discussion going on all of these needs ‘being selective’, raised at separate times and then integrated into a collective ‘declaration of innovation intent’ going forward.
Let’s take a different perspective
If you could ask a series of question that might help unlock innovation blockages it would make such a difference to our innovation performance and engagement. I think this might need a good external facilitator as my recommendation, one who has deep innovation knowledge and expertise, able to manage the ‘dynamics’ within the room.
What would happen if you could get the leadership in a room together to discuss innovation which would allow innovation dialogues to emerge? Perhaps allowing those conversations that begin to build a common understanding, a common language for innovation? You aim is to seek out those diverse, different views for the challenges that lie within innovation and your job is to draw these out. It is not easy yet the rewards could be huge.
Gaining a working consensus to share across the organization so these blockages can be openly discussed and in time-resolved would make for a very powerful advancement on all those fragmented, unstructured and personal opinions that have been allowed to ‘form’ as there was no structured dialogue. Here, again are my ten intractable challenges to resolve
The ten innovation intractable challenges – surfacing real barriers to innovation
I’d suggest these might be a great starting point, tough to manage but phenomenal if you can surface them, provide a growing consensus to cluster around that results in providing a clearer leadership dialogue or guidance to how they see innovation.
These are shaped as discussions to raise, explore and extract views and then to be pulled together into a collective position, that gives strength and identification to resolving issues surrounding innovation. Surfacing differences, finding common ground and developing a ‘collective’ way forward makes a significant contribution to building a common language and common sense of identity. It underpins innovation engagement. It gives confidence to any innovation undertaking.
- Addressing the issue of unfamiliar responsibilities – new and different ways of working, of understanding, of allowing innovation to take hold and flourish is often demanding on those to find those new ways of responding, to leading, to encouraging others. It becomes even harder when innovation is often added to increasing a person’s responsibilities. This different way of thinking needs surfacing. Many holding leadership positions in our organizations are uncomfortable with innovation, it is too intangible, it was not something they worked upon, it often seems to ‘sit’ outside the normal processes and structures. It is full of risk and uncertainly. It is raising the unfamiliar yet it should become a great place to start this dialogue to bring innovation inside what we do, as a consistent.
- Innovation demands new directions – making significant changes to the way the organization is run is very challenging, potentially disrupting and needs thinking through at the top-level well. To ‘hone’ an organization into a lean efficient and effective ‘machine’ is one thing, to allow diversity and conflicting signals to pervade and challenge this is extremely uncomfortable territory, so ring fencing often seems to this keep it at bay! Is this the right solution, are we facing different times to manage our organizations in 20th-century practices? If we are needing to become 21st century in our thinking and practices how do we open up the dialogue Where does agility, flexibility, adaptive and exploratory come into our thinking, into our systems, into our culture?
- Inherited problems always surface – addressing countless and inherent problems is messy and requires dedicated resolution. Changing a culture to become more innovative can be a massive step in structure, organization and policies. How do we manage such a revolution, what is needed, what is a culture and environment for innovation anyway? How do we manage our legacy, what should stay, what can go? How do we set about this?
- Problems within the organizations make up – inadequate experience and resistance to change especially surface when a person is not equipped to deal with it. Installing innovation capacity, capabilities and competencies need figuring out. How long does this take, where can we turn too? How do we relate change to its positive contribution to the future and can innovation lead that change?
- High stakes of innovation – demanding ‘breakthrough innovation’ makes everyone feel increasing vulnerable, increasingly visible and it is for leadership to take ownership and real responsibility to manage this demand and shape the risk and set of fears against the gain and return. They need to be ready to ‘positively react and encourage’ both in supporting winning solutions and extracting positive learning from failures. Can you run breakthroughs alongside incremental innovation activities, what is really different in how can we manage these?
- Scope and scale of innovation – Managing in scale and scope is demanding and requires well thought through systems and processes. To scope innovation needs robust business case approaches, its flexibility in its management and then to scale this up requires well-established approaches and clear commitments to its engagement and execution. Are we really good at seizing ‘breaking’ opportunities and quickly scaling these up. Can we learn new approaches to this? How do we approach scale, scope and speed for innovation?
- External pressures multiply – everyone has an opinion outside the organization, let alone inside. Balancing these different interfaces and the pressures from these as you explore innovation needs managing well. Avoid that trait of just keeping piling on the raising of expectations and then failing to back this up, by demonstrating progress or ensuring you are not actively working on this alignment. What does it take for the ability to deliver on the promise? What can we learn by listening to those outside, what can we take inside and apply, have we our core beliefs to check these opinions against to stay firm upon or adapt by these new insights?
- Influencing without full authority – key activities within innovation usually demand that you become reliant on others. You need to spend (seemingly) inordinate time explaining and gaining others to make their ‘buy in’ and find ways for them to find their own identification with concepts. So by ‘growing identification’ you are able to move emerging innovation concepts along the pipeline. You also so often need to find often imaginative ways of attracting across the resources needed. This is especially hard for senior managers to adapt too, the need to attract across, instead of simply expect, demand and just take, today people want to be attracted and expect to learn from the experience and exposure. How can we learn new ways or different ways where collaboration becomes the norm and we can learn to borrow and exchange resources across functions more freely and then let them go to move on to the next challenge where their talent is most needed? To let go and watch talent soar.
- Work more with a listening and feedback culture – this can be totally different from the way business has been conducted up to today, through a more hierarchical structure. Flattening organizations to allow greater two-way flow sucks up time; it simply undoes or unpicks ‘command and control’ over time. It takes time to establish and gain the confidence and momentum. You need to allow more for debate, it shifts and alters the hierarchy and structures and that is a big step into an unknown, yet it is necessary for organization change, to allow innovation to truly flourish on a more sustaining basis. What needs to be put into place to listen and respond to our organizations and customers’ needs? How can the relationships within the organization re-calibrate and mutually respect each other’s position?
- The need to develop work group diversity – innovation asks for more diversity in opinion, it draws out more in thinking, in discipline, in alternative approaches and solution. This often leaves senior executives feeling they are less in control, reliant on other and that can feel scary and surface their own insecurities, buried increasingly as they moved up the organization and took on responsibility and accountability. It challenges often their very notion of management as they have known and experienced it. Innovation in its management does certainly challenge many past notions of managing, such as for productivity, yield and simply extraction. How can we encourage a greater diversity of thought, of working, of judging performance that would help our organization’s absorption of different knowledge and approaches occurring all around us? How can we exploit and explore and know when to apply the differences in our thinking
Each of these ten innovation challenges needs to be surfaced at the right time, usually as early as you can to provide a person handling innovation to gain the best and strongest foothold of their understanding.
Each one of these ‘intractable’ points can individually block innovation from advancing – we must find ways to bring them out, to surface opinions and find common solutions to resolving them. We need to build these into a common understanding to move innovation forward. To send out a compelling message into our organizations we are wanting to tackle these intractables, so as to give innovation its rightful place within all our thinking and activities, to ’embrace’ it as it far too important for our growth and future sustainability. None of us individually has the total answers but together we can find them.
Finding that right moment is not easy to draw these out but it is certainly necessary otherwise, those (often) hidden barriers never come to the surface and get resolved, leaving innovation trapped unable to release its true voice and significant worth and value to the organization’s fortunes.
The best way to ‘kick start’ this off is to bring in an experienced facilitator of innovation and let them probe, prompt and push to find the emerging answers to these often intractable challenges. To confront these challenges, you can unlock them and make them building blocks and not barriers to greater innovation.
Author note: The original list of the ten innovation intractable’s has been adapted from “creating learning experiences without changing jobs” by Cynthia McCauley at the CCL in 2006. I’ve applied it in my way for surfacing these innovation issues and I believe many people’s personal concerns at executive and senior organization level that need their resolution and discussion to become more confident in innovation and its management.
image credit: www.360nobs.com
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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