Friday, November 16, 2012

Overcoming resistance to innovation

Well, there I've gone and said it.  Yes, the title is about resistance to innovation.  You may ask yourself, who is crazy enough to resist innovation?  And the true answer is:  all of us.  Because while the result of innovation can be excellent new products and services, the implementation of innovation brings about the dreaded "C" word.  Change.  And believe me, any person, team or corporation is completely capable of resisting change.  One reason innovation is difficult to do is the undeniable fact that innovation introduces change.

Gleicher's Formula

I was speaking this week in Chicago, promoting Relentless Innovation through the good graces of Big Frontier and Mobium.  During the Q&A one individual pressed into my hand a scrap of paper with the formula DxVxF > R and the words Gleicher Formula.  Of course my thesis in Relentless Innovation is that many businesses subtly resist innovation because the "business as usual" operating processes have been honed for 30 years of evolving management philosophies (TQM, BPR, Lean, Six Sigma) and little has been done to build or encourage innovation capabilities.  When the irresistable force of innovation meets the immovable rock of trusted processes, which do you think is the loser?  The idea you came up with an hour ago, or the processes and methods you've developed and perfected for 30 years?

Anyhow, according to the transitive property, if innovation = change, and change = fear, then innovation = fear and must be resisted.  So, how can the Gleicher Formula help us think about creating the environment necessary for innovation to be embraced, rather than resisted or feared?

The Formula

The formula is stated as DxVxF > R.  Where:
  • D stands for dissatisfaction of the current state
  • V stands for a clear vision of the desired state and
  • F stands for the first concrete steps toward that desired state
  • R stands, of course, for resistance
Note something very important in the formula.  The left side of the equation is multiplicative, which has several implications.  First, if any of the three variables on the left approaches zero, then the entire left side approaches zero and does not overcome resistance.  This means, from an innovation point of view, that the firm, its executives, middle managers and staff, must be dissatisfied with the status quo.  That doesn't mean their businesses have to be in the tank.  Their operations can be highly successful, and they strive for even more.  It simply means that inertia and comfort with existing conditions haven't blinded the organization to the fact that there is more to achieve.

All three factors must be present, and diminishment of any of the factors creates diminishment of the whole left side.  This leads us to a second conclusion:  no matter how much executives demand innovation (creating dissatisfaction and perhaps creating a vision of the desired state), if they don't create definite actions, programs and plans to improve innovation, then they won't overcome resistance to change.  This means that organizations need to be unhappy with the status quo, regardless of how the market views the status quo, have leaders who define a clear future opportunity and have definite plans to implement change to achieve the desire future state.  Only then will momentum be large enough to overcome inertia and resistance.

The forgotten F

From our earliest days in school (at least for those of us who remember the A through F grading scale and were around when they still offered Fs), F has occupied a very negative position in most people's minds.  F represents failure.  In Gleicher's formula, F is equally as important as D and V, but most executives understand D (evaluation of results and current state) and V (creating a vision) very well, but since many executives didn't rise to their roles by implementing innovation, and aren't sure if innovation is anything more than creativity and black magic, they don't know how to create the "F", which are the concrete plans, commitments and steps toward creating the desired future.  This is like reading the cook book and wondering why dinner isn't ready when you didn't buy the ingredients and didn't heat the oven.  Executives who want to get better at innovation, who want to overcome inertia and resistance (R) to innovation, need to get better at the "F".

Getting better at the "F"

This need is serendipitously filled by another product we've created call the Executive Innovation Workmat.  This consulting assessment is meant to help executives understand their roles in innovation beyond simply asserting the need for innovation.  The workmat helps executives identify organizational strengths and gaps, and indicates the activities that the executives themselves must take to create a sustaining infrastructure for innovation.  Using the workmat approach, executives can identify clear first steps toward an innovation structure or framework, which will accelerate acceptance and reduce resistance to change and innovation.

Take a look at your organization and its subtle but powerful resistors to innovation.  Does the resistance arise from D, dissatisfaction with the current state?  Does the resistance arise from a lack of V, vision about the future state?  In organizations that are ahead of the pack, D may be the stumbling block.  Few firms suffer from V, executive vision.  Over 70% of CEOs claim innovation as a top three priority.  Most organization suffer from a lack of F, First concrete steps.  Learning to define and take those steps will help dramatically reduce innovation resistance.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:22 PM 2 comments

Friday, November 02, 2012

Why a common language matters for innovation

As noted in previous posts (here, and here) I'm returning to the idea that executives have a number of important roles to play when sponsoring innovation.  Perhaps one of the most important roles is the work of creating a common innovation definition and language, and communicating the importance of innovation consistently and broadly.

The modern tower of Babel

For those of you who don't know your old testament, complete with the angry, vengeful God, let's return to the story of Babel.  In their hubris, people decide to build a tower that will reach for the heavens.  God, in a fit of pique, commands that they all speak a different language.  Chaos ensues.  Innovation is a lot like the tower of Babel, only in reverse.  A god-like leader, typically the CEO, requests, no demands, more innovation.  And everyone in the organization runs off to "innovate" interpreting what innovation means and applying to their situation.  This means that in any company several "innovative" things happen simultaneously:
  • Old, tired ideas long in limbo are reframed as "innovative"
  • Any small change to an existing product or service is labelled "innovation"
  • A completely irrational, disruptive idea is justified on the basis that it is "innovative"
  • Soon every thing is "innovative" and nothing is
In these scenarios, when executives don't create a consistent definition of innovation, and don't bother to construct a common language about innovation, everyone interprets the needs and goals in their own context.  I've watched management teams talk about innovation in situations where there are at least three or four operative definitions occurring at the same time.  The dissonance is maddening, and completely unnecessary.

Everything is based on language and communication

Scientists believe that humans evolved much more rapidly once they began to use complex communication, and that learning accelerated as language became codified.  Why do we constantly need to relearn in business what is obvious in the rest of our lives?  As young children we are taught the definition of words, and as middle schoolers and high schoolers we are taught to understand and parse great literature, to understand how to communicate.  Yet business communication is terrible (if you doubt this, read Why Business people speak like idiots) and the culmination of terrible language and communication is when we mix regular business communication with the new and unusual practice of innovation, which has its own language and definitions.  It doesn't help that innovation is really a catch-all for a number of methods, activities and tools, and that innovation has a potential range of outcomes, from incremental products to disruptive business models.  But we blithely toss around the word "innovation" as if there is a common definition, and as if everyone will interpret the word in the same way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

If innovation is new, unusual and uncertain, fraught with change and risk, shouldn't an organization do all in its power to reduce the uncertainty, remove the risk through clear definition, consistent language and constant communication?  You'd think that would be a likely approach, but most organizations attempting innovation view these actions as unnecessary overhead, rather than understanding how much good communication will impact innovation barriers, like risk, uncertainty, the existing way of doing business and the powerful but intangible corporate culture.

How can you define the indefinable?

Can you create a definition of innovation that provides insight, gives guidance and instructs the organization?  We've noticed that a number of firms have attempted to create a common definition for innovation.  3M uses the following definition:  The use or application of creativity to generate a new or novel output having value for customers.  Note that this definition identifies creativity as a central input to creating new or novel products and services.  Note also that innovation is focused on creating value for customers, so in this definition 3M doesn't emphasize internal process improvement as innovation.  But simply creating a definition creates scope - what to leave in, and what to leave out.

But go further, because innovation has as many contextual meanings and uses as plastic.  Should innovation engage external parties or should it be constricted to internal teams (Open/Closed)?  Should we focus on small changes to existing products and services, or aim for entering new markets with new to the world products (Incremental/Disruptive)?  What is the intended outcome (Product/Service/Channel/Business Model/Customer experience)?  Until these concepts are clarified, every innovator defines and scopes innovation for him or herself.


Even when a definition, goal or language is specified, most organizations do a terrible job of communicating their innovation requirements, definitions and rationale.  Communication experiences what I call the "waterfall" effect.  That is, a senior leader communicates to the next management level in the hierarchy, and so forth in a series of waterfalls where the message is watered down, tempered and redirected.  By the time the messaging reaches the main body of the organization, they have no idea what they are supposed to do, or how they should react.  Rather than actively embracing innovation through powerful and consistent communication, most senior leaders demand it on a quarterly basis and never return to the messaging.  These half-hearted messages bounce off the impervious cultural hide of the middle management like a bullet off of Superman.  Until executives engage in active communication and assess their reporting structures to understand if the messages are received, heard and acted on at all levels, communication about innovation doesn't matter, because the overwhelming power of business as usual remains.

Definition, Language and Communication in the Workmat

Paul Hobcraft and I wrote and developed the Innovation Workmat, a guide to what executives need to know, and do, when building a framework for innovation.  In the workmat, there are seven domains that must be enriched for innovation to take root in an organization.  Definition, language and communication is the central tenet and the "glue" that binds the workmat together.  In an effort to get started quickly, most innovation teams never think about defining what innovation is, what the acceptable outcomes are, and how to communicate the purpose, goal and rationale throughout the organization.  Without the common frameworks, pretty soon any and every initiative is "innovative" and frustration reigns.  This is yet another case where a careful and thoughtful approach to innovation, taking time to think about the definition, language and rationale, without simply plunging in, can make all the difference.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:59 AM 1 comments