Innovation is the key to adapting to an ever-changing world

- and it’s not out of your reach

We live in exciting times. Progress, inventions, new business models that are changing our lives, keep coming with ever increasing pace.

Inventions and discoveries, that have been the domain of a few geniuses of the likes of Leonardo, Edison, Tesla, Einstein, have become much more common place. It is almost as if the new technologies have “democratised” innovation.

And why is that? Innovating is much easier, when you have a lot of information and you are not alone. Today, we have access to knowledge like never before, thanks to globalization and the internet. But that alone would not enable us to innovate. It still needs active collaboration to achieve innovation. Innovation happens, when you gather diverse minds to exchange and collaborate. The outcome of the many ideas building on each other begets results, that one alone could not have created.

Are you bummed about the world?

Well, may we recommend you watch this:

Innovation is possible for everyone, but it needs the right culture to flourish

Challenge

How can we foster a culture of innovation?

Solution: You need the space, the opportunity, new skills and trial & error.

Creating a culture of innovation and continuous improvement is not new. General Electric was one company, that very consistently and successfully created such a culture using Six Sigma and later LEAN.

But recognizing, that they need to continuously adapt to stay competitive, GE has made the leap towards new forms of innovation using Agile, partnering with start-ups and building eco-systems.

The motor for this continuous journey to innovation is powered by PURPOSE. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves and this leads us to collaborate towards a greater goal.

In GE’s case it was Ecomagination.

Innovation can take many forms, e.g. adapting to new ways of working, the steady flow of new ideas, the Google X approach for Moonshot ideas, or the Abundance mindset, Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the Singularity University is evangelizing.

Maybe your organization wants to start dipping their toes into, what innovation actually feels like. Or it wants to start a step by step approach by ring-fencing a pilot unit and learning from their experiences. Or you want to go all out and just jump into the new way of working. Whichever approach you take, there is no future without some type of innovation culture.

If you want to test your own not capability, but serendipity for leading an innovation team, take this test.

Risk aversion, silo-thinking, lack of focus are barriers to innovation

Challenge

It is not easy to achieve this culture of innovation. What is holding us back?

Solution: Diagnose barriers. Create the skills and foster the behaviors to overcome them!

To achieve innovation – be it digital or otherwise – culture has been reported as the biggest barrier.

McKinsey names as the 3 most important cultural factors creating this barrier:

  • Risk aversion
  • Silo mindset
  • Weak customer focus

Therefore – as opposed to start-ups – most incumbent companies need to drive a two-fold strategy to approach innovation:

  1. Remove the barriers
  2. Introduce new mindset and skills

Removing risk aversion as the barrier, needs to start form the top. Defensive decision taking, i.e. taking the safest personal choice instead of taking a risk, needs to be truly embraced by the leadership team. (Link to its starts at the top) And the board needs to be on board ;). Nothing is destroying the credibility of a journey towards more risk taking, than short term thinking and punishment of failures.

How can we get there?

Challenge

Innovation is so intangible. How can it look like in practice?

Solution: For innovation we need DIVERSITY, COMMUNICATION, PLAY and TRUST.

1. Design Thinking, 2. Lego Serious Play, 3. Agile, 4. Co-Creation are just a few well known and successful methodologies. Other approaches are:

  • Moonshot Thinking: A Moonshot is going 10X bigger, while the rest of the world is pursuing 10% bigger.  When you try to do 10% better, you’re putting yourself in a “smartness” competition with everyone else in the world — a competition you’re unlikely to win. When you instead try to go 10x bigger, you’re forced to approach the problem in a radically different fashion. The result is 100x more worth it, but it’s never 100x harder.
  • Ideas Are Easy, Culture is Hard: Creating the ecosystem for rapidly evaluating and testing ideas is much harder than finding the idea. Filter weaker ideas early by running a “pre-mortem” — predict in advance why an idea is likely to fail — and celebrate and reward ideas that the team kills early.
  • Experiment, Experiment, Experiment: How can you encourage your team to experiment and pursue audacious goals? X has a “Get Weirder Award,” which rewards the best experiment the team runs based on a crazy idea. Instead of strictly incentivizing successful experiments, X focuses on progress, learning and asking the right questions.

Choosing the right methodology depends on the goal. What those methodologies have in common is, that they bring diverse people together united toward a common goal to communicate and ideate in a deliberately open and appreciative fashion.

Play is instrumental in opening minds in a new way of thinking. Not only for its creative potential, but as well for the hand/brain link: “We change our minds by moving our hands,” writes Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow.

And very importantly, because of the TRUST playing together builds, which is essential to foster creativity and innovation: “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation” Plato

To summarise: For innovation to work in real life, we need different views and ideas brought together in a safe trusted environment, that stops judgement and invites openness. Tie this together in a process, that moves continuously ahead towards a common goal and you will be able to achieve innovation regardless, if you are a start-up or an established organisation.

A strong team is at the core of innovation

Challenge

My team needs to get there. What can I do?

Solution: Start with teambuilding

Doing an innovation sprint together as a team can actually be a great teambuilding exercise. You will get to know each other quickly and in most cases quickly establish better collaboration than you had before. The reverse is true as well: if you want to foster a culture of innovation in your team, start with getting to know each other better. Even established teams often have big gaps in mutual understanding and appreciation. These gaps really get in the way, if you need to work together very open, maybe out of your comfort zone and judgement-free – and often at a fast pace and in a volatile environment.

While true understanding and trust needs to be fostered over time, the process can be accelerated. The best team buildings work on 3 different levels:

The cognitive level: you get to know each other’s leadership-, working- or communication style. You start recognizing and appreciating the differences and how to deal with it

The emotional level: you will get to know your team members deeper and on a more personal level, which will help you build trust and again appreciation.

The physical level: Playing, building or doing outdoor activities together adds yet another level to building relationships.

The teambuilding can be as short as an hour or as long as 2 days. Either way it is well invested time as a start to your new culture.

The teambuilding is just the start, because innovation is a process. But many sources of innovation are overlooked, because leaders do not consider the team with the many diverse talents and viewpoints as a source, nor do they empower the individual team members.

For more look at this Forbes article: 5 ways leaders enable innovation in their teams

And the Wall Street Journal: Together we innovate

The journey towards more curiosity and appreciation – the core of true diversity - starts with awareness. It starts with ourselves.

It is not complicated to listen deeper into ourselves, but it helps, if we are guided by examples and reminded continually to not revert back to old behavioral patterns.

How to start the journey to a new culture, we have explored to some degree in “Diversity drives better results”. And, as for all cultural journeys, it starts with PURPOSE and TRUST.

You need the PURPOSE as the driver towards something worth the extra effort and to unlock the potential of employee engagement toward innovation. And you need TRUST, so first cautious steps toward new behaviour and the trial & error needed for innovation do not backfire. Even the most well-intended leaders often do not understand (enough) the impact of their reactions to new behavior.

We are here to help

To succeed in this world, you need new skills, fresh attitudes and the right behaviors. You will need to create an environment that rewards exchange, trial & error, but more importantly you will need to create an environment of trust, of play and inspiration.

You may want to start new alliances – out of the box ones. And you will need an eco-system that allows you to continuously deliver added value to your stakeholders and expand in new directions.

On this way, you will need training programs, communication strategies, and most importantly leaders and employees, who are courageous, curious and willing to continuously learn, experiment and act.

We can help you to create and build the elements for this innovation culture and to kick-off your journey towards innovation.