The Pressures Placed on the Innovator

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Paul Hobcraft, Innovation Advisor, Agility Innovation Specialists

There are multiple “stretching and straining points” that make the life of the innovator increasingly uncomfortable. These build into increasing frictions where the eventual performance of innovation seemingly disappoints the leadership of organizations. So why is that?

It is only when we can truly understand the constraints innovation works under, can we provide more robust solutions to reduced all these frictions and pain points that innovators are struggling with. There are many.

We often can’t seem to break down the rigidity within the organization’s system, to allow innovation to speed up, connect and deliver on its promise. Organizations continue to struggle with obtaining that higher level of agility and flexibility required for innovation speed of response and delivery.

The culture within organizations still is rather more closed-up into the silo mindset and not encouraged to be more open, engaging across functions in collaborating ways. We attempt co-creation to test ideas and try to deploy these but they come against institutional resistance to change. We continue to rely on emotional and gut decision-making and still have not fully embraced the data-driven cultures to make more informed decisions. All these constraints create that pressure to perform. So much around innovation is not optimal.

I was going back recently to the “Theory of Constraints” and seeing how we can apply this to the innovation problems we all seem to suffer from today in our organization’s innovation approaches. Do we really evaluate all those most important limiting factors that stand in the way of innovation? I do not think so but we really should.

These constraints are the ones that stop the innovator from achieving his or her ideal goals or even find solutions that re-equip them. There always seems no time to provide a systematic approach to improving the constraints identified, so they become no longer the limiting factor and can unleash innovation to travel down the value creation pathway. This surely must change?

It seems to me no one working in the innovation system has the time to relate to the constraints and have enough understanding of how to resolve them in a comprehensive understanding of the interconnecting parts of innovation and its management.

Innovation is being held back by many not understanding and resolving the constraints it is under. Now that is easy to say, hard to change systematically but until we understand the innovation process we stay locked into disappointing innovation outcomes. There is a time for a change, so why not now?

I am staggered at the lack of reflective time innovators have, they often simply grab those ‘on the go’ solutions, pleading little time for reflecting, they become utterly reliant on outside advisors, they move from one internal issue or problem to another without any real learning understanding to build this into a better innovation system.

Innovators simply do not have the time or may I say, the complete understanding of how it all should work. They keep praying they can keep balancing out all of the projects within the innovation portfolio that leaders are expecting but equally constantly constraining. Leaders constrain by not giving enough resource, not providing enough attention to the innovation development journey themselves in support or engagement, as well as back away increasingly on the tough decisions and risk-taking expected as part of their job to determine. Innovators have to absorb much to make up the slack just to keep the current innovation engine running.

A new way of looking at solutions to the real innovator’s dilemma – a lack of alignment and disconnects, move to the future

In a piece of research undertaken by Capgemini, “The digital culture challenge ” in one part they looked specifically at the gaps between employee- leadership understanding over key innovation needs. Although these gaps were specific to the new digital culture challenges, some interesting view came out that need an urgent alignment. They point out the huge internal gaps or divides between leaderships understanding of how innovation functions and the employee’s, whenever initiatives are enacted, usually in piecemeal fashion, the research indicates these real differences.

This lack of collective understanding deals the innovator with a really bad hand. It is these “perceived” gaps that lie the urgent need for the innovator to bridge. They need to give these a far higher level of attention, otherwise, they fail to gain the common understanding. We need to align these gaps quickly to allow innovation to support future needs.

Why I chose the digital perspective to connect and highlight the pressure on the innovator?

I chose this digital culture perspective here as digital is the “big elephant in the innovator’s room” that is increasingly adding further complexity to the innovator’s dilemma of reducing the pressure to deliver. Digital is further eating into our innovating time and as we know (or should do) time enhances or stifles (good) innovation. It is the pressure of time that forces compromise, losses of valuable resources or funding, or keeps the project going as the pressure-cooker of expectations builds the closer we get to final innovation outcomes. We need to break out of existing constraints and build innovation differently. Digital is key to this.

Today the innovator is attempting to absorb all the pressures they can handle but something has to give right?

The innovator is often highly focused, creative and energized- thankfully. They increasingly would love more novelty and risk taking to be part of their activities but feel these constraints bearing down on them to steer innovation in predictable ways. Sometimes these constraints are self-imposed in the deadlines and commitments they are forced to make, in organizations need; in expectations in growth, staying competitive or being responsive to all the constant changes occurring in the market. In equal circumstances, there are much ‘super-imposed’ on them to perform with the minimum, pushed to the maximum.

I am often surprised at the deep commitment of individuals and their own endurance levels in tough situations. They seem to be in a constant “stretch and strain situation” and have no time to really stop and be reflective and capable of making the changes they need, to fully resolve these major constraints that are limited their performance. Often it is just multiple sticking plasters or hired external consulting help to bridge the shortcomings.

Innovators inside organizations increasingly rely on outside help and where does that leave the internal bench strength needed for the internal sustaining need of innovation into the future? No where, it all leaves when the consultant leaves. No, the pressure does build on the innovator who often pushes that down on to the outsiders shoulders with “well I’m paying, you perform as agreed”. We need new innovation approaches internally resourced, not externally ‘boot strapped’.

Where can we break into their constraints to lift the pressures? Food for thought.

Let me return to Cap Gemini’s report for Digital Transformation. I think it does a good focal point job for the innovator to work through. It offers a future pathway out of his existing constraints. If he/she can get the recognition and adoption of these seven dimensions (identified for a digital culture- see below) then perhaps they might have a fighting chance to systematically improve the limiting factors (of major constraints) standing in their way to drive innovation. By knowing the overarching goals that align, integrate and determine what will drive the future business, then the innovation solutions orientate towards the customer-facing needs to deliver through. The pathway becomes a transformational cultural one.

The innovator has the potential to provide the external facing solutions that relate and deliver on the organizational pathway, built around these cultural needs. Leadership will recognize the essential link of digital need and innovation solution and progressively gaps get addressed to deliver on this more customer-driven mindset. The innovation process becomes core to delivering on these needs. Through this, it attracts resource, attention, and engagement.

This alignment to a more digital driven customer mindset allows the innovator to take the brakes off and deliver innovation to supporting the needs of these seven internal dimensions through providing external-facing solutions. A future orientating one, having digital driving solutions where innovation becomes central to deliver upon. It just might liberate innovation and it might give innovators the attention, resource and board understanding of its critical part to play in the future design and outward facing solution set into the market. Aligning innovation solutions to these dimensions becomes a sort of measuring against a litmus test.

In Summary

There are increasing pressures on the innovator to perform, yet they are under increasing constraints. They feel stretched and strained in the expectations but hampered by the lack of a comprehensive understanding of what is constraining innovation.

I have just offered here some ways to break into the important limiting factors holding innovation back, they are future facing, supporting the digital transformation pathway in providing customer-facing solutions that add value and engagement. It is transforming the innovation of today into the future horizon vision required by the organization. Innovation solutions need to orient towards this. A three horizon transformation that allow a ‘growing future consciousness’ and a way out of the present set of constraints.

It is my outside-in perspective and far from comprehensive but our goals must be to find ways to reduce these constraints and reflect on ways to set about systematically improve the innovator’s environment and conditions they, the innovators, operate under.

I felt in reading this report by Capgemini it offered a way to break out of the constraints and helped give me a new innovation pathway out of the present position, that is often found in most innovating groups. It might offer a way of breaking the chains of constraints within their innovation world. Innovation focuses on transformation, not the incremental.

Do you see the links I have tried to make here to break out of our existing innovation constraints?