Often organizations are weighed down by legacy. This comes in many forms; in its culture, in its history, its core markets or products, in its systems, structures and processes built around innovation practice.
Today, we are confronted with a very different global market place than in the last century. Many organizations are increasingly trapped in declining markets, starved of the new capabilities and capacities to grow a business beyond ‘traditional’ borders. This often means organizations are unable to take up the new challenges that are confronting them. They see themselves as reliant on hanging on to the existing situation as long as they can, often powerless to make the necessary shifts, failing to open up, finding it increasingly more than difficult to find the ways of letting go, of changing. They are trapped in legacy.
Legacy can choke an organization in so many ways to limit expansion.
How can we break out of this and rethink? When we begin to investigate legacy to cut lose and design differently, it begins to infringe, it challenges, it simply attacks what has taken often years to build and those most involved become defensive and fit to hang onto what has been established, as it feels familiar. It feels like ‘their’ legacy is being destroyed and what they have fought hard to gain know needs protecting.
Most organizations never feel fully capable to address legacy, they even will deliberately design duplication into their operating model, they will recognize they are far from optimal and more often than not, live with the consequences. In today’s world this is a real mistake.
Any journey starts with ‘letting go’
Control gives comfort; we constantly design this into the system. The larger we are, the greater the controls built into the system it seems but somehow, controlling for control sake, does need replacing; we need to let go of more than we realize to reduce the constraints placed on our business. We need to replace ‘command and control’ built up over numerous years with something different.
We need to begin to ask a range of strategic questions that question our legacy, so we can be released innovation, to move our knowledge forward. Our innovation activity is caught up in this legacy trap.
So what do these strategic questions cover relating to innovation and legacy?
Taking as an example of an existing organization, caught increasingly in declining or stagnating markets, they are forced to address many important issues in designing into the organization, new, more diverse capabilities, yet that have significant ‘legacy’ issues running through them, let’s take a look at some of the most important ones to address.
- Legacy issues must be a significant ‘part and parcel’ of what needs to go, separated out from what needs to be kept and modified, or simply kept in place as it is strategically essential to the well-being and functioning of the organization. Managing legacy out of the innovation system can be highly liberating.
- Where do you hold your core knowledge? – Is this centrally, perhaps in a home market or do you reflect on how you are going to disperse this across a more decentralized organizations. What has on-going value, what does not and what can be dispensed with?
- What does it take to diversify your knowledge? Pushing knowledge to new centres needs carefully re-designing. You do not want to end up having even more islands or silos of knowledge; you need to think through carefully a more integrated (global) model. You need to take out what is irrelevant.
- Taking any decision to ‘attract’ and ‘disperse’ knowledge you must set about building the competencies, confidences, trust and network to bring this together. This ‘gelling’ needs lots of communicating, collaborating, and consistent feedback mechanisms that are well-built into any new system. Don’t try and adapt old structures methodology; get rid of as much of the legacy within it as you can.
- Redesigning a new culture becomes essential. It needs to be an adapting one, one that places demands on all within the networked system; it needs an overarching set of innovation culture and environmental principles. It needs clear governance structures and well thought-through innovation processes and systems that allow innovation knowledge to flow where it simply needs to go, to open up, in structures that can ‘encourage and compliment’
- Any ‘system’ has constraints. As you rid yourself of one thing, often others quickly fill the space. It is how you manage constraints will determine your ability to make transformational change. The devil they say always lies in the details, and as you configure and design a new integrated model you have to constantly examine these trades-offs. Taking a whole lot of old practices out of the system is essential as they have no value or place in any new dispersed network. It simply works differently.
- When you are integrating in new ways requires certain like-mindedness of the people within the dispersed network. Building new teams that are spread out is hard, dedicated work. The recruiting, retaining and reallocating can make or break any new initiative in how they work together. Working within dispersed teams is demanding, tough as it may seem, root out the blockers, dispense with those not prepared to work in teams.
- Costs accrue for a fair time in any starting up and transferring of knowledge, before the benefits really ‘kick-in’ and accrue in greater innovation capability. The working through the design of a new integrated but dispersed structure, in its logic and its make-up of the parts that will contribute into building increased innovation capacity and capability all need to ‘add up’ to larger than within the existing design. Don’t delay this potential by weighing it down with inadequate commitments and lukewarm understanding.
Balancing legacy and new designs
To make such a commitment, to make these sort of moves, more to a dispersed integrated innovation network, requires huge commitment, in its sustaining and management of a growing complexity. But it is often absolutely essential to make these commitments in rapidly changing circumstances and global challenges to seek out innovations potential that lies across the globe.
The more you are networked and closer to emerging opportunity, the greater chance to translate this (quickly) into new innovation value to meet different and common market needs. Don’t let legacy be the reason to hold you back, seek it out and get rid of it.
image credit: zeitgeistmanager.com
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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.