So often our innovation health seems to change abruptly or equally just simply slip away. It could be caused by many things: a call for reorganization or restructuring or a key part of the team decides to leave. It might be the organization has a second quarterly drop in sales and profits or those layoff simply keep cutting away until you are into the bone. Suddenly the ‘beating heart’ of innovation seems to slow and sometimes even stops completely. Innovation abruptly goes into intensive care.
We so often miss the ‘vital signs’ of healthy innovation as we get caught up in the issues of the day, in defending our corner or simply playing safe, hoping the ‘ill winds’ that constantly blow over us go away. In the meantime we often we fail to recognize what has ebbed away in creative energy or innovation initiatives until we are heading for the emergency ward, fighting for our competitive lives as others who we had been competitively jogging along with have stayed fit and healthy and simply ‘kept on innovating’ and pulled away. Where did our fitness actually go?
So how do we check our innovation vital signs?
I think there are many ways we can make constant checks and often when I’m visiting organizations you can begin to sense these vital signs and pick up on many warning signs from the conversations, from that ‘buzz’ that does or does not seem to be circulating around the building, or the way the people simply talk to you about innovation. They often don’t speak of innovation with pride but in whispers carefully checking that no one important is in hearing distance, often with implied innuendo of the things not right, more than the many good things that are actually healthy and good. Many times I find it is simply what is not said that speaks volumes about the health of innovation within organizations.
So what do I use for part of my pulse check on my visits?
If you don’t hear about the plans around the business growth with a real sense of personal conviction and enthusiasm you need to become more alert. It is how people convey their personal convictions about their innovation values, how they balance realism of their role with all the multiple pressures simply gives you clues of a health warning or not. Do they transmit energy or not? What likely ‘impact’ do they see these might have on their innovation future? This engagement or not does give you an opening warning signal to examine this further within your conversations and explore what are the vital signs that feed into this present attitude. You are beginning your diagnosis through this ‘initial’ pulse.
Checking for different vital signs of a healthy innovation organization
- So often in conversations within organizations you never seem to get that unbridled, confident feeling that they are fostering imaginative business models, let alone knowing there are different ones they could pursue. They really struggle to articulate the innovation story and that is not healthy. A healthy mind is an enquiring mind.
- You also sometimes don’t get any real feeling of experimentation going on, as actively being pursued within the organization. You need to check how this essential element is encouraged or ignored, learned or overlooked, testing constantly is the equivalent of having a series of warm up ‘runs’ before being ready for the big one. Also it is worth asking about the ways they seemingly manage risk and look to extract value? Is it left to a chosen few or supported and encouraged for all to learn. Often you simply get that shrug of the shoulders when you ask or its left hanging in the air as something we need to do but as yet have not got around to it. We are comfortable the way we are.
- You can hear of how “we are achieving X, Y & Z” but with some probing you gather a fair amount of the success would not be coming about without the explicit help of the partners that are contributing to make this happen. Innovation needs partners, it is not a solitary pursuit, it needs to be open to collaboration and alliances, and it needs to flourish with a host of different inputs that provide diversity, provide fresh insights, different skills and rich new experiences. How often do you hear these collaborative stories with any pride or grateful acceptance? Checking how open an organization is tells you much now days.
- The ‘mantra’ of disciplined innovation is heard often nowadays and how it can contribute to competitive outcomes but what is often not stated for innovation is what makes up that organizations sustainable process. Demonstrated outcomes and results are usually simply delegated to C-Level presentations in their quarterly reviews for shareholders? We should be checking the vital signs for what is sustaining the innovation process and that should be a source of ongoing pride known and spoken about by all each time they have the opportunity to talk about innovation. I’m looking to understand the ongoing fitness program regime not the quarterly result.
- When you often join the organization you hear about all the positive energy, the commitments to you and the value of ‘its’ people and their contribution. When do you hear about the way innovation motivates people- the positives, what excites them and motivations them in the way it can engage? If innovation is the lifeblood of an organization I want to hear more on this to understand its real ‘life giving’ flow to everyday activity.
- I always seem to come back in any conversations to ‘context’. If I don’t understand this I simply can’t really give any decent opinion, let alone a qualified one that is often expected without much insight. It still surprises me on how often context is simply forgotten or ignored and there is a real danger in that. It is piecing this part of the jigsaw together that gives us a thorough understanding and appreciation of the factors that were in play to get to a given point. If we don’t know these then we are often wasting our energies on the wrong part of any future innovation fitness and where to channel our efforts. Context gives me the ability to add additional content.
- Lastly, it is through the leadership we get the best sense of the beating ‘pulse’ of innovation in an organization. The leaders don’t have to be physically in the room but if you don’t hear the vision, the stretch in the goals set by them, the guide lines of how this is going to happen how do you know what to do to become fit? Leaders are coaches, they should inspire, encourage, cajole, be ready to support and ask you to try and achieve. They should assist the organization in all ways possible. It is through this innovation regime you raise the pulse and push your performance. A good coach is deeply committed to improving your fitness and raising your game by equipping you with all that is necessary so you have the best chance to achieve any vision or goals.
The innovation pulse can often lead to a need for a deeper fitness examination
Whichever way you read the ‘pulse’ of innovation, the above suggestions can begin to lead you into a better understanding of the health of innovation within organizations. Exploring expectations, checking these against realities and by gaining that ‘feel’ for the environment does gives you more of the readiness, state, purpose and critical aspects that need working upon to raise the innovation fitness and avoid the risk of having a period of stay in the intensive care.
If we don’t train daily for innovation fitness and understand the value of all the enablers around us, we can miss a number of vital signs and then miss the real healthy beat of innovation success. Have you taken your innovation pulse lately? Perhaps you need to see your doctor and have an assessment.
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.