"Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear: Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air." - Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard -
When I think of Gray's poem I am always reminded of innovation.
‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen’ - how many great ideas never see the light of day because we cannot get the funding resources or energy in the system to maximise them? How many ideas projects start with a huge sense of excitement to be either killed by the system or unable to traverse the valley of death?
I have spent the last 20 years working with organisations and business leaders on strategy and how to leverage the resources of their business to a more effective outcome. I have spent the last 10 years adding innovation to the cocktail and trying to understand what makes an organisation transformational and truly innovative.
Innovation - the key to success?
Nowadays, people regard innovation as the key to success and a way of blasting free of the inertia and restraints that bind our businesses to the current models. Since we are in a flattening world that is speeding up at an extraordinary pace, the search for extraordinary ideas is becoming even more pressing. But when does an innovative idea occur? Well as I have said, we spent the last 10 years looking at what works in innovation, change and transformation.
Innovation rarely knocks on your door randomly; innovation is hard work, change is hard work, yet there are ways and means to ensure that your innovation, your change, your business transformation is engineered to deliver a better result, a quicker fix, a more coherent strategy, a business model for the future.
On Apollo 8’s journey back to earth from its inaugural trip, a ground controller’s son asked his dad, “Who’s flying the spacecraft?” When the question was passed up to the homebound crew, astronaut Bill Anders replied, “I think Sir Isaac Newton is doing most of the driving now”. Like that curious lad, I’d like to pose a question: “Who’s managing your company?” You might be tempted to answer the CEO, or the executive team, or me or all of middle management. And you’d be right, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth.
To me, innovation travels across a number of key domains that are interlocked in a battle for success. We look to make things better. These innovations might mean developing a process, or a technology that will improve or refit a need. It might mean building a strategy or model that will create a demand. It might mean developing a culture and a leadership style that will enable and integrate all of the domains to come into existence at a time of optimum impact. We look to make things different. We look to work different. We look to manage differently. We look to sell differently. And we look to structure ourselves differently.
We segment innovation into three key areas. The Behaviour, the Art and the Science of innovation. We know that over 90% of innovation fails. We know that over 80% of change programmes end up in the dustbin of history. We know that over 70% of transformation programmes never even deliver the investment cost, never find the desired results.
I’m not saying that 90% of innovation attempts fail because boardrooms don’t understand that their ‘inventions’ need to make money, of course organisations understand this. The trouble is, they understand this only too well: they try to control the process including the input, the output, the inputters.
Innovation is a necessary ingredient for sustained success—it protects the tangible and intangible assets against the erosion of the market. It is therefore an integral part of the business and as such it has to be managed—it is not a nice to have element or something that is a ‘eureka’ moment in time.
There is no silver bullet on how to crack this, but an integrated adoption of looking at the connection and relationships between varying parts and concentrating your energy and management there.
Here are the Blackswan truths as adopted from Taleb’s Blackswan Magic that will create the change we want to see.
Be a Blackswan in the market
Make sure the past is a point of reference not a place of residency- do not assume you can extend the past into the future. Be future present at all times.
Put the customer at the centre of absolute everything you do and view more demanding customers not as a threat, but as an opportunity to differentiate. Change the customer paradigm — Ubuntu — “I can only see myself through your eyes”.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. Vision with purpose must be tangible meaningful simple and repeatable in less than 10 words.
Hierarchies are doomed and need to be smashed through. Constantly challenge the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant and right ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them. Decisions need to be pushed down to the lowest possible level, and that message needs to be fully understood by all. Those with the knowledge must be in charge of making that decision.
The secret to building the right culture lies in daily “culture pushes” throughout the company. Every day drive those core values home by making them part of everything you do, not by covering cracks on the wall. Culture, particularly newer ones, must have the ability to turn on a dime. Rip off that Band-Aid. Pivoting is scary, but dragging the process out only makes it worse.
Be Disruptive by Nature, choose more disruptive forms of business model innovation and make bolder plays. Remember it is only making, acknowledging mistakes are you stretching yourself. Fail Fast. Build innovation provocateur into your culture. Provocative questions and creative destruction must be nurtured and encouraged.
Never allow people who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) to be given a new bus. You must unlearn to learn and your ego is not your amigo.
Eliminate the working stiffs who are doing two jobs: one they are paid for, and a second, which is silent and corrosive politicking to hide weakness by constantly jamming the company radar to avoid revealing their limitations.
Ensure that the pace of change is not faster outside your business than it is inside your business.
That which is fragile you should break early while it is still small—nothing should ever be allow to become too big or too sacred too fail. Drive relentlessly for independent identification and termination of escalations of commitments to a failing course of actions; the level of investment and resources is not a measure of success. A bad idea is a bad idea.
Act like a speed demon, without being squeamish, accept change as a state of being and see change as a permanent state within the organisation, as the culture.
Operate like a Venture Capitalist by actively managing a portfolio of investments, protecting and supporting the fledging ideas, while weeding out fast the weak ones.
No substitute; do the ordinary in an extraordinary way. We must also have a huge appetite to surpass the ordinary.
Cultivate knowledge and distribute leadership so that each employee is entrusted with higher levels of responsibility, decision rights, accountability and information management.
Develop 'mind share’ by knowledge sharing and leveraging off that knowledge to complement the organisations product innovation with brand marketing initiatives?
If you want to create a change, you must challenge not only the models of unreality, but the paradigms that underwrite them.
Do not let someone making an ‘incentive’ bonus manage a nuclear plant and have no incentives without disincentives.
Counter-balance complexity with simplicity, leaders by leadership, communication by engagement, past by future, status quo by transformation, hierarchy by self optimising systems, customer sacrifice by customer benefit, and activity by value creation.
Embrace the unknown and be ready for the next gold rush, which could occur in an entirely unexpected place? Behave in a paranoid manner and be prepared to face a horde of aspiring competitors and be able to react accordingly?
Finds and eliminate integration barriers as flexible assets allow for much more agility in the marketplace.
Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning.
Think like an outsider and draw breakthrough ideas from other industries. Track market trends and build robust sensors that distinguishes between noise to be ignored and signals to be responded too.
Empowers entrepreneurs: and provide funding and freedom to drive disruptive change, which may threaten competitors’ current models – and even its own.
Experiment creatively in the market, not just the lab by piloting models in the marketplace, virtual worlds obtaining real-time feedback and making iterative adjustments.
Manage today’s business while experimenting with tomorrow’s model: New business models are often at odds with established ones, creating inherent tension within the organisation.
Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Do not bandage structural problems. We need rehab i.e. plan test prototype execute act review adjust and again and again.
Crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; you cannot apply the rules of feudalism to a democracy.
Approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project so that you get the sweats. Keep asking the 4Rs — how can I Reframe — Restructure — Revitalise — Renew.
Let your signature be that you think back from the future with a liquid structure mindset where you improvise, you work together, you play off each other, you make something, they make something and you all do something great.
Gandhi himself told us that we need to be the change we want to see in the world. Leaders and organisations need to embody the change they want to see in their teams.
Finally, remember who you are here to serve. For us it is all about balancing the 3Ps — People, Planet, and Profit.
I have a dream and it starts with leaders who must challenge the status quo. If you are not upsetting someone today you are not stretching things. You must challenge what’s there. The second thing you must do is build a tribe like culture. Great leaders have unbridled inquisitiveness in my new world - about their people, about their world. They connect things and people. You know what people want more than anything: a sense of belonging, a sense of being missed when they are not there. Leaders in my world can make that happen.
We can make a difference. I do have a dream. I dream of organisations that are capable of spontaneous renewal, where the drama of change is unaccompanied by the wrenching trauma of a turnaround. I dream of businesses where an electric current of innovation pulses through every activity, where the renegades always trump the reactionaries. I dream of companies that actually deserve the passion and creativity of the folks who work there, and naturally elicit the very best that people have to give. Of course, these are more than dreams; they are imperatives.
They are ‘do or die’ challenges for any company that hopes to thrive in the tumultuous times ahead—and they can only be surmounted with inspired management innovation.
For more information on what we can offer you, contact us at Blackswan on +44 (0)845 603 2815 or email email@example.com
Celebrating women in business this International Women’s Day