Why Innovation Programmes Fail

There is only one real reason why Innovation Programmes fail and that is the fact that you have taken no action at all! I’m sure, however, that is not what you want to hear and you will be shouting ‘not true’ at you computer screen. One of the components of any such programme is learning, so that even if you don’t hit the targets you set for yourself you will collect some knowledge on the way and thus not ‘fail’. The only way you can fail, therefore, is by not doing anything thus not making any progress and not learning anything.

If you have read much literature on the topic of Change Management then inaction will be a recurring theme. Many Managers mistake discussion, planning and specification for action thus they believe that an initiative may be underway when it is not. When asked what is happening they will tell you that the Innovation Task Force is meeting regularly and soon they will have objectives and a plan. Great in the early stages but you should ask the question ‘Have you actually done anything?’. In many cases the answer will be no. So no surprise that your initiative will be flagged as failing when it never actually started. To Innovate you must DO SOMETHING.

Readers will I’m sure like a few pointers as to why they have not made the progress they anticipated when they have taken action, so here are some potential reasons. Not all will apply to you but use them as a checklist:

  • Employees do not know about your initiative – check communications
  • Employees do not care about your initiative – check motivation and morale as well as management sponsorship
  • Poor performance – did you identify any areas for training and development?
  • Nothing is happening – have you officially kicked things off, have you changed what YOU do? Are others sabotaging your efforts?
  • It all seems like hard work – do you have a team in place to help?

There are four broad categories of people to address when kicking off your innovation programme:

  • Enthusiasts – no problem here, welcome them with open arms
  • Disbelievers – ‘no that will never happen’, simply ‘do’ and conquer
  • The Angry – ‘over my dead body’ hard work (see below)
  • The Followers – ‘well if its going ahead I might as well tag along’, welcome these people also.

It is only the Angry (or Awkward) who pose a problem. What you need to realise is that a 70:30 rule applies here. If you run your innovation programme in an appropriate manner (you can borrow from Change Management here) then you will have 70% of your employees onside. There things aren’t so bad are they? So just DO, and you can’t actually fail!

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Working With Generation Why?

History has defined a series of generations such as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and now Generation Z (or Generation Why?). Generation Y are the children of Generation X and are now in their late teens to early twenties, the University and College students of today. As far as technology was concerned they went from geek to chic. Generation X grew up as technology and the internet was mushrooming and Generation Y simply went gadget mad. They grew up in times of economic prosperity and so created a different outlook on life. Don’t like your job, then go and get another? Want to work from home, no problem?

Generation Y is more brand and image conscious, they are more likely to have addictions and undesirable habits, they exhibit less loyalty to employers and their family units are prone to breaking down.

Next comes Generation Z, or ‘Generation Why?’ as I like to call it. The world has changed very rapidly of late. We have seen the power of developing countries such as India, China and Brazil as well as global warming, famine, the collapse of financial systems and now the election of a black American president. We are entering an age where things are less certain (and hence anything is possible) and which will breed a new classification of human being. They will be innovators in the true sense of the word, choosing to be adaptable and flexible in their home lives as well as at work.

Unlike their predecessors, Generation Why? Will be asking tough questions such as ‘Why must we do things in this way?’, ‘Why do we have to make a mess of the planet?’, ‘Why won’t you listen to me?’. They will be like constantly inquisitive teenagers and using their skills and imagination to get what they want. Being slightly less materialistic than Generation X they will be willing to put in more effort at work, but only if it matches their own goals and aspirations.

Sounds like a nightmare? Not at all. There is a generation who are able and willing to look at things differently and get off their backsides. Great things can be achieved but only if these people are ‘managed’ in the right way i.e. given the right resources, intrinsically motivated and contained within ‘light touch’ management systems. This will be a challenge for Managers and Human Resources specialists but the results will be worth waiting for and help is already at hand to start the process.

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What Recession – reasons to be cheerful

The recession may have touched us all but it is not nearly as bad as the pundits and commentators would have us believe. One or two businesses have gone under but I am here and you are still here reading this. We are all still ‘in the game’ so we have some of the skills and resources necessary to survive. We must at the very least be capable of examining our external environment and reacting to it in a positive manner. We are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and understand our own competencies.

A downturn is a good time to plan and watch what others are doing. Take a look at your competitors, visit their shops and trade stands or use their services. See how your competitors are handling the bad times, take on board their good ideas and learn from the bad ones. In short be ready to beat them when the time is right. Use this slack time to review your own business, something you will not have time to do in the busier times ahead. Now is also a good time to woo new clients even if they are not going to buy from you right now. Understand them and listen to their woes. We are experts in our field.

We know that things are cyclical and so we can safely assume that after the crash will come a period of growth once more. We cannot say for sure what the timescales will be but we know that it will happen. We have demonstrated our flexibility in surviving initially and then been cunning in our approach to observing our competitors, creating a plan and acquiring resources. We have a business that will thrive when the time is right. In the meantime, leverage your expertise and assist your customers to save money or add value for existing customers (without charging them extra). We thoroughly understand our customers and our marketplace.

So you:

  • are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and self aware
  • experts in your field
  • thoroughly understand your customers and your marketplace

Congratulations, you are now innovating!

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Creativity – Getting It Right (Part 2)

There are a number of things that can be done to ensure that creativity workshops go with a bang or at least a colourful fizz and meet the objectives so carefully set out for them. Here are a few more suggestions to build on those I gave you in a previous article.

Invite appreciative inquiry – the good news is this, you don’t have to teach people how to be creative. They already are. All you need to do is facilitate the process that helps people access the part of themselves that is already creative. One way to do this is to help participants recall a time in their lives when creativity was flourishing for them. Known as “appreciative inquiry,” you are simply allowing participants to wax lyrical about past successful creative ventures – no matter how small. These animated reflections will really get the creative juices flowing.

Don’t think, do! – brainstorming sessions, are “head sessions,” requiring a significant amount of thinking. But that is not the only way to get at good ideas. In fact, one of the best ways to quicken the appearance of good ideas is to “not think.” Mozart used to exercise before sitting down to compose, the holder of the most patents ever liked to swim underwater before he invented and Socrates used to take his students for a walk. Somehow, these seemingly mindless excursions free up brainpower. The best and fastest way to accomplish this is with hands-on, interactive problem-solving activities that have high relevance to the brainstorming challenge or group dynamic.

Tell stories – story telling is a great way to help people get insights and make creative connections. That’s why great teachers, since the beginning of time, have used parables to make their point. The stories we recommend you tell are what we call “teaching” stories – that is, intriguing stories with a moral. Or, they may be business-related stories concerning best practice or interesting case studies relevant to the brainstorm topic. It can be useful to intersperse these stories throughout your session, especially after participants have been working hard and need a breather.

Invite humour and playfulness – the right use of humour is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, “haha” and “aha” are closely related. Both are the result of a surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way. Please note, however, that your use of humour must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every joke has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim, that is, it’s used to affirm power. And we know that when we’re getting into the realm of power and the yielding of power, we are using our left-brains. Even more important than “joke telling” is a free flowing sense of playfulness. Everyone likes to play. The more you can achieve the goals of your session by interjecting playfulness into the process, the better.

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Innovation – Transferring Know How

Transferring know how has been a hot topic and there are many schemes and networks set up to facilitate this but not all of them work. This is intended to be an outline of a system that will allow Innovation know-how such as knowledge, behaviours and cultural attributes to be transferred from a standalone or bolt on Innovation project and disseminated throughout the host organisation. Knowledge can be thrown like a stone into a pond and the ripples will then spread at their own speed across the pond. Organisations are not as fluid as our metaphorical pond but it is possible for knowledge to spread through the creation of Innovation Action groups that are not dissimilar to quality circles and action learning groups. They do, however, have some fundamental differences. They are:

  • not unique, they have boundary spanners that overlap
  • they can multiply, rather like human cells
  • they are not confined to improving quality or modifying behaviours
  • they act as catalysts and are not just suggestion boxes or talking shops
  • they are bi directional, ‘ripples’ can travel both inwards and outwards
  • they do not rely on technology

So how is it done? Well the minute details are secret but the recipe is as follows. Select a number of Innovation Ambassadors and ensure that they have an appropriate balance of coaching, facilitation and action learning skills as well as the latest strategic objectives of the organisation. Next create a number of Innovation Action groups spread through tout the organisation, both geographically and functionally. Ensure that the composition is as varied as possible and give them one of your Ambassadors as a leader/facilitator. Each should also be ‘seeded’ with an initial idea/knowledge item to work on. These groups can then:

  • work out the best ways of spreading know how in their local context
  • create links with other groups to increase their reach
  • combine existing knowledge to create new knowledge
  • capture knowledge and ideas
  • use their problem exploration and solving skills
  • create new groups
  • act as libraries of knowledge and resources

The entire system can be independent (and devoid) of technology although technology can act as an enabler where appropriate. Technology on its own cannot act as a knowledge transfer mechanism so if anyone tries to sell you a computer system as a solution to your knowledge problems then please run in the opposite direction.

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