Pull innovation out from fighting against the organization: create necessity for change

From idea to execution, innovation has many places to lose its way. Vijay Govindarajan describes it sharply in his “From idea to execution” (2005, Dec) article:

Once the innovation is spot, and the CEO commits to the plan, assigning the best available general manager to lead the strategic experiment, and asking a member of the senior corporate staff to shepherd it,  the CEO makes then a big mistake: the CEO moves on to other matters.

The CEO’s mistake is buying into the romance. The mistake is assuming that the company has already hurdled the most difficult barriers in the innovation journey — finding a great idea and a great leader. In fact, the biggest challenges are still to come.

In fact, we have found that strategic experiments face their stiffest resistance after they are showing hints of success, are starting to grow, are consuming significant resources, and are clashing with the existing organization at multiple levels — that is, long after the idea generation stage.

It’s extremely rare to find someone who can overcome both the long odds that face any strategic experiment and an organization that fights them at every turn. Organizations are almost always more powerful than people.

Corporations serious about building a capacity for strategic innovation cannot simply hope that they have a few intrapreneurs somewhere inside that can save the day on their own inspired initiative. They must reexamine how their organizations are constructed. Only through careful redesign can organizations excel at both efficiency and entrepreneurship.

How can we transform ideas into products? We’ve talked about this fear that core company can feel towards innovation, and how innovation team can prepare acceptance using 4 levers: detachment of resources coming from the parent company, a network of decision makers, the investment of the parent company, a portfolio reflecting shared innovation goals.

Edward Glassman has identified 3 ways to tutorate innovation in The IdeaConnection Blog · How To Convert Ideas Into Profitable Innovations: 3 corporate idea-improvement programs (2010, Nov):

  1. Employees submit an idea to one of the full time ‘innovation idea-helpers’ . This person works with the idea-proposer to help develop and enhance all technical and business possibilities of the idea. Then, a team of volunteers from technology, marketing, and manufacturing work on the idea (policy of 10% time on bootleg activities). Finally, the team publicize the idea, and persuade someone in management to sponsor and provide resources for the idea’s development into a commercial product. On average, the process takes about a year.
  2. The Office of Innovation helps the idea-person find seed money, resources, and guidance within the company, frame a presentation, and research the marketplace for the proposed idea. The Office of Innovation encourages people who send in ideas to become idea-champions by helping them perfect their idea. When well developed, a screening committee decides whether the corporation should provide funds for further development.
  3. The Center for Creativity & Innovation has three major thrusts: educate people in advanced creative thinking techniques, apply these creative thinking techniques to important business and technological problems, and help managers create a climate conducive to creativity and innovation. The Center arranges creative problem solving events that tackle important business and technological problems. This last strategy is essential to impact the bottom line and show the value of creativity & innovation.

Spreading a culture of innovation through “idea-improvement programs” is definitely a good way to prepare innovation acceptance within the organization. But it takes time to shape, and requires a management involved in innovation. What can you do if your top management is not so much a strong believer in innovation, and you don’t have time to build a widespread innovation culture?

One needs to create the necessity of change, to make the organization feel so uncomfortable that it decides on its own to move. Disatisfaction is an engine for change: “I can get no satisfaction” makes you want to change your situation.

Agents of change have to be identified: they are particular indicators of disatisfaction  in various areas such as competition threat, business opportunity, deregulation, benchmark, customer feedback. They show that if we keep on that trend, the organization  will face serious trouble.

Then we have to illustrate to what extend the innovation is a solution that will make the organization improve with regards to the previous indicators : we have to design the meaning of the innovation.

To get your innovation accepted,  the organization has to share naturally the feeling of aspiration. It requires using the right gesture, with the minimum of strength and the maximum of fluency, smoothly: taking the least resistance path is where you need to concentrate your skills.

In the long run, continuous innovation leads to nonstop successive change management waves: you better start practicing!



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