Monday, November 07, 2011

Developmental Perspective of Innovation

Looking @ Innovation from Inside Out

We know the value innovation brings to organisations. It could provide us the access to compete in traditionally unavailable markets. It could also create blue ocean markets that earn us supernormal profits.

However, we cannot depend on a single innovation to compete in these markets. Our competitors are always attracted to these markets because of their profits and are motivated to leapfrog with innovations combined from and with more advance technologies that deliver substantial value at costs driven by greater production economies. This means that time is never be on our side regardless of the characteristics or conditions of our innovation lifecycle. Someone will take the pole position if we are to rest on the successes of our only creation. To secure our leadership position so that we continue to prosper into the future, we need a stream of innovations to compete with others that are coming into the markets.

Although the word 'innovation' has been widely used in our national discourse since 2000, this does not mean that its true meaning is fully appreciated and understood. It remains a jargon and big word even for the most educated person in our society. When asked about innovation, we typically hear people describing it as something new, unique and original. However, as architects of our organisation's growth and prosperity, we need to put on a different lens and move beyond this simplistic view of innovation in order to create the stream of innovation mentioned in the previous paragraph. We need to examine the engine that creates them.

When we strip the engine of an innovative organisation of its casings, we will typically find numerous pipelines of innovative projects in different stages of development weaved into a fabric of supportive culture (like value, beliefs and attitudes) and enabling resources (like tools, methods and processes). On this mesh of activities, opportunities are identified, explored and assessed for their potentials before they are exploited to grow the business. However, the flow inside each pipeline is not always dynamic, making the fabric creased and wrinkled. There are a number of obstacles that obstruct its flow, and the people engineering organisational level innovation needs to be informed to help reduce these effects on their efforts.

On further examination of the engine, we will also discover that innovations and the resources used for creating them are not the only artifacts that flow through its pathways. People and the teams they lead do as well. Innovation does not exist without the cognitive investments and entrepreneurial expenditures of

people. This suggests that to use innovation as the multiplier to win at the market place, we have to take care of the people in innovation; to pay attention to the motivations behind wanting to do good for oneself, and one's community and society.

Many have recognised the importance of diversity in teams - diverse work preferences, orientation towards problems, and workplace skills. However, such teams are challenging to create, manage and sustain because of differing cultures, conflicting values and competing interests. In the age of self-determination and self-empowerment, the onus of resolving these problematic differences cannot rest squarely on the shoulders of the leaders but on the team members as well.

The last group of artifacts that keep the traction in the pipelines is the permission, protection, support and push the management gives to teams to enable them to fight against the immunity organisations impose on the change brought on by innovations. These are resources external of the teams' sphere of control and have to be acquired. This means, to access them, the teams have to secure the stakeholders buy-in for the change.

Innovation is about doing things in ways that have never been done before, and this is problematic with stakeholders. In the absence of hindsight, they tend to be more adverse to risks and inclined to reject the change out of fear instead of putting in place resources and supporting structures to mitigate them so that change has a chance to take place. By measuring its leading indicators for success, the team, after thinking big, is enabled to start small, scale fast and impact deep to complete the conversion and implementation process of innovation. Therefore, stakeholder communication is about allying these uncertainties by focusing their rationality on its possibilities for success rather on its propensity for failure.

This article was 1st written on 16 February 2011, updated on 2 August 2011,

and subsequently published on 7 November 2011.

Copyright 2011. Anthony Mok. All rights reserved.

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