Our organisations are generally bad at innovation. That’s because they are designed that way.
Just as your body is designed to fight a common cold, most of our cultures protect the organisational DNA from any foreign antibodies. Add something new and it can get rejected.
It’s not personal. It’s just an automatic survival mechanism.
Purposeful thinking – especially thinking differently – isn’t always rewarded. Middle managers blocking innovative ‘ideas’ are simply doing their jobs and protecting operational performance. You don’t mess with success.
As Steve Blank has pointed out – there’s no point trying to act like a startup when you’re no longer a startup.
To truly transform organisations, we must live with two sets of values simultaneously.
We need to be boringly reliable and radically disruptive at the same time.
What often happens is organisations confuse these two things – innovation and business as usual. As Victor W. Hwang has written – the values are opposed. Successful companies often need to exist in both worlds—innovation and production simultaneously – and that’s hard to do.
At Bromford – we see the connection between these, but also the value in keeping them at arm’s length. We’ve just completed discovery sessions designed and facilitated to support radical ideas around the ‘how might we’ questions that make up our current exploration pipeline.
In many organisations, these promising ideas often fail because they can’t cross the barrier between innovation and production. What we need to do as organisations is to create the conditions for these to co-exist and establish a handover point from innovation to business as usual.
The system we designed is essentially that:
- A space to translate thinking into practical applications – and to ensure that any ideas that are pursued connect with the organisation’s overall strategy.
- Bringing people together to conceive, champion, and carefully develop new approaches that have not been tried before.
- Nurturing bright ideas and ensuring they solve the problems that matter.
- Acting as a conduit with organisations, individuals and ideas outside Bromford – and as a pressure chamber that allows these external influences into Bromford in a safe and controlled way.
- Using a mix of methodologies including design thinking and prototyping to help visualise solutions, and not talk ourselves out of change where it appears too difficult or complex
This means casting the net wide and sometimes pursuing dead ends.
Organisations design pipelines of exploration to get narrower and narrower. They want to dismiss ideas quickly that don’t fit the norm. Working in this way means your organisation is being slowly disabled and will become less skilled at handling different, more challenging thinking.
Over the course of our Discovery Sessions, we welcomed over 45 colleagues into the Lab from very different service areas. All sessions were shared across social media and drew further contribution internally and externally.
This approach to working out loud is deliberate. The history of innovation reveals that great breakthroughs almost always emerge from the coming together of disparate insights.
Most of us have grown up at work with the belief that we shouldn’t share things.
- Don’t share things as someone will steal your ideas.
- What if we want to sell this?
- That’s not been approved — it isn’t ready to share
- Sharing things will just worry people unnecessarily
- Don’t tell people — we don’t wash our dirty linen in public
The work you see outside Bromford – is exactly the same as you see inside Bromford.
The truth is most of our current challenges can’t be solved alone. The starting point is to build a network with people that can help us nurture ideas into reality.
Openly sharing work has an additional benefit. It mitigates the fear of change as you are working transparently. It gets colleague buy-in as you actively draw volunteers to take part in tests and further exploration.
It’s this that helps people understand the difference between innovation and business as usual.
In the exploration phase, failure isn’t just tolerated, it’s anticipated.
And if you’ve done your exploration in the right way, and effectively supported the transition into reality – things won’t fail when they matter.
Too often we see people put the emphasis on the creative phase.
You hold meetings in a brainstorming room, you sit on beanbags, you wear De Bono’s thinking hats. You have a lot of post-it notes.
That’s not innovation.
That’s innovation theatre.
Innovation consists of four things:
- Having an idea that solves a problem
- Doing something with that idea (actually making it happen)
- Proving that it delivers new value for people
- Translating it into reality and making it part of the everyday
To achieve this we must learn to live simultaneously with the values of innovation and production, knowing when to bring them together, and when to keep them apart.
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