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Putting Some Dynamic Tension Back into the Innovation System

Paul Hobcraft , Agility Innovation Specialists
17 Oct, 2017
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Paul Hobcraft, Innovation Advisor, Agility Innovation Specialists

I have been having some writers block recently and I was not sure how to unlock some random thoughts I was having in the past weeks, then in a great conversation I had today, with a fellow innovation colleague, it started to “reveal itself” in where I needed to go to give a new sense of repurpose.

A collaboration is being mooted between us but until there is a point of common understanding much stays under partial wraps until we both get to a more comfortable point, where we feel it can go for us but it certainly triggered this post as a starter.

The thinking hinges around the state of innovation today, how it is fragmenting in a myraid of parts, all seemingly contributing; yet it seems learning has been replaced by personalized experience and the chase for individual knowledge. Mostly this does not get embedded back in the company, the ones who are paying for this exposure.

I was wondering if there was a decent ‘return on investment’ being made by the company or was it just being front-loaded on the individual, so they gain and then can take that understanding elsewhere, or simply set up their own shop of ‘innovation expertise’. The ROI and the Return on Learning seemed to be mostly heading out of the door, leaving the organization that made the investment, devoid of a return.

My feeling is this should change and we firstly establish a “System of Record” for innovation that brings the individual learning into a collective one, a “system of collective engagement” that enables all within the system to gain from and design innovation solutions, from a more ‘whole’ system thinking perspective, that gives innovation sustaining power connecting the individual to the organizations needs.

To get to any change point and simply not go with the flows or is it stocks (?) of lots more practicing and advising on specific innovation concepts, we needed some greater system thinking to be applied here. If we don’t look at the ‘whole,’ all we might be doing by adding more and more innovation experiences is simply layering on limited perspectives and simply sending it even more into a fragmented market of innovation consulting, one of “atoms and bits” that never combine into delivering innovation differently.

I recall a piece by Rick Karlgaard of Forbes entitled “Atoms versus Bits: where to find Innovation as we increasingly need to find answers on not whether you mean innovation in the world of atoms (physical things) or innovation in the world of bits (software). We need to combine them.

In the article he was suggesting ‘Atoms’ are slowing as the pace of improvement has become more incremental but the ‘Bits’ are accelerating like crazy. We have been locked in a world of not transitioning, we are working out how the “bits” are changing the way we are using our “atoms” or things (transport, reading, listening to music) but trying to apply old practices and systems to work this through.

It is from my perspective we have not redesigned innovation away from these ‘physical atoms’ into the ‘speed of bits’ or found better, more sustaining ways, in our the ability to combine them into the world of the really new and really different. Some have achieved the combination effect but many are not, simply stuck in a ‘given’ world. I just think we need to think differently about the whole innovation system to release a new dynamism for innovating.

Innovation really does require system thinking

My potential collaborator is steeped in systems thinking and change learning and this is where any rethinking can take place, to pull back from (my view) this rapidly fragmenting market in innovation advice still caught in product outcomes and repurpose it back us back into a whole picture understanding and the corporate need to bring out both the atoms and bits that make up innovation and combine all the parts of learning.

So to begin with, I have begun my searching back into my collection of files on system thinking, complex adaptive thinking, the changing way we are all learning, the incredible value of technology in collecting data and then translating it, etc., etc.

I remembered one post I wrote some while back, to remind me on recognizing there are many parts to any journey that requires a fresh change of perspective.

There is a growing need for having some dynamic tension within the innovation system; this helps generate the better conditions for innovation to thrive. We are learning more on the better tools, techniques, and approaches available but here are some general thoughts to put some opening stakes in the ground for my (our) future thinking around.

1). A common language is essential

Any dynamics in the system needs that ability to talk the same language, something that becomes common and embedded to support the routines and move quickly to the concepts and solutions, as others can ‘understand’ them as well. It is through working on the inner stories and appreciating the history, it is having an appreciation of events, good and bad, it is through local slogans, your jargon, and dialogues that bring people together. The power of storytelling helps gain adoption and identification to those needs for working on a common cause.

2). Creating constant opportunities for conversations

So many organizations don’t work on the ongoing conversations, design workshops, road shows and dialogue sessions that give everyone linkage and growing identification. You begin to identify your sense of purpose and value contribution if there is a consistent diffusion of messages; these should be always lead from the top or moved up and down the organization to allow for these ongoing conversations.

3). Using the knowledge that resides

Organizations like to believe they are building domains of expertise but often they are actually building the silo’s to restrict the flow of knowledge. Knowing where the right functional expertise lies, the relevant skills, experiences or relevant insights ‘reside’ is increasingly important to throw open to all, to tap into, extract and contribute. This expertise can help with our daily routines by offering different thoughts, ideas, and practices that may have a real impact on how you can change.

4). Wrapping up intelligence to give it real value and knowledge understanding

The bundling of intelligence is becoming critical. It needs to be increasingly shared across the organization at real-time speed. As we look increasingly outside our organizations, our focal markets sensing and seizing the information and being able to connect it, to bundle it into knowledge that has potential application or relevance allows for absorptive capacities to really come to life. Those are able to learn to bring into the organization by accessing, anchoring and diffusing that external capacity for creating and exploiting new value.

5). Capturing and extracting tacit knowledge

Our ability to capture and access the tacit knowledge that resides in all our employees is a critical issue to achieve new dynamic tension. How do we harness tacit knowledge, capture it, even recognize its value we need to encourage a continuous learning environment, we need to have clear organization learning strategies. Tacit knowledge helps us tackle the unknowns associated with discovery. The more we share, put effort into collaborative ventures the more we learn. The more we engage with external experts the more we should gain from these exchanges. Context becomes vital, as does striving for that common language and association.

6). Allowing time to explore and improve our human capital

Tacit knowledge as it becomes embedded in shared values, assumptions and beliefs you can qualify and map tacit knowledge. Our tacit knowledge increases the human capital. It can, through creative acts give strong feeling and give a real sense of commitment. The more we explore, the more we ‘ignite our passions’ but you need to consciously find the time to explore by clearing the path to allow the absorbing to take place and then extract the knowledge through putting any challenge into context, allowing time to access, anchor and diffuse.

7). The ability to harness our dynamics is vital

The ability to make our environments more dynamic, more engaging, more challenging, more a place to learn and contribute allows greater movement and potential for innovation and growth. A growth that is for the organization and its people, to provide all the different intellectual capitals to combine, be those human (knowledge, skills and experiences), relationship (social and through our networks) or through the structural ones you put into place (where you pool knowledge, use routines, and systems).

Good use of our intellectual capitals and knowing what these are does allow for a greater unlocking of innovation value. The more we ‘work and encourage’ our learning capitals, combining the power that lies in the dynamic linkages we can forge, in acquisition, in assimilation and then into eventual transformation then this allows known knowledge to become new wealth-generating innovation.

8). Knowing your innovation ‘stock’ and ‘capital’ potential

We need to know our ‘innovation stock’, a large part of our wealth generating capital and where it can be best put to use. We are valuing the knowledge perspective far more and with this, we are increasingly recognizing the importance of the intellectual capital that makes up the organization.

We need to ‘master’ our understanding of the skills, processes, routines, organizational structure, and disciplines that enable firms to build, employ and orchestrate innovation as this is increasingly needed for participating in more complex open collaboration efforts. To achieve this, we first need to know ourselves and our capacity to innovate, both the strengths and weaknesses.

9). The ability to map the landscape for making increased inquiry

This landscaping for me is one of the exciting outputs we can get from gathering data, from understanding all the sources of activity, of harnessing our learning experiences and then translating those into a form of inquiry to then build from.

Outcome delivery: Coherence in purpose & consistency is what we all desire that organizations are presently lacking in innovation

It is accepted wisdom in today’s environment, enterprises cannot design and impose from the top down, it stifles far too much and limits creativity. Strategies do not only emerge from the whole but from the sum of all the parts and it is the diversity of the parts gives the ‘richness’ to innovation. It is the ‘combination effect’.

It is the embedding of these that build the eventual innovation design of a ‘whole’ innovation system

It is drawing together all the ‘bits and pieces’ into the whole. It is ensuring all the ‘collective experiences’ are captured and put to work, not just for the individual exposed and learning from all the great innovative thinking going on ‘out there in organization that the individuals are working for, so we need to ensure their personalised learning is put to ‘collective productive use’ for giving real returns on investment and learning and it is this constant input puts the dynamic back into innovation for the organization they work for.

It is drawing together all the ‘bits and pieces’ into the whole. It is ensuring all the ‘collective experiences’ are captured and put to work, not just for the individual exposed and learning from all the great innovative thinking going on ‘out there in organization that the individuals are working for, so we need to ensure their personalised learning is put to ‘collective productive use’ for giving real returns on investment and learning and it is this constant input puts the dynamic back into innovation for the organization they work for.

Within an organization we seek to have coherence in purpose and through this a consistency in behaviour. Innovation needs that collective behaviour as well, it needs to be dynamic, constantly evolving, explring and experiementing and we must design it into our innovation experiences, so we can achieve a more collective tension that continues to improve the total design of the system, not just its parts.

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