Here’s the Secret to Great Innovation! Professional Journey Steps: step #27

Here’s the Secret to Great Innovation! Professional Journey Steps: step #27

creative-thinking innovation

Innovation, it certainly is one of the recent ‘power’ words! We hear and read a LOT about it everywhere and it is legitimate. Innovation, in this era, is one of the key ways an organisation can excel.

After decades of striving for that ever-elusive Competitive Advantage through improving our quality (TQM), efficiency and production effectiveness (Six Sigma, all the lean programs)… there is a long list and it has fairly well run its course in providing results… we have come to a cross roads of such where we have to identify the next source of advantage.

We learned the hard way that we needed to improve our organisations’ productivity and quality when the Japanese and Germans handed us our lunch in the ‘80’s, dominating markets and practically crushing some industries along the way – and we responded / recovered exceptionally well. Now every organisation has – or is undergoing – some form of program to set and retain new standards, processes and procedures for best practice and to attain maximum quality, efficiency and effectiveness.

There are some very telling factors about this for the more astute:

  1. After three decades of this approach we (all organisations) have all but maximised what these types of programs can produce. We’ve rung out the last percentage points of what they can provide baring advances from new technology
  2. Competitive advantage based on quality of product and efficiency of production are both easily (although sometimes costly) replicated – look what we did to balance and even take the lead in these areas since ‘80’s. So this is not a sustainable solution.
NOTE: this is NOT to say it should be abandoned!! The standards have been set and are the new norm – to be competitive you MUST use these just to attain the minimum entry to the market so there is still a place for these programs but they won’t give the advantage they once had.
  1. Innovation is one of the remaining key areas to tap for real competitive advantage, hence the tremendous attention and coverage its receiving AND
  2. Innovation is a creative process generated by people NOT processes, procedures, TQM, Six Sigma… So it takes leadership (people) skills not management skills (things / processes) to nurture within an organisation.

If we can agree to these postulations then the Professional Journey Step for this edition has two pieces of advice for you, which can help create innovation:

  1. When trying to amplify existing or even create new innovation be wary of addressing and trying to solve the wrong problem and taking the wrong approach. We consistently see organisations who realise and accept the above points so launch into an attempt to get their organisation to become more innovative by doing one or more of the following;
    • Devise an innovation workshop complete with a list of ways and exercises on how ‘we’ can become more innovative. These provide lots of reasons and benefits for innovation being such an emphasis – most of which are for the company and not from the employees perspective. We applaud your efforts and sincerity with the initiative however this WON’T WORK! This is taking a management approach to the problem and trying to instil a new process or procedure that will magically create an innovative sprit and results. Sorry, this is a people orientated solution so it requires people skills to solve – in other words Leadership rather than Management.[1] You need to reframe the problem and think about it from a leadership / people perspective.
    • Bring in an Innovation Specialist – now as a consultant it seems rather counter-intuitive for me to say don’t bring in an outside expert consultant. What Iam recommending is bring in the RIGHT expert consultant. To get the desired results you have to address this situation through proper leadership and establishing the right cultural elements so by all means bring in an outside expert – in almost all cases you are too close to the situation to properly and objectively assess and likely not sufficiently and specifically skilled to properly address. So bring in an expert but make sure the expert is well able to identify, address and help you with these core elements as a specialty – direct energy at the foundation rather than the façade of the issue and augment your environment rather than stir it up and confuse your culture. 
  1. Our second piece of advice is to realise your people are already – in most cases – innovative! More than that, most of them want to illustrate this capability. It’s just that your structure or environment has either gotten in their way and / or demotivated them from activating this ability for the betterment of the organisation. Once again, this is a case of addressing the right issue and the issues here are improving employee engagement and enhancing your environment of trust and safety {safety in the emotional sense of ‘I feel safe to come forward with ideas without fear of retribution or put down’ rather than the I’m wearing my PPE kind of safety}.

These situations and initiatives are complex, difficult and confusing – don’t feel isolated if you are unsure of what to do or how to do it – you’re not alone, in fact you are in the majority. Now separate yourself from the majority and enlist the help of outside experts to help you overcome this issue and get out front.

You have choices, there are a number of specialists and experts to engage – just ensure they are engaging the right issue with the right approach. If we can help, please don’t hesitate to reach out, we’re certainly able, have the expertise and want to help you… help you – it’s what we do, our purpose, our raison d’être!

Hope this was informative and helpful,

Enjoy the journey!

[1] Previous professional Journey Step articles: #5 Management versus Leadership, do you Really know the difference?

#6 You can’t manage change, you must lead through it!