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Want to Improve Your Innovation Results? Then Approach Innovation as a System

A colleague of mine pointed out to me: “Every business is perfectly designed to produce the results it is producing.” What a profound statement!. As I started to think about it, it made perfect sense.

Our actions and “implied” or “emergent strategy” dictates the results we are getting. If we say we want more innovation, yet continue to do the same old things over and over, is there any wonder why we don’t get better results?

The long and the short: Improving your innovation capacity requires us to rethink and redesign our organization as a system of integrated parts.

Successful Innovation Requires a Systems Approach.

No one part in the organization can get the job done by itself. It requires team effort, a rethinking of strategy and decision making, and a retooling of the core processes and methods that are required to play in the new realities of your markets.

Innovation as a System

It starts with leadershipleaders need to set the tone and the direction. And provide the means and resources for the organization’s transformation into an innovative culture.

This reminds me of an observation that was made of Steve Jobs. Sure he was a visionary and innovator. No doubt about it, but what he sometimes doesn’t receive enough credit for is that he was a change agent.

Steve Jobs was described as a bulldozer who could break down cultural barriers, bureaucracies, and accepted processes, that tend to want to keep innovation in check. It’s not because organizations inherently don’t want to innovate, rather they don’t want variations.

Variation is bad for operational excellence. On the other hand, innovation requires change and involves uncertainties and chaos, which is antithetical to achieving operational excellence.

You also need the right people on your team. The sad and difficult reality is not everyone in your organization is ready or able to make the change necessary to compete successfully in the new reality.

It goes beyond skill sets, which to a large degree can be improved and learned. It’s really more about attitude and disposition. Specifically, it requires curious and inquisitive mind set. A natural desire to want to learn, experiment, and discover. To want to make a difference in making the world a better place by helping people.

This reminds me of the old brick layer story, it goes something like this:

Once there were 3 bricklayers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing. The first man answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second man replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’ But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’” – Author Unknown

The first two brick layers might be fine in a predictable and stable environment. They do as they are told, and probably follow a well thought out process and do their task pretty well. But in a fast changing and dynamic environment, we need to constantly upgrade our skills and processes to compete successfully. Sticking to the old way of doing things simply won’t work.

Members of a high performing innovation team need to have active curious minds to quickly bring questions to the company and industry orthodoxies – and discover new possibilities that spark innovation. 

But that’s still not enoughInnovation won’t happen if the processes and methods to innovate are absent. Without these in place even the greatest talent will flounder.

I am reminded of the Beatles and the Magical Mystery Tour. With all the collective talent that made up the Beatles, they thought they could create and produce a successful movie by winging it. Without storytelling and film making processes, the outcome was predictable: A total film-making flop.  

Here’s the rub

Leadership, people and process are required to build a system “more perfectly designed” for innovation. Without a system approach, innovation will likely produce unpredictable and poor results.

And innovation success will not happen unless leadership takes an active role in making it happen. Leaders need to create the environment and provide the freedom for people to innovate.

The good news is that there are many leadership and people skills, systems, methods, and practices a company can both adopt and adapt in building a culture of innovation. I’ll dive deeper into the how to create a “more perfectly designed system” to innovate and grow in future articles.

Free your people, and create a system to innovate!


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Nov 29, 2021

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