Monday, November 30, 2009

More on Innovation

Gary Hamel is a great guru of mine and has been writing for many years on how organisations can take the next step to upping the ante on a culture of innovation. In this blog I take some of his ideas and expand on them to provide some practical examples of how we can apply some of his thinking in the workplace.

1. Learn from the fringe. Hamel says - "What’s true for music, fashion and the arts is true for business as well: the future starts on the fringe (not in the mainstream). As William Gibson once said, 'The future has already happened, it’s just unequally distributed.' To see it coming, managers have to pay attention to nascent technologies, unconventional competitors and un-served customer groups. A good rule of thumb: spend an hour a day, or a couple of days a month, exploring emerging trends in technology, lifestyles, regulation and venture capital funding. The future will sneak up on you unless you go out looking for it."

In your teams, set up a process where managers or team members have responsibility for doing research on emerging trends generally - not necessarily in their specific field of expertise. Ask them to do fun presentations on the future for others in the organisation.

2. Regard every belief as a hypothesis. hamel says - "The biggest barriers to strategic renewal are almost always top management’s unexamined beliefs. Music can only be sold on shiny discs? Don’t bet on it. The news has to be delivered on a big piece of flimsy paper? Not necessarily. You have to load programs onto your computer before you can use them? Maybe not. In an age of unprecedented change, it’s important to regard everything you believe about your company’s business model, its competitors and its customers as mere hypotheses, forever open to disconfirmation. Every industry works the way it does until it doesn’t; and if you don’t challenge industry dogma, you can be sure that some unconventional upstart will. So now more than ever, humility is a virtue."

Make this concept real in several ways - Run a fun session where everything is challenged.

What could things look like if there were no bank accounts, if there were no credit cards, if there were no formal loan system, banks no longer existed etc.

This is where I think LEGO Serious Play would be marvellous – or drawing and collages would also be great.

What are the possibilities that emerge. Make a video of them.

3. Invest in genetic diversity.

Hamel says - "Check that the innovation team has a good mix of innovation skills" – Know who is who on the team. Who are the ones who ideate and who are the implementors? Who are the process people and who are the people who are detail-focused.

4. Encourage debate and dialectic thinking. "Diversity is of little value if senior executives value conformance and alignment above all else. One of the reasons that McKinsey & Company* has remained at the top of the consulting game for so many decades is that it encourages internal dissent."

Do an activity where one team presents and the other does ‘ritual dissent’. This is a process where the other team pulls apart the ideas of the previous team as though they are holding their own private meeting with their backs to the team that presented. It is not intended as criticism - it is intended to stimulate further debates.

5. Build a magnet for great ideas. Hamel - "In the quest to expand the option set, it’s important to cast the innovation net as broadly as possible. IBM did this in 2006 when it hosted a worldwide Innovation Jam. The online conversation was designed to help IBM identify new ways of using its resources to help address some of the world’s toughest challenges. More than 150,000 experts, vendors, employees and clients participated in two 72-hour brainstorming sessions that generated 46,000 postings"

See how you can do an “innovation jam” session – either on-line or face to face. Take the concept and make it your own. Brainstorm without post-its as the main mechanism.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Many clients have recently been asking us to assist them in setting strategies for creating a culture of innovation in their organisations. Some feel as though team members and managers are happy to accept the status quo and are not actively and proactively seeking ways to improve systems, processes and products and to lead the organisation forward.
We have so often heard about the need for innovation as the cornerstone of any successful business - and yet unless there is a determination from within the business to create a mindset of innovation, this does not automatically happen.
There are several levels to bringing an organisation forward to become part of a 'creativity and innovation revolution.'
First up obviously is to create an overall strategy and to set an action plan in place from that. Included in that process will be a way of developing innovation competencies such as
  • Having a solution-centred mindset
  • Being able to think laterally
  • Being engaged with the outcomes and vision of the organisation
  • Being prepared to collaborate
There are certainly challenges in simply embedding these competencies - it is not that easy to say to team members who have traditionally waited for the 'boss' to come up with a solution, 'hey guys, you now need to problem solve and guess what, even if your solution does not work out well, there will be no blame.'
Yes, it would be wonderful to have flat organisational structures with amazing 'hotspots' of innovation emerging to deliver great value to the customer. On a practical level, and if you have no influence over the overall culture and organisational objectives, start off by doing small things:

1. Train your team on how to problem solve effectively. Use the process of the Creative Problem Solving Institute and show your team the 6 phase process that enables problems to be identified and resolved on a consensus basis.
2. Learn to re-frame problems without ever saying "NO or YES BUT" to anyone. Re-frame the response to your team member by saying, 'In what way might you resolve that". "In what ways might you find a way around the budget" is going to produce an innovation mindset, rather than - "we tried that last year' Or "No, that won't fit in the budget."
3. Pro-actively encourage lots of ideas - if we don't start with a huge funnel of ideas, you won't be let with many ultimately!

Building Resilience to Change

I have been reading an amazing book by Jeanie Daniel Duck where she talks about the human and emotional side of change - and how change interventions that ignore the "change monster" are doomed to failure.
We often attend programs on how to lead and manage change effectively and team leaders and managers learn skills in setting plans in place and implementing them.
More recently we are receiving requests from organisations to assist them in working with team members AND their managers to assist them in coping with the amount of change that confronts them. How do you guide the team through a process of dealing with the "change monster" - a catchphrase for all the deep human emotions that are triggered by organisational change.
We have a well developed program for managers on leading change and on setting practical strategies for following the key steps to achieving a positive outcome.
In response to client requests, we have recently developed a 1 day and a 1/2 day program that targets team members and assists them in dealing with the emotional elements of a transformation and change process. The emotions that emerge are complex, often frightening and are not always visible. What skills, thought processes and behaviours could be useful in navigating the many mergers, reorganisations and changes in strategy, policy and process that occur in organisations? How do individuals maintain their levels of motivation and and cope with the realities of living through major changes.
The program is totally experiential and no course manuals or notes are distributed. The room is set up with chairs in a circle and in some instances pushed to the side of the room. A series of activities commences and after each activity there is a guided de-brief. Through the de-brief, skills and behaviours are discussed and addressed and key messages are explored.
Some of these key messages are:
Acknowledge all the change monsters in the room - this is the first step to begin to surface what is normally swimming way below the ice berg.
Understand and make use of the power of the team - supportive teams have the ability to assist in moving people through change. When people band together to conquer the change monster, they usually do!
The need to behave differently and think differently - how can we extend ourselves to take on a different perspective and to meet new challenges. All of this takes immense courage - what stories of inspiration are there to cope with all the heightened emotions of change
We all have endless possibilities - how can we awaken these and find what inspires us. Once we have found what inspires us, how do we integrate this passion into our working environment.
Setting individual behavioural contracts - answering questions around which behaviours need to stop, start or change and also thinking through the ways in which we might sabotage ourselves as well as what is the positive payoffs and rewards for stretching ourselves.