Tag: language

Innovation or Innovations, that is the question!

InnovationThis article was prompted whilst reading a very long winded debate about the differences between Innovation and continuous improvement. The contributions were many, and  most were completely valid statements, however not all were directed at the question that was posed.

Sifting through the answers I sorted them into two streams. There were points about Innovation being a continuum with incremental at one end and radical  at the other, building upon existing bases versus new ones and many more. The main issue, I concluded, was one of language or more importantly, grammar.

Some contributors were referring to Innovation and some to Innovations. What is the difference? Well Innovation is the ‘system’ that produces Innovations e.g. the processes that exist to generate ideas, manage know how, prototype etc as well as the necessary behaviours. Innovations are the outputs of the process e.g shiny new gadgets, remote controlled teabags.

Some of the participants seemed to get very irate, they were convinced that they were right. They were right of course, but only within their own frames of reference. When communicating with those who had other frames of reference things went awry. It might be a pain but this highlighted one very important point. Create and use a common language for your wider frame of reference (your organisation or your close collaborators). Simple! And to avoid doubt do not use buzz words such as Innovation.

Talk about the things you are going to do and how you might accomplish them. In the wider world the term Innovation can mean everything, or nothing.

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The Power of Language in Innovation

innovation languageWe are all aware that innovation has its own language conventions rich in buzz words. At first glance this may seem like a harmless dialect that simply reflects the nature of the work we are undertaking.

Innovators, after all, are trying to communicate the promise of something that may not exist yet, and sometimes that requires some (over) optimistic decoration. Innovation is about extrapolation not interpolation and so we do have to rely on ambiguous statements.

The metaphors and other language used could signal something more important. Maybe the language is used because of a lack of hard data, or the fact an idea isn’t yet properly formed.  If we recognised this fact then perhaps we could use these communication tools only when they’re effective (or, more importantly, not when they are ineffective). A more effective use of language might allow us to gain get buy-in on important projects.

Research has shown that where people lack hard data/information, they tend to use three types of language to describe innovation concepts.

  • Metaphor is the substitution of figurative language for literal language.
  • Hyperbole is exaggerated language used for emphasis or effect.
  • Revisionist rhetoric is the simplistic, inaccurate, or self-serving characterisation of events to create or support an argument.

You can see in the wordle above some of the most common words or phrases that are used. Are you using these in your own communications? Below are some suggestions to anyone interested in communicating the potential of an idea:

Recognize how you are using metaphor. Metaphor can help focus attention or highlight key aspects of an idea in a universal way. Be careful though, a metaphor can also signal to others that you haven’t thought through your idea. Some people do find that businesses that consistently use descriptive approaches report a degree of frustration and lack of buy-in for their ideas. Metaphor should be used to supplement, not a substitute, for hard facts.

When you have a potentially good idea but lack evidence, begin with experimentation or prototyping. People are often likely to begin their pitches by putting their energy into speculative communications (using descriptive language rather than hard data), and fail to gain the personal or organisational support that they need to take their idea forwards. It is more likely that people gain support by investing in models or prototypes to demonstrate their ideas and then follow it up with descriptive communications.

Learn when to use metaphor effectively.  In many large organisations, people tend to bounce ideas off one another and gain feedback from colleagues. Where there is a lack of data, it is possible for ideas to travel far and wide as metaphor or stories.

Put hyperbole and revisionist rhetoric in their place. When communicating why an idea has potential, it might seem obvious why you should avoid hyperbole or rhetoric. Surprisingly, there are important situations where such language can be constructive. These are informal meetings or briefings where people understand that language is not intended to be taken literally. These are mostly high trust environments where language and ideas are used as springboards for creative thinking.

Language is an important of the management of innovation, but it must be used wisely.

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The New Language of Innovation

As innovation changes from a hard to a softer kind of process, so the language must change to reflect this. Below are a list of terms that we commonly use in our project teams or businesses together with a new vocabulary that we should all be coming to terms with.

Sales Pitch
As project become more transformational than transactional we need to be talking about creating a purpose not simply pitching an idea.

Visualisation
Many of us visualise the outcome but it needs to be vocalised also. We all respond to different stimuli so the desired outcome needs to represented in as many ways as possible to engage the whole project team.

Designer/worker/engineer
When you are building something new and exciting then call your team something exciting. They are all creators in their own specialist field.

Demand
Demands very seldom work as intended. Create a dream and encourage others to buy in and follow it with you.

Content
We all worry about the content of specifications and requirements documents. Consider the consequences of every action you take. Does it enhance the clients experience, does it add comfort, safety or fun?

Scheme/Plan
Instead of cumbersome plan, create a story and storyboard to engage the team and encourage their contributions.

Project
Your project needs to be run along business lines so run it like a business with your client as the major shareholder.

Team
In line with the previous point, your management team are in fact a board.

Titles
Avoid these like the plague. If you must group people, do it according to the tasks that they are carrying out.

Jargon
Abolish this, talking is all important to share knowledge and break down barriers. If you use technical terms, ensure they are understood by everyone.

Communicate
Treat communications as if you were campaigning, make sure that everyone is convinced and understands the complex ideas that you are trying to get across.

Accomplish
Don’t dwell on accomplishing things. You have a dream to follow but remember if you are innovating then there will be some failures to learn from. Not accomplishing is not a disaster, you are undertaking an adventure.

Question
These are damaging in large numbers. Encourage people to ask for advice or direction, not just question everything.

Doing
Doing should be replaced by learning.This way you have both action and the acquisition of knowledge.

Programme
Do not think linearly. You will be embarking on a journey and the path may twist and turn on the way.

Research
If you are innovating you will be entering into uncharted territory on some occasions. Research cannot help you. Intuition must become part of your vocabulary.

Guideline
Replace this with guidance, talking and a little intuition. No rigid procedures here!

Visitor
A visitor could be a guest, but don’t take this too far.

Messages
If you take the time to create message then you want them to be remembered so focus on creating memories, a subtle but helpful distinction.

Present
We often present our ideas and plans to people but in a collaborative environment we should be colluding or conspiring with all of our stakeholders.

History
If you are keeping records, make it interesting, richer and full of knowledge. The record of your journey through your innovation project is Your Story.

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Service Innovation

This is not for those people who think that Innovation is about boffins in laboratories or selling technology from academic institutions into industry. As the UK becomes even more dependent on service industries a new type of innovation is emerging. Beware traditional gurus and business consultants, as there is competition out there.

I had the good fortune to be in the audience at a recent design event, where one of the speakers was Ralph Ardill, founder of the Brand Experience Consultancy. He is a designer with a track record of bringing life to some of the world’s leading brands such as Ford and Coca-Cola. Those in the know will already recognise him as being the person who led the project to design and build the Guinness Storehouse, currently the most famous visitor attraction in Ireland, and voted by some as the best in the world. Not many years ago it was an empty building within the perimeter of the Guinness brewery.

His foresight, and some may say creative thinking, led to Guinness buying into the idea of the ‘Pint building’, combining a tourist attraction, training and conference facilities, exhibition and retail space and regeneration of the local area. The multi disciplinary project team was pulled from many different business areas and was installed as a pseudo board to run the development project. Everyone, even the builders, were labelled as ‘creatives’ as each person had creative input.

Project structures were kept to a minimum, transparency was key and knowledge transfer was seen as high priority. Finally they defined their own language to avoid misunderstandings amongst the many represented disciplines.

Like many great innovation projects, the team managed to get their own space and define their own work environment but with specific targets. Add to that the vision and commitment of Guinness. The result, a bunch of right brained people led by (gulp) designers turned a leaking wreck into a major tourist attraction bringing in over 300,000 visitors per year at an average spend of 35 euros. Visit http://www.guinness-storehouse.com and see for yourself. Is this the future?

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