The Make-up of Innovation: core capabilities

The Make-up of Innovation: core capabilitiesThere is a continuing need is to build the management of innovation into a clear organizational capability, where innovation becomes a continuous effective innovation process. If you don’t agree with this, then I’d suggest you don’t bother to read on!

The struggle we all face today is that innovation remains hard to manage well; we strive to systematize it and then attempt to replicate any success we then have achieved. Often this does not work as the variables that make up innovation can be different for each innovation event or activity.

We need to stop and think differently; not simply layering on more and more complexity, in the mistaken belief it will offer us sustainability in our innovation activities.

The make-up of innovation

I think we all recognize that innovation is made up of both tangible and intangible assets. It is the marriage of these two that makes innovation a unique capability to manage in well-structured ways. It is the people engaged in innovation activity that make it work.  Everything else, the process, structures, technologies and management systems are just the contributing enablers.

The important point though is successful innovation has core elements and processes regardless of industry, form, or type of innovation, we are all pursuing.  Much of the difference though is in its varying degree’s based on these core elements.

Our search must be to find those core elements that make up the dynamic capabilities within our innovation activities to leverage and strengthen them. We need to build an organizations ability to innovation continuously, making it a sustaining competence. Easy stated, hard to achieve.

We, as organizations, strive to achieve distinct competitive advantage, and innovation is one of those real contribution points this can do this. The need is to make the innovation capabilities and capacities a distinctive, not easy to copy, unique set. These are shaped by the context and content of innovation, the organizations position and its choice of evolutionary paths it has decided to take or needs to take to achieve its strategic goals through innovation.

This understanding is an area of serious under-development at present, when you compare this with the continued focus on investing in physical assets or the consistent building of many other skills required within organizations. Yet innovation, the source of fresh growth remains significantly under-invested in, within the majority of organizations. This needs changing. Let me put forward my suggestions on why:

Shifting away from the accepted norm

Innovation understanding and building strength in competencies and capabilities takes an organization beyond the accepted norm of managing efficiency, just quality, being responsive and reacting with speed, all challenging within themselves. Innovation represents today’s competitive advantage statement that should be supported by these other requirements, they become subservient to allow new concepts to meet market needs and exceed customer expectancies.

Within any transition we must avoid dysfunctional consequences and think through why the existing systems and structures do have to ‘fold into’ new innovation based ones. We need to plan how to do this. Innovation cannot be buried in the established ways of doing things, it needs to lead and drive the engine for new growth and wealth creation. It can’t continue to take a back seat, it needs to take over the wheel.

Organizations need to shift from the one often still found today, of a higher focus on stability, efficiency and effectiveness, looking simply to maximize the short-term for profitability. This locks then into their current preoccupation with performing routines and formalised structures, as they strive to cut risk and manage the fear of the unknown.

The world is dealing with increasing complexity

The challenge though in today’s world is so different. It is so volatile, potentially disruptive and full of risk. Organizations are simply struggling to shed their clothes of the 20th century and find a way to smoothly manage into becoming more adaptable and agile in form. They are adjusting to offer consistent responses to instability in the most effective ways, to keep adapting to the consistent market challenges and in so doing profiting from meeting that latest challenge or disruptive opportunity.  The problem is you simply can’t manage this smoothly, it will be highly disruptive as the organization re-equips itself and learns, often in the hardest way possible, through failure.

Innovation in itself is also a force of instability and we need to find ways to embrace much of its uncertainties by understanding its dynamics. We need to have a major shift in our organizational thinking, needed to find the appropriate new balance within those dual ‘tensions’ of ‘stability’ through efficiency, with its opposite, ‘change’ driven by innovation. It is these dynamic forces within the world we work that require us to respond by building that capacity for managing those ‘dynamic’ innovation capabilities, that today’s markets are requiring and organizations need to master.

The emphasis needs to point more to building dynamic innovation capabilities

Dynamic capabilities emphasise management capabilities and the inimitable (unique) combinations of resources that are constantly at work across all functions to make them distinctive and valuable.

Distinguishing innovation capabilities that are relevant are based on the type of knowledge they contain. Functional capabilities allow development of technical, practical knowledge. Integrative capabilities allow firms to absorb knowledge from external sources and this is where absorptive capacity and its structure comes into our required thinking.

Innovation requires us to constantly learn, develop, mould and manage from multiple situations and challenges. This requires the integration of critical capabilities to successfully stimulate innovation for effective and improving performance.

Many of the identified resources in capabilities have some level of complementary, improving one triggers improvement in another. Equally ignoring one can impact negatively on others. So each component, on their own, have limited effect, it is the combination effect that generates the improving performance. Equally, the needs do change over time and you have to constantly ‘refresh, challenge and stimulate’ these, otherwise you can have core rigidly set in.

Integrating back or making anew

The need for all of us is recognize and embrace the need to build an organization-wide innovation capability,that should pervade all aspects of the organizations existence, forming its new core innovation value. It needs to be dynamic, refreshed constantly, not simple left to plod along. Innovation challenges change, skills must also change. Innovation capabilities need constant attention to build. Are you making the necessary investment in time, understanding and commitment? You should.

image credit: digitalphotography.com

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Paul HobcraftPaul 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.

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