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Corp innovation conundrum 5

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Empowered here specifically means do whatever in the name of innovation with no support given as money, manpower, useful quick decisions, etc…, and if it does accomplish anything meaningful that is worthy of a press release, sponsor will come pose for a photo with the innovator and talk about the same fantasies and mention ideas that are actively being developed to make the fantasies more real…

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Yet another innovation taxonomy…

this, that and more

I will be a little inarticulate here, specifically when it comes to innovation, what do we talk when we talk innovation internally. Depending on background, perspective, role, among other factors, it could be any of the above.

Capability I use it here within a very specific boundary, Honda’s example illustrates this point clearly, from seeing itself as an automobile maker, it sees itself as a power systems designer, with such a simple shift in outlook it has been able establish itself as a leader in many related fields like portable power, boat engines,   etc. Technology companies confuse capabilities a lot, as there are too many of them. So easier way to classify further would be to pick specific business outcomes that gets affected by a technology. For example capability to A/B test designs, capability to cut down ROI with new technologies, etc… One of the popular side to this classification is seeing creativity in relation with innovation and trying to build creativity / creative talent internally, usually through training.

State is like “being pregnant”, a very clear yes / no, and it gets theoretical to philosophical to spiritual when the nature of state discussion starts, and some are inclined to this specifically, usually the ones that also pick on innovation as a concept at a mental level. Concepts are related and complexities from subsumption / differentiation plays here and really no basis needs to be given, as long as it makes sense as a valid argument. None of these 2 has any outcomes guaranteed and safely so. Else we have to wait for a long time for that state or the concept argument to end.

Department is a space, earmarked for all those innovation action, in Apple it happens to be the design department, in IBM it is either Sales or research, I can no longer tell which, in GE it happens in research. Mostly a centrally funded structure with clear mandate on outcomes and how the units will use those. But with availability of information across boundaries becoming easier, it is very hard to keep an edge from within one single department. Still a preferred choice for old, hierarchical companies.

Process/Action is the distribution of what used to happen within the department and making it easy for anyone to do innovation with clear steps and results. Behavior/Culture I feel enough has been said and is absolutely not my favorite, as I put personal responsibility ahead of popular inaction.

So whichever way you want to define innovation internally and classify it, some things do not change, those include “tasking” around whichever metaphor you picked, managing risks on action, investment and market, measuring outcomes and reporting it out to investor/bosses, of course responding to politics that is there in any human/social system among other action.

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2 Culture models

There are 2 models I use in my job primarily to understand a culture and act within it. Both have different origins and language.

Hofstede’s theory comes from an anthropology background, where the construct is based on 5-6 dimensions that are found to be key in understanding a culture and hence to be considered while communication, negotiation or any other activity that involves action across groups in different cultures. I have used it in a couple of different ways, such as when specifically making case for an investment it is important to position for the listener/investor’s culture than from where the idea is coming from. So I figure from one of the existing tools to find the cultural dimensions that is important and lean on it majorly, but still make sure the other dimensions are covered as well. For example for US I lean on individualism than collectivism, for India power distance and uncertainty avoidance.

Archetype extraction comes from a narratives background, just to be clear this is not to be confused with Jungian archetypes or motifs but there exists some relationship. Relationship being about memories (typically a collection of stories / events / even pictures from the field), that triggers some reaction (in a group setting). Instead of just labeling once, you do it twice, first labeling a stereotype and then extracting attributes, and then grouping the attributes (or their extremes) and try depict them as an archetype. This way there is no one single person / character that the archetype representing, but rather every archetype represents a part of the group’s make – up. Closest example I give is from Dilbert, you see part of your manager in the pointy headed boss, part of yourself in Wally and Dilbert, etc, but never can you point the one single representative.

I have always felt that people use culture as an excuse to not doing something. So if there is one most useful thing to pick about culture and innovation, by using these models you can quickly move away from useless abstractions and perceptions about an existing (always assumed static) culture especially by the old timers and ask them questions on either the dimensions or effects the narratives have on actions now.

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Innovation questions to management, some more

Which of the following gets an overwhelming yes from your leaders internally

  1. We don’t have to  innovate or invest internally in innovation, as there are other smarter players and start-ups, that we just need to follow suit or outright acquire them. Just tell me who they are?
  2. We know our team has ideas on strategies and priorities, that we are unable to invest time and resources. Can the innovation team just take up one/many such items and come back with solutions?
  3. We are all stuck in a very old thinking pattern and tenet, constrained by assumption. All we need is a training that will help us break that pattern and leave it at that. Can we also get a certificate at the end of the course?
  4. Problems provide the best low hanging fruits for innovation, can we just stick to problem solving, instead of doing open themes for innovation?
  5. Decision on strategy are made elsewhere at least in our area of work, really see no road ahead for any idea pipeline, even if they are only mildly disruptive. So we should focus on execution than innovation?

my original and building list of survey questions on innovation is here

 

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Metaphor

Metaphor (Photo credit: bgblogging)

When you mix and match many metaphors (as a network of analogies) sense making becomes difficult and overall point is lost in words. Within innovation circles, there are several popular metaphors that I am listing below, so next time when you talk about innovation can you try to stick to just one metaphor, and tell a better story. I am sure there are other metaphors like body parts, war that are used for innovation as well

Engine / Automobile

driving the innovation program, the steering committees, several moving parts, our well oiled innovation engine, an innovation dashboard, to accelerate the speed of innovation, a road map, to bulldoze your way with new ideas, the road ahead, a dead-end, a revolution, to create a movement, as a source of power, …

Ecosystem / Biology

Life cycle of innovation, ideas on life support, reproducing what worked elsewhere, second generation ideas, a father/godfather in the organization, heartbeat/blood/culture of, seed resources, flowing/developing/growing/nurturing/parenting ideas to innovation, our diversity, a dead idea, breathing new life, …

Betting / Gaming

the odds are against us, to bet on a future, as the outcome is random/not deterministic, to win/lose, win-win, a risk capital, to make a contrarian call, probably worth trying, evenly placed, to scoot/fold up, has a hand in it, raise the bar/bet…

Investing / Markets

Demand/Supply of ideas, not enough buyers, be overpriced, investment into innovation, our exit option/ entry barrier, size of market, the business model, to venture, derived from…

Judiciary / Legal

Judging by the looks, liable to, a willful action, intent to innovate, owned/leased/licensed ideas, comply to the terms of investment/agreement…

Innovation Metaphors

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One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. It is, as common people say, so ‘upsetting;’ it makes you think that, after all, your favourite notions may be wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded; it is certain that till now there was no place allotted in your mind to the new and startling inhabitant, and now that it has conquered an entrance you do not at once see which of your old ideas it will or will not turn out, with which of them it can be reconciled, and with which it is at essential enmity. Naturally, therefore, common men hate a new idea, and are disposed more or less to ill-treat the original man who brings it. – Walter Bagehot, Physics and Politics 1873

 

Pain of a new idea

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Negative space in language continued

When I first wrote about negative space in language I had only gone till the phonemic level and cited examples. I am now extending it to the next 2 logical levels in language.

At Concept level, the negative space is popularly called as “reading in between the lines”. I used to have a super boss  whose style to negate a strategy would take the following form.

We should definitely pursue <<strategy 1>> but we could do <<strategy 2>> also. 

Most direct reports who are familiar with the above statement always understood <<strategy 2>> is not supported and not to be pursued. But that meaning was not expressed at all, in my opinion it is an example of negative space at a concept level. Here is another example from The Iron Heel

I was in New York when I received the order to proceed immediately to Chicago. The man who gave me the order was one of the oligarchs, I could tell that by his speech, though I did not know his name nor see his face. His instructions were too clear for me to make a mistake. Plainly I read between the lines that our plot had been discovered, that we had been countermined. The explosion was ready for the flash of powder, and countless agents of the Iron Heel, including me, either on the ground or being sent there, were to supply that flash. I flatter myself that I maintained my composure under the keen eye of the oligarch, but my heart was beating madly. I could almost have shrieked and flown at his throat with my naked hands before his final, cold-blooded instructions were given.

Humor I believe is the next negative space level involving a group of concepts within a context. Humor/Joke has several varieties, I am interested only in a specific variety called the ridiculousness defined as  “a response to the perception of incongruity”, only the effect is laughter. Best definition for incongruity being “want of accordance/harmony”. In fact when incongruity humor is performed and someone does not get it, whatever explanation will not really help in bringing out laughter. Possibly filling the negative space with words does not help at all. You see it or you don’t, and no help will work. Here is an example joke in incongruity that is popular. Several types of incongruity occurs in this joke it happens to be logical, you can view an indepth analysis at  Humour and incongruity JOHN LIPPITT

Abraham Lincoln was a great Kentuckian. He was born in a log cabin, which he built with his own hands

 I think this line of thinking can be further extended to cover deeper aspects of language.

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Evaluating Innovation

Evaluating innovation has always been a difficult job for innovators, investors, facilitators, and managers. With increased pace of developing ideas, it becomes critical to evaluate innovations effectively and quickly. Before I begin developing an innovation evaluation framework, I will define what I think is an innovation and draw some characteristics first. Innovations are

  • purposeful action and aligns with some personal or organizational vision
  • developing ideas that are perceived as new and valuable
  • impactful at a scale, may include financial, social, environmental, life impact
  • investments that may lead to disproportionate returns

Innovations are evaluated for various purposes like

  1. Qualifying for investment/grant/other resources
  2. Quantifying impact of the innovation
  3. Modifying the development process for a set of ideas
“While we recognize that the American economy is changing in fundamental ways- and that most of this change related directly to innovation-our understanding remains incomplete…centrality of the need to advance innovation measurement cannot be understated” – Carl Schramm in the committee report to Secretary of Commerce 2008

At level 0, I believe the following facets have to be considered

EvaluatingInnovationsL0

Evaluation includes the following phases/activities around data and reporting

1. Data Collection, depending on the kind of evaluation it may include quantitative and qualitative information.  Typically if data is collected from primary sources aka the field through surveys, direct interview, or secondary sources like agencies. Every collection effort should include independent variables, and dependent variables. It is useful to segregate between input variables, and outcome variables. Units of measure for all variables have to be standardized or they should be convertible. In case of comparison between different variables, you might want to consider some normalization process. Data quality standards are to be set prior to beginning the data collection and for any further analysis data has to be of some agreed minimum quality.

2. Analysis and Data representation, depending on the kind of data collected analysis methods will vary.  For example representations for financials will be in spread sheets and charts, social data will be on maps, stories will be as fitness landscapes. Typically here is where any hypothesis is provided, and tested, future state predictions like forecasts based on models are put forth. Comparison with history or benchmarks will happen at this stage as well.

3. Results of evaluation, should be an action or recommendation. In most cases evaluation leads to decisions by parties other than the evaluator. If this party is not identified prior to evaluation process, the effort is most likely to go waste.

“What are we really going to do with this? Why are we doing it? What purpose is it going to serve? How are we going to use this information?” This typically gets answered casually: “We are going to use the evaluation to improve the program” — without asking the more detailed questions: “What do we mean by improve the program? What aspects of the program are we trying to improve?” So a focus develops, driven by use.”  – Michael Quinn Patton

Once you have decided which facet of innovation you are trying to evaluate, we can now adopt from many of  available methods for doing the actual evaluation. I will try and list some of them below, with links to external resources that I have found useful.

Impact: EPSIS provides a detailed framework and clearly distinguishes between output, impact and performance and provides a set of indicators that can be used for direct measurements or indirect impact measurements. Social Impact evaluation on philanthropy from Stanford is a good place to start.

Investment: Investments related evaluation includes both input costs and outcome returns to compare innovations. For example we use something called as the t-shirt sizing for ideas at first level, that will give a scale estimate of cost. Return on Investment as a ratio is a good measure but the underlying assumptions for predicting returns has to clear, and the other common error is around data quality when predicting returns.

I personally use value investing check for fundamentals when getting into stocks, and the factors that are checked are around stability, margin of safety, and historical dividends. Investment evaluation should be reduce the impact of any failure and enhance experiment design. In many cases ‘closed world’ resources (freely available locally, and has potential use) play a significant role in reducing investment.

Diffusion: Interdisciplinary classic work in this field Diffusion of Innovations by E Rogers lists different ways and covers a broad range of research that has already happened in diffusion. I like the stages around innovation diffusion as awareness, persuasion, decision and implementation. Data collected should focus on units of adoption (individual, community, user groups, etc), rates of adoption over time, and other social aspects of the adoption.

Model: In this facet of evaluation we only focus on what model of development was used for generating and developing the innovation, and should cover business model elements and how each of the elements are being looked at. Data collection would typically include metrics (see size, time, interface and costs worksheet below from NUS below) on needs, stages of development, partner structure, productivity, etc. For example Villgro, kickstarter, and Google ventures all operate in distinct models for developing innovations.

stic time interface cost questions

Development: Entire field of Developmental Evaluation is dedicated to evaluating during innovation and applicable for complex, highly social, non-linear situations. McConnel foundation’s  practitioner guide is probably the best you can get for free.

I will cover a few methods for selecting innovation  like PUGH matrix, decision trees, possibly in another post. This will be my last post for the year 2012, and I hope to build on the momentum covering deeper and meaningful innovation topics in 2013. Happy new year…

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5 essential meeting room filters

I feel meeting rooms have to be equipped with special filters to shorten meetings, make them meaningful and useful. I will start with the simple one and gradually build complex filters.

1. Clichés Filter: This filter will simply cut out all the clichés uttered in the room from the grand global database of clichés

2. If Only Filter: “If only, …simple past blah blah blah” is almost like visioning in hindsight with no possibility ever to change anything in the present, but can go on through the meeting and its next 4 occurences.

3. Me more me some more me Filter: Although can be avoided with a good time-keeper, there is an interesting instance of this filter under the name of “hide updates from this user without unfriending” feature on Facebook.

As we move from words to word collections to me me me, filters get complex as below

4. Plati Atti Servi tudes Filter: This is a seeded learning filter, inputs vary across organizations due to varying limits of acceptable platitudes and attitudes, and the number of people adopting servitude in a specific meeting. It operates on many principles like deepening organization hierarchy,  modes of operation range from total internal reflection of words (when speaker starts to meditate in the meeting room or usually sleeps off before completing the sentence), substitution of words with antonyms, thus disrupting any units of conveyable meaning.

5. Blame the Culture Filter: BTC filter operates on instances of not taking personal responsibility for failure and vaguely attributing to a figureless culture. Like “tudes” filter this is also a seeded learning filter. Performance of this filter varies based on initial org conditions, retirement age, hiring and firing volumes, country of origin among other variables.

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