Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
I’ve worked with a couple of organisations over the last twelve to eighteen months that have stated ‘innovation’ to be their biggest challenge. One, an EU energy company, wanted to look at ‘innovation’ in customer service, but their problem was that they weren’t sure what they actually meant by ‘innovation’ – aside from the fact that the government would give them a significant bonus if they could do it. Scratch the surface and all too often we are not talking about innovation at all; it’s more about improving, evolving, developing, or just ‘getting better at what we do’ over pure innovation.
Are organisations really look to ‘innovate’? Ask and many will say they are or that they are working towards it. Ask and just as many will say that it is their biggest problem. Reports, such as the Economist 202 Foresight Report, tell them that they are correct.
‘Innovation’ in turbulent economic times is cool; something that suggests that the leadership has found a pathway out. Too often ‘Innovation’ is nothing more than a nice buzzword to throw around, something to suggest that the organisation is on the leading-edge of what is fresh in the world – According to Amazon.co.uk, there are 19 books on innovation scheduled to be published between now and the end of the year. I’ve heard organisations say that they have to ‘innovate’ to grow. That they have to ‘innovate’ to adapt to the economic downturn. Is mimicking a competitor’s service offering innovation or is it a sign of being adaptive? Being market-seeking, is that innovative? Is the organisation developing/evolving existing services/products or are they breaking the chain and taking significant leaps forward in thinking and product/service offering?
The ‘tell’, for me, comes when you probe a little deeper into what is going on in an organisation. For example, can the Senior Management Team explain what innovation means to them and why they need to innovate? Does the organisation have an innovation strategy? Who is leading on the management of that strategy? How is the organisation setting out to manage progress – is actually just ‘Lean’ in ‘innovation’ clothing? Organisations are driven to do things ‘faster’, ‘better’ and to achieve it using fewer resources. The problem is that we have to be careful not to send ‘innovation’ the way of ‘Knowledge Management’, something that used to mean something, but has now become lost in translation.
Going back to the energy company, often it really isn’t about ‘innovation’, it’s about getting better at problem-solving’. This isn’t unique, take a look at Deloitte’s Shift Index or the Bersin and Associates reports (see Learning Leaders, 2012), the problem of ‘problem-solving’ is creeping across all sectors in all parts of the world. It’s about finding, developing and retaining dynamic individuals. It’s about nurturing a culture that encourages collaboration and critical thinking, as a way to fuel agility. It requires senior management teams to look at their knowledge resources, their people, through fresh eyes in order to develop their adaptive capacity. That shift in mindset, that leap forward in thinking, for many that is ‘innovation’.