Why do you or those around you say your organization is not very innovative? Perhaps you can’t seem to produce “new” products that dazzle or your customers don’t celebrate their relationship with you. Perhaps you are frustrated that the simplest things seem to take forever and once complete you never seem to have created what you thought you wanted. Or you despair that you can never make the time for the projects that seem risky but with potential for high reward? These objectives of continuing to produce products and services that dazzle and engage your customers, moving quickly towards achieving meaningful objectives and occasionally making breakthrough achievements that significantly move the needle are hallmarks of an innovative organization, but they aren’t how you get there.
There is not a simple shortcut to achieving these results. The path to getting the results you want will require your organization to cultivate, celebrate and focus on taking those risks necessary to quickly learn the critical things that will help you move forward or move on. Deliberate, rapid learning designed to achieve and even mold a strategic objective in the presence of uncertainty will help your organization unlock innovations by actually being innovative.
Be a Learning Organization that Celebrates Productive Failure
What are some of these characteristics? Broadly speaking, an innovative organization must be a learning organization with clearly communicated strategic objectives and a demonstrated ability to implement. This type of organization enables autonomous creative decision making by teams and individuals. From top to bottom, the organization must be able to manage their roles in the presence of uncertainty, identifying key uncertainties to drive priority “learning” activities. These uncertainties can range from technical to business operational to market unknowns which must be uncovered and confronted to achieve the ultimate innovation that moves the needle.
These uncertainties often cannot be identified or overcome without risking failure in order to learn.
The fact is that much of the necessary learning must result from failed initial attempts at overcoming technical challenges, identifying and implementing required operational capabilities or understanding critical market dynamics and customer value propositions. As a consequence, one of the most critical characteristics of the innovative learning organization is that it must celebrate and encourage productive failure—targeted efforts that both uncover and test critical unknowns.
Develop a Culture of Trust with Focus Based on Clarity of Purpose
Another key characteristic of an innovative organization is an environment of trust between management and individuals responsible for discovering and carrying out the tactics that implement strategy. The autonomy necessary to unlock the creative energy throughout the organization requires confidence and trust by management, while the atmosphere that engenders a willingness to risk necessary failure can only result from trust in management by individuals throughout the organization.
Also, trust must exist across the organization in a clear and common understanding of the strategic vision communicated by management. This last element is essential to maintain focus during the implementation and decision making necessary to achieve strategic objectives.
Reinforce Capability and Confidence
Finally, the organization must have the capability to implement and confidence in its ability to do so. This is a critical competence that can be reinforced or destroyed by the smallest activities. Inability to implement and loss of confidence can happen when processes seem to get in the way of the most common sense needs. Examples may include:
- the inability to quickly order a part to test a hypothesis in a feasibility evaluation because of adherence to purchasing procedures designed for manufacturing,
- pervasive processes that optimizes one segment of the organization at the expense of significant workarounds for the rest, and
- sign-off requirements that move one, two or even three levels above the person with the necessary knowledge to make the decision.
These types of barriers to implementation can suck the life out of the organization and create an expectation of futility.
These are some of the key general attributes of an innovative organization. Depending on your specific strategic objectives, there will be targeted opportunities to more quickly achieve improvements in your innovation success. These can be discovered by evaluating your strategic objectives in the context of your organizational strengths and weaknesses.