Innovation is fashionable and easy to promote, but hard to deliver
In the digital age, innovation is essential to meet customer and employee expectations. And to avoiding disruption by competitors.
Enduring mission success depends upon finding a way to innovate. Deverell Innovation Ventures was founded to help organisations achieve this goal, which is likely to be even more important following the COVID-19 pandemic than before it.
To the degree that Innovation is about technology, it does not have to be complicated. Indeed, brutal simplification is regularly the answer.
But Innovation is much more about people than it is about technology.
Crucially, innovation must be distinguished from precursor activities like invention and creativity. In addition, it must be authentic, not theatre.
For an innovation to have occurred, it is the impact on users that is paramount: they must have new capability or functionality in their hands. But enthusiastic customers, great leading indicators though they are, are not, in themselves, enough: the ultimate metrics have to be revenue and profit growth.
“…until you have turned a spark of creativity into revenues, profits, or improved performance on a process, …… all you have done is stuffed an idea into a locked box.”
Strategy and Leadership are vital in Innovation
Successful Innovation requires Strategy and Leadership. Not just in thought or in execution, but in both.
Developing and implementing Strategy is the central task of Leadership.
Strategy must be based upon a clear process. To quote Richard P Rumelt:
“The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical. A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis. A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.”
Strategy entails hard choices, favouring one course of action and slighting others. Strategy requires goals. But it is an exercise in problem-solving, not goal-setting.
Effective leadership today, Leadership 4.0, is at least as much a function of followers and the context, the 4th Industrial Revolution, as it is of the leader or of the particular situation faced.
‘Heroic’ approaches to leadership are at severe risk of failing to liberate the innovative power of organisations. Farmers don’t grow crops, they create the conditions for crops to grow.
Amongst other things, leadership is about the constant pursuit and exhibition of values, of which Curiosity, Diversity and Empowerment are the most important. It is insufficient to think these things; they have to be lived.
“The adaptive demands of our time require leaders who take responsibility without waiting for revelation or request. One can lead with no more than a question in hand.”
Appropriate behaviours are essential to effecting change
Organisations seeking to innovate, especially large ones, must be “ambidextrous”, exploring new opportunities even as they work diligently to exploit existing capabilities. The core business cannot be abandoned, but nor can it be allowed to suffocate the new, which is what happens in the great majority of cases. And there needs to be a bridge from the innovation activity to the core.
The adoption of a portfolio approach to risk is a critical success factor for innovation. In turn, it requires the tolerance of certain kinds of failure, and a prompt, but structured, method of learning from them.
Few find any of this easy.
Most struggle to generate the necessary unity of purpose at Board and Senior Executive level, especially from those who stand to lose talent, budget or status in the pursuit of innovation.
Others fail to adapt their culture, structure, or processes in ways that foster innovation. There is little about an enterprise that does not need thinking about if innovation is its goal.
“An organization’s capabilities become its disabilities when disruption is afoot”
Deverell Innovation Ventures
I have grappled with the challenge of innovation over a 40 year career in public service, the last 15 years of which have entailed leading large organisations through fundamental and constant change: from the Cold War, to Counter-Insurgency Campaigns, to the resurgence of Hostile States, latterly against the background of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
My experience of success and failure in this endeavour, the skills I have learned and developed over time, my digital knowledge, and passion for innovation, have equipped me powerfully to help complex organisations in:
- the definition of a process for arriving at a Strategy that will foster innovation,
- testing the content of that Strategy, including the design of an innovation ecosystem, and
- advising and mentoring leaders, at all levels, to ensure that Strategy is executed.
The intended result is not innovation for its own sake, but rather satisfied customers, enthusiastic employees, and diminished competition.