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Are you stuck in the Corporate Innovation Paradox?


Let’s be frank, we are being overwhelmed by innovation. That’s not because we are seeing an unprecedented amount of innovation in the market, rather it’s because we’re a little too quick to label anything new in an organisation as innovative. Everything from using ZOOM to online Work from Home practices to the development of artificial intelligence solutions and everything in between has been referred to as ‘innovation’. Resulting in the word innovation being one of the most overused terms in business.


So many organisations want to be innovative, but they’ve lost the meaning and concept of what this really is. When we lose the meaning, we often lose the opportunity because we end up going after what we think we want and not what we need.


In my daily conversations with boards, corporate leadership teams and clients they have a heightened focus on innovation. I wholeheartedly agree we need to turn our focus to structured and considered innovation that will support the achievement and delivery of the long-term strategy of an organisation. But we need to re-think our approach to innovation.


The crazy year of 2020 showed many businesses and organisations just how agile and fast-moving they could be. The adoption of new working from home solutions, online meetings and the acceleration of some digital transformation programs highlighted their ability to change and adapt beyond initial expectations.


The lessons learnt from this need to be considered and embedded into the consideration and prioritisation of innovation portfolios. Whilst we don’t want to operate in a state of heighted anxiety, we need to acknowledge that we have the ability to rapidly reprioritise, change and adapt for the right solutions.


It is time to re-think innovation in the corporate landscape. Not just to be an antidote to the upheaval of 2020, but to really focus on the greater goal of the longevity of the organisation and fulfilling the ever-changing needs of your customers.


Like every year, this is a great time for innovation, bearing in mind that innovation is nothing new and we shouldn’t treat it like a new trend. Innovation needs to be a core portfolio within every organisation. Not an aspiration, value, KPI or a nice to have. Innovation shouldn’t be something that is pushed to circumvent external market forces.


For an organisation to be truly successful with innovation, the focus needs to be on entrenching a culture inside the organisation that enables and provides permission for every person in the organisation to participate on innovation.


So why do so many get stuck and not deliver their intended goals? They often get caught in the Corporate Innovation Paradox.


Corporate Innovation Paradox


The challenge for innovation in the corporate environment occurs because you are operating in an environment of limited resources, a defined portfolio of work and an agreed strategy, outcomes and targets for each area to achieve.


The challenge we see time and again with innovation in the corporate environment is that for innovation to work, we need to lean in to the idea, provide downward thrust to the team in the form of a way of working to gain momentum and cadence, whilst at the same time lift up into the corporate entity to manage the idea within the boundaries of budget, resources, current projects in play and defined objectives.


You need to work out how to simultaneously move between innovation and sustaining the corporate status quo. And this needs to be done without affecting the often delicate sensibilities of other leaders and divisions within the organisation.


If this seems like a contradictory philosophy – you’re right. It is. But it is an extremely common issue, and one that often sees innovation fail to achieve a structured portfolio, funding, resources and dedicated time


If you don’t want to get caught in the Corporate Innovation Paradox, or need to start thinking about how to get out of it, here are my three actions that you need to start thinking about:


1. Create a strategy for true innovation

Take the opportunity to ignite and inspire the hearts and minds of everyone inside the organisation with a clear definition and strategy for innovation. Set the tone, vision and mission for your organisation’s pursuit of innovation. If you are unclear on your purpose or goals for innovation, then you really need question what you are doing? Innovation for innovation’s sake will never make sense.


You need to create a powerful vision for innovation, and a compelling narrative that brings everyone together in the organisation to focus on the same targets and future. The mission for innovation is bigger than furthering any professional, divisional or team self-interests; you’re asking the organisation to be a part of something that is bigger than any individual.


Provide clear parameters and boundaries and let your people come to you with their genius ideas. This sends a powerful message that the focus is about building social capital inside the organisation to unlock the genius potential of its people. You are planning for, and anticipating the future, building it together and not being a slave to the “know it when you see it” problem.


2. Create, don’t replicate


We have to ensure we differentiate between a true innovation or invention inside the organisation and the adoption of, or replication of another innovation in the market. The problem with replication or meeting the market by adopting technology is that we create a lazy organisation and culture in terms of innovation. Why create and innovate if we can hitch a ride on others ideas?


Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t meet the market in terms of offerings for your customers, or not adopt new technology – quite the opposite. I am asking you to stop labelling them as innovation. If the budget, resources and time is spent on what could be considered business improvement, then you’ll have nothing left for a true innovation idea when it comes along.


Jeff Bezos eloquently said it in his letter to ‘Amazonians’ announcing his impending move from CEO to Executive Chairman, “if you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.”


If you are replicating ideas, there’s an excellent chance that people are yawning at these ideas and see it as common place and standard practice – not innovation.


Focus on your customer and building future markets for growth. Get rid of any innovation theatre or ‘innovate on demand’ style processes and focus on creating the best solutions, services and products for your customers.


3. Build a Critical Innovation Flow


Build a process inside the organisation that is about the development of skills and behaviours to manage the development of ideas. This is not about the ideas. Ideas are easy to find. This is about the development of a portfolio process, a complete end-to-end workflow and a way of working that creates a collaborative culture for innovative growth.


This is not about luck or chance. This is about heightening the element of skill and objectivity and creating a process of success through the management of uncertainty. You’re building more than a process – you are building a culture that will become bigger than the innovation portfolio.


Ideally, you need to get to a self-sustaining process that’s able to have a continuing funnel of ideas and return on investment that pays for the development of future ideas.


My team and I work with organisations to implement the Corporate Innervation Operating System to create a long-term innovation process, emphasising:

  • End to-end workflow process from idea to deployment, implementation and on-going operational support

  • A portfolio of considered, prioritised ideas

  • Prioritisation process that can support a rapid change if required

  • Investment and funds allocation process

  • Bespoke way of working that is suited to the skills and culture of the organisation

  • Community of practice

  • Rewards and recognition program

  • A culture of learning, innovation and collaboration to support the development of system thinking across the organisation to take ideas from concept to final product.


Decide right now what you want innovation to look like inside your organisation and know that a framework like the Corporate Innervation Operating System is available to be implemented to support the continuing skill, knowledge and innovation delivery development of your people.


We need to rethink how we activate innovation in the corporate landscape. The next wave of innovation for the corporate environment will not be about the next way of working, a technology tool or new forms of skunklabs to develop ideas. To stay at the forefront, you will need to ensure you have entrenched a culture inside your organisation that enables and provides permission for every person in the organisation to participate in an all-encompassing framework for seamless innovation and growth.

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