Instead of attempting to map the architecture of how a dynamic organization operates to gain control. I propose not a different approach, but a different mindset towards leading innovation. This model puts the focus on creating the optimal environment for specialized experts to succeed in managing through ambiguity in their areas of complexity. Due to this, the call is for the manager to release control and to give authority to the most knowledgeable. In this paradigm shift are the founding cornerstones of innovation enablement. To simplify the concept of an innovation environment, imagine an organization broken into four intertwined quadrants of culture, workflow, team dynamics, and facilitative leadership.
Culture is the backbone of an organization. It drives both good and bad behaviors while also being the lynchpin on how work gets accomplished. In the context of innovation, culture holds the key to organizational encouragement or discouragement of innovation. All great innovations begin with a sound vision which will provide two key facets of the creative process. Firstly, is that it sets a tangible target for people to strive for. While also having a vague direction to guide them.
The second aspect is predicated on the organization’s ability to execute the idea by establishing and sharing a picture of the future to the organization, ultimately helping to align the internal resources needed to bring the idea to fruition. Next, there needs to be an organizational emphasis on being able to express ideas safely. The creators should not feel pressured or threatened, but more preferably relaxed and alert. This has a direct tie to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where before an individual can achieve their peak performance, they need to have their physiological and safety needs met.
Lastly, a culture is defined by the behaviors that it rewards and punishes. The key to this is not the rewarding of the outcome but the rewarding of individuals taking risks. Through this mechanism, individuals can take greater social risks. This will inherently lead to more creative ideas. Netflix has taken painstaking efforts to skillfully craft their culture where innovation is its necessary heartbeat. Captured within their notable culture deck is their ability and freedom to take risks. The emphasis is if it doesn’t work fix it quickly, learn from it, and keep innovating.
If culture is the backbone of an organization, then the flow of operations is the circulatory system that keeps the body moving. The Lean mythology will look at this organizational flow searching for constraints to the flow pattern to improve efficiency and effectiveness, the same can be said for the flow of innovation. When designing an office work model or a timebound workshop an important facet is to ensure a smooth flow of ideas that don’t become constrained. This creates the facilitation of more ideas, or a mass of ideas, which in turn has a direct correlation to better ideas where quantity breeds quality. This falls into the camp where individuals start their idea processes with the easy solutions or ideas that are close to the top of their mind, and the more ideas they must produce, the greater the depth of creativity they will be forced to explore.
The second aspect is that while innovation is noted for being optimal as an individual experience, the outcomes can be parochial in nature. The genesis of the group collaboration includes the infusion of multiple perspectives. By applying a variety of inputs, ideas can take a different form and address solutions with greater assurances of achieving customer satisfaction. While this can create the opportunity to stop the flow of ideas, it will also build the opportunity to have the team combine and scaffold their ideas together resulting in a higher quality of ideas.
Lastly, is creating the process where your team can go into deep and focused thought. Typically, office work consists of busy and shallow work, this is the work that can be done with distractions and via multitasking. Deep work is the all mental encompassing work that ultimately challenges the team to stretch to new heights, this is where ideas are born. Deep thought is an absolute for creativity; it is necessary to eliminate added interference so that individuals may be able to achieve a higher level of deep thought, ultimately inducing innovation.
The Dunkirk and Batman director, Christopher Nolan, emphasizes these points on his movie sets by banning phones on his sets. Under the belief that there are bubbles of creativity in which people will get lost in engaged, creative thought. The main culprit of bursting those bubbles are the distractions created by phones taking them out of their deep level of concentration.
Noted earlier in the article and throughout the body of research, a single individual produces greater innovation that a group of people. There are several causes of this from groupthink and a lack of safety in sharing ideas to not incorporating all the perspectives and having an overly dominant opinion take over the group. With this known, a team of innovators still has the potential to create powerful ideas if they are guided correctly. Unique to individual innovations, team creations account for multiple perspectives built off multiple expertise’s increasing the chances of the solution addressing the issue and overall idea adoption. The key to achieving this state is refining your team dynamic to enable this level of innovation. This starts with balanced team participation and not letting one person dominate the discussion, as this will negatively impact the ability to gain the participation of all attendees.
Secondly, there is a need to create a team environment where they are playful, trusting, and vulnerable. Ensuring a safe environment to share ideas elicits the most ideas from most people. Associated with vulnerability is the team’s level of playfulness. Their willingness to have fun with one another, creating a joyful environment. Similarly, where people are not only comfortable with their teammates but happy to be among them.
Lastly, a leader will want to create a team that is cognitively diverse and comfortable debating with one another. Creativity is improved by incorporating the ideas of people with different technical specialties and cognitive thought processes. Cognitive diversity, or different ways of thinking, provides the condition for convergent and divergent thought. Having a diversity of backgrounds enables a range of individual cultures within the team, creating opportunities for cognitive diversity. This will also elicit debate and argument in the group to challenge the merits of ideas and to ensure a full perspective is taken.
One of the main concerns with a group or team brainstorming is the prevalence of groupthink. This phenomenon negatively impacts effectiveness, as the goal shifts from creating originality to achieving consensus. One of the main issues of achieving a majority view is that people naturally gravitate toward consensus. Even if it is the wrong decision or choice. Research has found that the application of friction, debate, and dissent stimulates the thought process to help achieve multiple perspectives on an issue. The goal of a team should be achieving candid discussions. Wilbur and Orville Wright had the advantage of being brothers but maximized this approach. During the build of the first airplane, the brothers believed that they thought as one. However, it was common for them to fight and debate for weeks over pivotal decisions.
Leadership is many things to many people, and to innovation, it is the culmination of creative success. Encouraging leadership can inspire just as quick as pessimistic leadership can silently mute innovative initiatives. Focusing first is on a leader awarding autonomy and then being judgment-free of the process. Being innovative and creating out of nothing is a masterful art and one in which a person needs to have the autonomy to experiment and explore on their track towards mastery. This mental activation can come through in many forms ranging from walking and taking naps to play video games and doodling.
As the creator refines their process to innovate, it is key for the facilitative leader to encourage this behavior. In contrast to fixating on the abnormal deviations from the normal. This releasing control to explore ambiguity enables the creator to delve into their deep and focused work. The shallow work that resides in the structured norms of an organization results in benchmarking competitors and maintaining the status quo. The deep work that explores ambiguous relationships, social connections and complexities lead to the market shifting disruptive innovation.
This comes to the last emphasis to encourage creativity and being patient enough to let it develop. Not every gamble will pay off and neither will every initiative. Venture capitalists bet on ten companies with the expectation that only one will achieve greatness. The company that achieves greatness covers the wagers placed on the organizations that don’t come to fruition.
Pfizer went through this same process in the early 1990s. While on a quest to create a high blood pressure and chest pain medication. As the trials proved to be unsuccessful the product became close to being shelved. Fortunately, they found that it could address erectile dysfunction. This patience played out resulting in a dramatic market shift from the original vision. Leading to a twenty-year, $32 Billion-dollar revenue run for Viagra. While the intent was specific in the beginning, the innovation cycle is never a straight path nor does it ever end exactly as perceived. Maintaining patience to see the outcome can pay huge dividends in the end.
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