Enabling Continuous Innovation - Part 2

June 13, 2019 Focus area: Continuous Innovation

In this second part of my blog series on innovation practices that will enable continuous innovation, I will discuss why innovation requires a flowing system. You can find the previous post here in case you missed it. Identify problems and turn them into ideas and actions. 


Practice 2: Innovation requires a flowing system

A flowing innovation system is an organizational structure that systemically and continuously identifies market needs (internal or external) and matches it with technology seeds in order to generate economical and/or social growth. This system is characterized by empiricism and iterative working methods with clear roles, responsibilities and recurring events/meetings. A flowing system enables continuous innovation in 2 ways: 

  1. It provides clear guidance and support for the innovator
  2. It improves management decision making


Improved guidance & support

The innovation process is often being perceived as a messy and chaotic event that just happens. In my experience as well as research by Drucker (1993), Schilling (2018), Hoeve (2006) et al and Von Hippel (1976) it is the exact opposite. Innovation is not a one hit wonder; it is a systemic and structured process that requires leadership and is characterized by a continuous flow and a synchronized rhythm. By organizing a system with recurring events will make sure that everyone knows where and when to go with their ideas, assumptions or ready to scale concepts. For example, a recurring meeting where people can pitch their ideas to management is a great mechanism to push people to identify opportunities, define hypotheses, prototype and sell opportunities.

In addition, clear roles provide continuous support on each level in the organization and at every stage in the innovation process. For example, an innovation coach should be appointed, who is a servant leader and facilitates the innovation process. The innovation coach supports the usage of the right tools (innovation canvas, six-week innovation challenge, business cases) at the right moment and coaches the innovator personally to avoid common biases among innovators such as opportunistic behavior. With the support of an innovation coach, the innovator can focus on the innovation rather than process which increases motivation of the innovator, reduces the risk of opportunistic behavior and therefore improves the odds for innovation success.


Improved management decision making

The main responsibilities of management are setting priorities and making decision. People are by nature risk averse which is an innovation killer. But if you were a manager and you could choose between a software upgrade with a clear end goal and business value or a vague idea without a clear business case, where would you invest your money in? To make sure that management can give a go/no go for a clear tested prototype instead of a vague idea, clear processes and roles should be established to help management to make the right decisions and secure that innovation is a top management priority and part of the organizational strategy.


Conclusion

To conclude this blog, I would like to end with a statement of David Marquet (2013): There are two factors that unlock greatness: organizational clarity and technical competence. I believe that this also holds for continuous innovation. By establishing a transparent innovation system with clear processes, roles and responsibilities you will be able to help people gain the required competences and skills to come up great ideas and act upon them. While at the same time the organizational clarity will improve management decision making and create environment where innovation can flourish.

Thanks for reading my blog and please share your thoughts and experiences. In my next blog I’ll explain the third practice: Market validation is the only validation. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about continuous innovation? Visit the Continuous Innovation Framework website.


References:

  • Drucker, P. (1993). Innovation and entrepreneurship. Routledge.
  • Hoeve, A., & Nieuwenhuis, L. F. (2006). Learning routines in innovation processes. Journal of Workplace Learning, 18(3), 171-185.
  • Marquet, L. D. (2013). Turn the ship around!: A true story of turning followers into leaders. Penguin.
  • Schilling, M. A. (2018). Quirky. Findaway World, LLC. 
  • Von Hippel, E. (1976). The dominant role of users in the scientific instrument innovation process. Research policy, 5(3), 212-239.