Relating to the New Innovation Era

by Paul Hobcraft

I firmly believe we are on the cusp of a new innovation era. When you step back and recognize all the different advancements we have been making in designing tools and frameworks, in understanding innovation, it holds promise.

Yet it is this recognition that the present is not working anymore with existing innovation systems, you do need to search for a real lasting change that does transform and connect all the parts into a new innovation designed ‘whole’. There are a number of intersections and driving forces that are coming together and what is emerging is this new innovation era. Now we have to weave them together.

Of course, much of what we have will still remain. We are still in need of finding innovations that provide new products, services or business models. These outcomes remain constant, it is the way we approach these that is in need of being seen as dramatically different. We require a more evolutionary, fresh perspective.

The sad part is that many of our existing consulting firms offer solutions that are unfit for todays need, or ill-equipped for offering advice on tomorrow’s purpose and the designs necessary. Equally, nearly all our larger business organizations are still locked in the past, or attempting to catch up to the present but in random ways. This does need a real change but can we achieve it?

Innovation is advancing but most of it has been designed for a different time, the old era of stable markets, predictable solutions and having a clear sense of your competition. All that has changed dramatically. We have all been trying (very hard) to stay relevant in an ever-increasing uncertain world, applying solutions left over from a past era. Something has had to suffer and I believe this is our innovation outcomes, that are not shifting the growth needle as we keep our innovation systems and thinking trapped in the 20th-century mindset.

Even though we have so many new initiatives going on in the larger organizations to keep the troops happy and hopefully engaged, they are not making the level of difference that innovation is expected to achieve. Even with the proliferation of concepts like lean startup, design thinking, innovation labs, accelerator programs, hackathons and innovation marathons, crowdsourcing and a host of designer canvases that keeps pushing our advancement along, success is still piecemeal and random. Innovation certainly does not lie at the core of the business for the majority.

Often today I am constantly hearing it is all about “innovation theater”, those activities that make us feel good are enjoyed until the harsh reality of returning to working in corporations kicks back in. It sobers us all up until we can find those excuses to go on another innovation ‘bender’ that allows us to personally learn more but then face this return back inside. Yet does it need to be like this?

Innovation is hard work yet we seem to make it harder because we “freeze” our understanding of it.

We hang on to all the legacies built up around the existing innovation system, we manage innovation in efficient and expected ways, yet is is often clearly not predictable, it often remains uncertain even when it arrives in the market place to be judged by the consumer. We continue to push our innovation concepts inside an organization that seems determined not to listen. We constantly judge innovation on established ROI criteria, established for ongoing businesses.

Innovators often feels isolated, remote and starved of the resources and the recognition they should be achieving. We still lack the alignment to strategy as this remains unclear, often fuzzy, poorly communicated and lacking in this critical connecting up of strategy and innovation. It would be great if we could just resolve this.

We are still operating in a world where we expect it to be predictable. What we design in organizations is far too rigid and not highly adaptive and that is not reflecting the speed of response we need in facing up to more volatile markets today. A VUCA world of volatility, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous. Today we are far more on this quest for novel insights but fail to fully relate those to the true consumers need.  Much of what we will achieving will become increasingly transient and short lived. We are seeing much that was seemingly enduring in the past being challenged, even ripped up and replaced. It is within this fluid environment that we must all be encouraged to become adept at those ‘feeding frenzy’ activties of constant experimentation, challenging, learning and being adaptive, being fluid and agile.

We need to keep checking back on what we do in our innovation activities to find the ‘sweet spot’ of customer needs and why, where and what they see value in and then how ‘we’ can design and respond to this evolving need. We need to be highly adaptive.

We need a change, we are facing such constantly changing environments and challenges. We need to recognize the future is going to be totally different from the past. If we get to this recognition point then we will quickly recognize that innovation does need to change and usher in this new innovation era.

The new innovation era beckons – are you ignoring it or embracing it?

I have written specifically about parts of this new innovation era. Firstly Bringing New Innovation Together is Stretching the Mind back in November 2016.  Then I followed this up with Why we are Entering a New Innovation Era in 2017 and then The Perfect Conditions for Entering A New Innovation Era in 2017.

I then wrote about Advancing My Applied Innovation Thinking discussing the automating the innovation process, way beyond the present, taking an automated and augmented view in the innovation process design. This was working with the view of creating a fluid, adaptive, agile innovation system unique each time, where we find ways to be highly adaptable, agile and fluid in grabbing and taking the parts of the innovation system and constructing them into that design and process that works for that specific challenge?

Becoming adaptive in organizations that are often highly rigid and standardized is so conflicting, so different, you must separate the two that many are arguing even stronger today than ever require a dual innovation process or organization design.

We do have more tools, processes and theoretical understanding of innovation and its management to make each design that more of a specific applied innovation service, we have the capability to construct this. Can we go that route in our organization design? We need to apply what we need to get the “job” done and this becomes specific to the challenge and its complexity and engagement needs.

Reaching further with my own design in a new era

Each of us has a part to play in innovation. It is the sum of all the parts that will build the new design. What is essential is to challenge much of the existing and replace it. I have this constant need to “refresh, rebuild and redesign” many of those innovation parts to keep turning theory learned into practice gained.

I keep in constant need to “sharpen the translation points of innovation“. I’ve reflected on this and have determined five broad themes of innovation that radically alters the way we design our innovation processes and where I have a place to play and advise upon. These are:

  1. Exploring innovation and pattern recognition through more facilitated conversations and investigation designing pathways, roadmaps, blueprints. These are more expeditions of discovery with a shared intent to alter the thinking and understanding around innovation. This is far more in recognizing the future and bringing higher levels of sensing and amplification into our innovative thinking. We must constantly explore the evolutionary perspective in the face of an unknown and uncertain future, to find the emergent properties that will generate the new.
  2. Structuring for Asset Orchestration. This is built on the intent that you must orchestrate the capabilities constantly, to purposefully build what is needed to deliver the final result and then rebuild them specifically for the next requirement or solution need. We need to build this on three primary stages of structuring, bundling and leveraging resources. In one post I highlighted on this: “orchestrating is a function of (1) changing the rules of the game to keep the game alive and (2) avoiding disruptions, thus ensuring continuity through the connection between the old and the new, or between past behavior patterns and the present and future ones.” (Javier Busquets). For me to manage and orchestrate means to lead, to frame, conduct and set the tempo but it is constantly changing and for that we need to be far more adaptive and fluid in our asset deployments.
  3. Aligning People, Technology, and Innovation in Design. While experimentation speeds the time to a viable business innovation, it does not necessarily lead immediately to the kind of large-scale growth or increased market share that are usually the barometers of performance in the core business. It is the “combination effect” of building this alignment between people, technology that is evolving at increasing speed and complexity and innovation, in the way it responds and achieves the engagement
  4. Impact and Intensity becomes the new mantra. We need to be more agile, iterative, to be encouraged to be experimenting and exploring. Our world is shifting from scalable efficiency to scalable learning.  It is the degrees of adoption, the investments made, the multiple levels of activities and the focus of the intensity given to building capabilities to innovate will yield the eventual impact. Execution and Value Delivery needs to drive the whole innovation process.
  5. Exploring and Aligning. Here I am pushing for a new management model where we are pushing to seek increasing ‘fusion’ but still want degree’s of separation, we are seeking out ‘flows’ through new knowledge to break down barriers that restrict new insights so as to turn these into new value creation, and we are encouraged to seek out and establish a higher ‘fluidity’ in what we do and reduce the rigidity we presently have in place in our current organizations.We need to operate in ‘dual minds’ and structures is at last constantly striving for the innovation balance: between exploring and exploiting.

It is until we recognize that a large part of our present innovation struggle to date is that innovation remains hard to manage well, constantly and in a repeating fashion; we strive to systematize it and then attempt to replicate any success we then have, so as to achieve more, to repeat and extract efficiencies, yet more often than not we fail.

We do not take into account all the variables that came together for that one particular winning outcome. Often this does not work on a repetitive basis as the variables that make up each innovation can be so different, they are unique for each innovation event or activity. Yet we can learn under a growing ‘range of’ differentiating capabilities but it is this need to be more adaptive, fluid and being adept each time, changes the innovation system we know today.

We need to radically alter our thinking and redesign innovation. It is not predictable, it is based on being inherently unpredictable and we have to design our innovation systems and structures for this.

Summary

Here in what I am doing, or proposing, is that I am exploring solutions along an evolutionary path, that search for the unique innovation dynamics that are needed, so you will arrive at the distinct and adaptive ones to manage in this new era. I am positioning these as a more central part of my advisory practice, for clients who understand the need for innovation change and want to explore how innovation is changing.

Nothing is standing still anymore, it is evolving constantly and we equally need to design our innovation to adapt to this new innovation era.

image credit: bigstockphoto.com

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paul-hobcraft-150x150Paul 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. Follow @paul4innovating

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