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


Blogger Unknown said...

This is a great article. In my experience many executives believe that they already know about how innovation works, what they need to do and that what they currently do is the right thing. In other words, that they are beyond initiating the first steps and already are past that step. Frequently this turns their people from just dissatisfied with innovation towards disillusionment and reluctance to buy into any vision that includes innovation. To see such and organisation leave the current paradigm of innovation and innovation process and start anew is like convincing a newly weaned foal that grass is edible and in the long run better than milk.

Elke Scheurmann, Rapid Invention Pty Ltd

7:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I like your point about 30 years of business as usual trumping innovation in most exec's minds. Why should we be surprised there is resistance!

For innovators I think it can't be emphasised enough how important it is to focus on influence and finding a way to gain trust, so that execs understand the need for change and that it will should different to BAU. People management and internal politics can rarely be avoided and need to be tackled head-on.

Joe Morrison

12:53 PM  

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