Corp innovation conundrum 5


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…


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.


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.


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



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

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


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.