Are we reflecting enough on the choice of the drivers of innovation?
by Paul Hobcraft
There are many different places to go and ‘look’ for innovation but often we need to think through a little more of what is driving the changes before we ‘run off’ into finding solutions that are simply immediate to grow our organizations. Sometimes they are, of course in ‘plain sight’, but when you alter your thinking lens you might see innovation opportunities in different ways.
We might miss sizable opportunities in not exploring all the different drivers that are around to drive innovation and provide us opportunities. So why not take the time to ‘reflect’ a little bit more on all the different potential drivers of innovation available to you?
So what can and does drive innovation?
I’ve been recently looking at the different drivers that can be explored for innovation. They seem to be many and it can be confusing. I feel there are eight that merit thinking through in a more structured way. Working through these can significantly improve the agility and options of the organization to generate new opportunities and give you a ‘rich’ potential to explore.
My identified eight drivers of innovation
Innovation can be unique, it is complex, it needs careful design and facilitation to extract the most from the rich choices we have on offer to us. Working through these eight can open up our thinking.
- Intelligence drivers – so much today is swirling around, often unsettling and changing. We don’t have long periods of stability anymore and to offset this we need to revert to often artificial intelligence to ‘read, sense and be more interpretative’ of these constant shifting patterns. We need ways to make sense of often disparate flows that piece together in different ways, difficult to initially see, so as to provide insights that can open up our thinking to new innovation. Cognition refers to a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences that allows for development into concepts; individual minds, groups, and organizations need to pick up and explore this driver far more for innovation.
- Technology drivers – The world of external collaboration, leveraging our personal and group networks and the different ways to interacting, are challenging organizations significantly. We all need to open up in areas where internal intellectual property, heavily guarded in the past, is being exposed to a different scrutiny. Technology needs revisiting to accommodate a new diversity of opinion that extracts value in new more open ways. Also the management of physical and virtual relationships is also needing dramatic change in our behaviors and trust. We need fresh frameworks and designing these into our technology solutions for allowing open thinking. Much of this will come from the management of technology and the new understanding of the needs to capture, translate and extract in new ways. Getting the technology balance right and you open up to innovation in such an unparalleled way than in the past. Technology understanding will influence innovation and drive it in some dramatic ways in the future.
- People drivers – “Our people make innovation work, they drive it”. This is heard increasingly yet our actions run contrary to this so many times. We need to look at what drives people to rise to new heights and performances within themselves? It is getting the mix right- in creativity, in talent, through diversity of opinion, exploring dialogues and having a constant focus on building relationships; it is providing them something in return for ‘driving’ innovation. Keeping people and not shedding them when it suites immediate needs and your bottom line must become a thing of the past, simply as less people are entering the work force with the more experienced ones leaving more than ever for multiple reasons. This means we must treat people as an increasing valuable asset that needs to be prized very highly not in ways that fitted 20th century practices when supply was plentiful. Keeping experience within organizations is a growing challenge. We also need to value our middle managers more, give them empowerment not more restrictions. You lose someone or sometimes many simply at one go, and you lose their relationships, their sets of experiences that cannot be easily replaced. You through away an incredible investment. Can we afford to keep managing in this way? No, I don’t think so, people are driving innovation more and more and if organizations don’t stop these current practices of reducing headcount to meet short term numbers, they will lose one of the richest drivers of innovation, their people, and nothing else can make up for this loss in managing innovation.
- Customer drivers – Marketing needs to do a significant ‘reset’ as customers shift from price, lower volume demand and seek increased value and personal engagement. Getting into the mind of your customer, understanding their unmet needs and then interpret these into new innovation solutions is tougher than ever. As organizations expand globally there is going to be a need for far more reverse engineering innovation to match need with product or service in these times of diminishing income. Customers are driving innovation more than ever and organizations are presently struggling to catch up and master the new dynamics of the customer and the economics of the markets. Innovation for and with less is very relevant today. Same as knowing customers real needs.
- Rational drivers – Innovation needs greater process and rational innovation thinking. This will come from a greater focus on innovations strategic architecture, the management of the systems to ‘drive’ innovation through to commercialization, the innovation process designed on shrinking the time line, increased productivity and interventions so to enable successful movement towards this commercialization. We need to advance execution and results from this activity and that needs us to approach innovation in a more rational way to get consistent results.
- Social drivers – How we are engaging in the world around us are one of the challenges we need to resolve. Interactions that can transmit genuine desire for the good, which are seen as enduring and meaningful to the lives of people, are going to be valued. Thinking these through, then implementing these in careful, thoughtful ways is going to be critical to growing innovation in social responsible ways that are meaningful for the communities and on a personal level will provide a completely new avenue to innovation activity.
- Emotional drivers – We need to gain permission to enter people’s lives. We need to learn, to create, to explore people’s dreams, desires and hopes. Exploring the eight fundamental human emotional drivers of (1) connection and sense of self, (2) maintain security over our lives, (3) wanting more diversity, seeking variety, (4) achieving recognition and significance to grow beyond the present, (5) having a sense of achievement and progress, (6) opportunities for challenges and personal growth, (7) achieving self-satisfaction and pride in what we do and finally (8) the wish to contribute and be responsible. Mastering this set of emotional drivers through different innovation activity can be very powerful.
- Environment drivers – the culture and climates provided that we operate within can allow or deny innovation. There is a growing need to increase co-operation between the diverse aspects of innovation activity and other organizations on third party platforms so as to involve as diverse a group as possible. We need to consider the organizations complete value chain and its diverse networks across the whole organization, than in the present silo form of present open innovation thinking (just R&D departments for instance). There is a difficult choice to make between quick results, always needed, and longer term structures to ensure sustaining innovation on a broader platform. Innovation is increasingly driving sustainable society in new products, processes and organization designs. Environment has to date seldom been an explicit targeted comprehensive process for many in innovation activity. It has been experimental. Increased attention to understanding the broader environment we operate within, how finite and sometimes fragile it is, will play a greater role for innovation development. The effectiveness in addressing environment problems will drive innovation significantly in the years ahead.
Within each of these eight drivers for innovation activity is a bountiful harvest of innovation opportunities to explore. Understanding what can drive innovation opens up significant possibilities.
The central meaning of innovation relates to a quest for renewal. For this renewal to take place it is necessary for people to change the way they make decisions, to see things, they must choose to do things differently, make choices outside of their norm. Schumpeter stated that innovation changes the values onto which the system is based. So when people change their value (system) they ‘drive’ the old (economic) system to make room for the new one. When that happens innovation has occurred. Understanding the options within the drivers of innovation is important. Knowing the options of what can drive innovation can help you choose multiple paths to explore and then grow from.
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.