(By Henry Doss)
“As you begin to look at culture, leadership and process in your organisation, you will naturally be drawn to things that are already known, to things that are already measured, monitored and culturally valued. There is, after all, an existing culture and value system in every organisation, including yours. But your strategy thinking should not lead you to the things you already measure; you should be looking for new markers, and new cardinal points. If something is already known and measured, it is likely less important to innovation than what is not known, and not measured.“
So, you’ve been chosen to lead the creation of an innovation program for your organisation. Or perhaps you’ve been in this role for some time. You are hearing a constant clarion call for “more innovation.” Meetings have been held; “future state” presentations have been made; declarations have been definitively declared. Innovation has been enshrined as the foundation of your organization’s long-term success.
If you find yourself in this position – charged with building innovation or some similar accountability – it’s time to think about “what” more than “how.”
Before you start doing stuff to drive innovation, take a breath — a really deep, long breath – and spend some time thinking and talking with others about your innovation strategy. Everything in this world starts (or should start) with a clear strategic focus, and this is especially true with a challenge as ill-defined, fuzzy, vague and slippery as innovation. Without a clear innovation strategy informing your deployment, you will almost certainly find yourself chasing shiny objects, lost in a tactical maze of organisational distractions.
Because the innovation world is so confusing and mysterious, your innovation strategy will be as much about what not to do as what to do. Building an innovation ecosystem is about culture, process, systems and leadership. It is about creating the cultural conditions which allow for the possibility of innovation and then fostering innovation leadership that can optimize the likelihood of innovation over time. This will require new ideas, new measures, and new thinking. And the not doing of certain things.
Innovation strategy can appear unpredictable, because in the real world it often is. That does not mean that it’s random; it just means that it’s tough. And your best tool for overcoming the seeming unpredictability of innovation is a clear strategic focus.
As a start, consider these five strategic reflections:
1: Innovation is not output:
Building an innovation culture is about creating conditions; output is a result of those conditions. If your focus is on output, you are looking at innovation through your rear view mirror; you’re seeing what has happened, rather than what will happen. There may be nothing more important than making this distinction – repeatedly – as you build your strategy and as you begin implementing that strategy: If your focus is on conditions, you are creating the future; if your focus is on output, you are evaluating the past.
2: Innovation is about measurement:
Sooner or later, if you can’t measure what you’re doing, you are just leading an organizational myth. This will be especially true when you are creating strategies for foundational innovation features such as trust, or “win/win” mindsets, or diversity. These cultural states must be rendered empirical or they will never gain organisational credibility. Finding metrics and measures for values and mindsets and points of view will be difficult, but that very difficulty is what leads you to a further reflection:
3: Strategic importance is inversely proportional to ease of measurement:
As you begin to look at culture, leadership and process in your organisation, you will naturally be drawn to things that are already known, to things that are already measured, monitored and culturally valued. There is, after all, an existing culture and value system in every organisation, including yours. But your strategy thinking should not lead you to the things you already measure; you should be looking for new markers, and new cardinal points. If something is already known and measured, it is likely less important to innovation than what is not known, and not measured.
4: That you measure is as important as what you measure:
As you build your innovation strategy, what you measure must be related to that strategy. And what you measure must be a leading (cultural), not a lagging (output) indicator. But the odds of your finding the “right” measures and indicators – at least initially – are very small, and the temptation to find and focus on lagging indicators will be great. Don’t do it! As you are thinking and building your strategy, create new measures and new indicators and new metrics. Try them out. What you will find is that innovation conversations and problem-solving informed by imperfect measures will be better than conversations informed by no measures, or by output measures. So, when you are struggling to find a measure for, say, “trust” – make one up, measure it, and then improve it over time.
5: A culture of innovation is caused by intentional leadership:
It’s easy to get lost in organizational hustle and bustle. And when the subject is innovation, the opportunities to stray from an intentional path are everywhere. Strong strategic leadership will be the key to maintaining your focus on innovation conditions, and not being distracted by output. Theintention of leadership must be a focus on culture and a powerful commitment to maintaining that focus when distractions and organizational pressures get in the way.
As you begin the deployment of innovation, no doubt you’ll run into hundreds of ideas, tactics, paradigms, tools, and programs. Most of them will have potential value in supporting an innovation culture. But if they are deployed in a strategic vacuum, you may find a lot of noise, and little innovation. Take the time upfront to make sure you are grounded in a clear, well-thought-out innovation strategy . . . before you start doing.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”