Why ambiguity is good for business, but tough

Surely not, I hear you cry, we must get everything nailed down or it will be chaos here! I wouldn’t go as far as chaos but things might be a little different.

Can I suggest that it is not actually ambiguity that is the issue here but you, or perhaps your workforce. Imagine that you have two or maybe three potential courses of action to follow. Normally as a business you might say ‘lets get our strategy sorted and follow it’. You then follow a particular course of action which turns out to be less than fruitful because of some changes in external circumstances.

Let us suppose that your strategy was to keep open several potential options and to keep evaluating them until it was time to make a definite decision. During this period there was a change in circumstances and you selected an appropriate strategy and make a huge profit!

This is not difficult as an organisation but there will be individuals who do have issues with this. Sponsors of innovation projects might be breathing down your neck asking for status reports and they are not keen on your reply of ‘we are just sitting here watching and waiting’.

When asked about financial targets, your reply might be ‘well we are not really sure’.

So you can see that individuals might need some help in living with ambiguity or as I like to call it ‘living with looseness’ but ambiguity can be used to your advantage. Go on give it a try across your business.

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Innovation – the hardest steps

Many companies are ill equipped for the trial-and-error process that is part of real innovation. They stumble in the first steps, the first few yards.

These first steps are a critical period when an idea moves from concept to paper and then to market, where it will fly or fail, and maybe take a company with it. It is the most fragile time for a new idea, because every great new idea is partly right and partly wrong. Because of this one of the most critical skills for both individuals and an organisation is the reduction of uncertainty.

When starting out you must be systematic about what you do, if not you are vulnerable on several counts. The first is getting discouraged and quickly giving up, or if you can’t identify the things you are doing wrong, spending a lot of time and money pursuing what ultimately proves to be a fatally flawed strategy.

You can also get lost or sidetracked when something that you thought was a great opportunity turns out not to be so. It is also common to put the wrong people in charge of a project, people without the right technical skills or perhaps lacking the managerial skills  to handle the uncertainty and ambiguity that will exist for a while.

You or your business may simply run out of ‘innovation fuel’. We tend to be optimistic about the money and time needed to go from concept to world beating product or service. Innovation costs more and takes longer!

Many businesses often try to run before they can walk. They have a great idea and have produced prototypes or maybe pilot production lines. They have not quite got the recipe or the economics right but cross their fingers and hope that all goes well when they quadruple their output!

These are all things that any individual or business may fall foul of but there is one last thing that lies in wait for large corporations. They all sit on the bottoms, sifting through large piles of paper. They make plans to innovate but never take action. When their endless planning meetings fail to deliver they conclude that innovation has failed them.

Innovation is essentially a trial and error process until you have got that idea into production so without action there is no trial, with no trial there is no error and with no error there is no learning.

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Innovation – wrestling with Jelly

It has been said that Innovation is like wrestling with jelly. For those people who have yet to get to grips with using Creativity and Innovation to gain greater success in business here are a few things worth thinking about. For those of you that have, then you should look at these issues and feel proud that you have overcome them!

“Few great men would have got past personnel.”  Paul Goodman

How true! Whether you think about one off characters such as Richard Branson and James Dyson or gangs of people that work for Google or Apple it is highly unlikely that your recruitment procedures would result in you recruiting these people. HR departments can get so fixated on employment law that they do not act to recruit and retain the best human capital for your business.

“Since we live in age of innovation, a practical education must prepare a man for work that does not yet exist and cannot yet be clearly defined.”  Peter Drucker

Yet another issue to grapple with. We can have a stab at what the future holds (futures is a brilliant use for alternative thinking) but even without this, we do know the sorts of skills that our workers must have and the types of behaviours that they should exhibit. Our workforces should be matched to these criteria and be able to learn readily and tolerate a degree of ambiguity. But if things cannot be cast in stone, where does this leave unions and other representative bodies that might be resistant to change?

“The leaders say: “Let’s be more innovative.” The staff says: “Bravo. When do we start?” The mid-level managers say: “Wait a minute, let’s think about that. What about… and …? Have you REALLY thought it through? Does this mean I have to change?””  Claude Legrand

This is where you will find either the greatest resistance or the greatest assistance. Sometimes layers of middle management are inserted for no good reason. They are dead wood and must be removed, but they can occupy a very important position. Whether your information tends to flow bottom up, top down or side to side this is where data, information and knowledge smash into each other and connections are made.

“People buy more weight loss books/diets (tools) than all other books, yet people are fatter than ever. Why? Most diets do not address the psychological reasons (mindset) for eating. The same holds true for innovation.”  Stephen Shapiro

True again. Why do you or your business actually wish to innovate? Is it because it is the latest craze down at the Chamber of Commerce or are there good reasons for it such as flexibility sustainability, improved motivation etc. Are your aspirations as a management team aligned with those of your employees (and perhaps middle managers)?

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