Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Supporting and Resourcing for Innovation

Definitions of Innovation

When someone was asked what innovation is, we typically would hear people describing it as something unique, breaking through, and valuable.

However, there are over 60 different ways of defining innovation, and together, they share six broad themes. 


·  Could occur anywhere in our society, in any part of our organisations, and even in our daily lives. As long as there is a problem that does not go away, an unusual approach will be needed to change the situation

·  May come in different shapes and sizes to bridge different expectation and performance gaps so that stakeholders could receive greater returns in the things they want accomplished with what they have

·      Requires different types of social actors who would use personal techniques, methods and processes to navigate the innovation through the systems

·    Demands repeated and differentiated quantities and qualities of tangible and intangible resources and support to empower and enable these social actors into bringing movement in the work they attempt to accomplish

·       May spends indefinite amount of time traversing sequentially and laterally through the many stages of its creative and innovation life-cycle

·   Delivers different types of value to meet different aims of individuals, communities and societies 

Given these attributes, a more integrated definition [1] of innovation has been proposed, which describes innovation as ‘the multi-stage process whereby organisations transform ideas into new or improved products, service or processes, in order to differentiate, compete and advance themselves successfully in their marketplace’.

The definition implies that organisations should not rely on a single innovation or keep innovating on a single entity to stay competitive. It means they need to move away from managing an innovation or a number of innovations to managing the pipeline, and the engine that lies within, that creates these innovations. 

Innovation Pipeline and Its Kinks

However, to manage innovation at this level, Organisation leaders need to recognise the kinks in the pipeline; the seven choke points of the engine. These
kinks are the products of organisations reacting to things which they see as agents that upset the organisations’ existing social order.
Briefly, these kinks are the:

·         Challenge of Exchange Deficiencies

There are many individuals in organisations that are producing and owning ideas and solutions. Equally, are many who look for these to close their performance gaps. However, it is the need to account for the performance, which gaps these innovations could close, that is the reason few opportunities for sharing of information on the whereabouts, needs and offerings between these two sets of social actors - the fund managers, entrepreneurs, protectors, advocators and promoter, exist. These create deficiencies in the exchange of ideas and innovations within these organisations.

·         Projectisation Challenges

Often, the organisations' aversion to uncertainty, unforgiving nature towards failures, and overly myopic focus on short-termism, turn the most motivated and innovative individuals off.

Many ideas with breakthrough potentials are given up because very few individuals are willing to stick their heads out to turn these into projects to draw value out of them.

As the project moves through its life-cycle, this phenomenal prevails. It continues to prevent people, who may have specific competencies to bring best out of the project, thereby reducing the propensity of the project truly reaching its innovation success.

·         Challenges of Time and Space

There is inertia to start innovating; getting the right problem definitions, finding their right scope and range, and locating the right social actors.

In a world where we have to struggle with doing things that provide for us today, and having things that may not even pay tomorrow, the going of moving ideas beyond their drawing boards could be tough.

These conditions create tendencies for social actors to fall back on their routine work methods and proven solutioning approaches to avoid spending precious resources on the fundamentally more challenging issues just to get things by.

·         Kinks of Social Constraints

The innovation success of organisations is positively related on the quantity and quality of ‘intrapreneurs’ that they possess.

However, social actors have known to introduce policies or encourage practices that, while well-meant and intended, restrict and constraint the ways ‘intraprenuer’ may use to organise their workplace.

Besides introducing these cultural norms, social actors reinforce them. In the world of measurements and accountability, they formally and informally sanction behaviours that are deemed unacceptable, thereby reducing the space in which diversity could work and where quality could really matter at the workplace. What has started as expected control, has unexpectedly reduced the willingness of ‘intrapreneurs’ wanting to fill pipeline with ideas and innovations, and their number wanting to remain behind to operate it.

·         Challenges of Participation 

At the heart of creation are the interactions social actors have with each other on matters relating to its vision, intention and direction. Without their willingness to come together to make meanings that touch, inspire and move others into working for and with the venture, the innovation is dead.

Therefore, the quality and frequency of these interactions matters and cannot be taken lightly. These could be cultivated, but they require the acumen and skills of pipeline architects to recognise the social actors and understand the importance of their conversations to lead them into playing their most important function in the creation process - managing the affairs of today so that tomorrow has a chance begin now. However, in a space where today is awarded a premium over tomorrow, this chance for breakthroughs is narrower. 

·         Challenges of Scarcity 

Usually, we would conclude that money is the panacea for innovation. While this is essential in buying us the material to build the innovation, it does not always buy us the approval, protection, and support necessary to introduce and sustain the innovation in the organisations.

Innovation is about change, and change demands, firstly, shifts in mind-sets, and secondly, modifications in behaviours. These are challenging endeavours, which require the act of leadership.

Intangible resources are capable of influencing the make-up, motivation, and dynamics of social actors coming together and working in the pipeline. Often, actors feel frustrated and become jaded when they have difficulties accessing these ingredients for success. Jaded actors could impact the pipeline negatively as their very existence will always put into question the credibility and authenticity of management in wanting to build a more innovative organisation. 

·         Challenges of Withholding Value 

In a knowledge-based society, creativity and innovation is not constraint by the boundaries that divide space and time. Individuals and teams could choose not to contribute since they are capable of withholding the value of the innovation from the organisation and passing it someone whom they find worthy of receiving it. Individuals could start translating a conceptualised idea that has taken place at one organisation in another.

There is very little the organisation could do in terms of the policies that it could use to prevent the leakage of value from the organisation. 

Organisation that does not use a humane and inclusive approach to managing its human resource practice that build rapport, trust and relationships, these are the investments that 


Organisation members are unlikely to use their own pocket money to create innovations for their organisations. Highly innovative organisations recognise this and provide the means – resources and the support, for their members to innovate.

By laying the common themes found in the definitions of innovation on the kinks that are found in the innovation pipeline, we could discern the nuances of a meaningful framework for resourcing innovation. The goal is to stave the kinks by resourcing and supporting the alternatives.

Presented below is one of the Innovation Pipeline Performance Metric and Intervention Rubrics -

Challenge of Exchange Deficiencies

Please contact ThinkInnovation, the People Behind Your Breakthroughs, at for the full version of the Innovation Pipeline Performance Metric and Intervention Rubrics.

Reflection and Discussion

After reading this case - 'The Specialty Group', reflect on the following questions:

1.  What are the broad themes of innovation for The Specialty Group?

2.  What are the kinks in the company’s innovation Pipeline?

3.  How does the company manage these kinks?

This article was 1st written on 8 Nov 2012.
Copyright 2012. Anthony Mok. All Rights Reserved.

[1]   Baregheh, A. Rowley, J., and Sambrook, S. (2009). “Towards a multidisciplinary definition of innovation”, Management Decision, Vol. 47(8), pp. 1323-1339.

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