Driving Transformational Change Through Innovation?

Innovation at its heart is all about change. Changes in the way people think, the processes by which work gets done, and even the organizational structure and governance systems by which decisions get made. More importantly, innovation is about change in mindsets, behaviors and interactions. But as we all know too well achieving this level of change is hard and is often met with resistance.

Every mature business functions as a system—an organized set of parts that work together to keep the whole running smoothly. Over time this system becomes self preserving and can develop a strong immunity to change, making it difficult to transform and achieve breakthrough innovation results. Many organizations with these highly developed business systems become characterized by a short term calendar driven mentality and even a biases towards conservatism. What is also sometimes evident is the influence of system “defenders” who do not want to disrupt a model that has served the organization well in the past.

The type of innovation driven change in these business contexts more often gravitates toward optimizing the existing system for operational excellence, and takes as its starting point the existing business model and customers. Innovation opportunities are then identified within the bounds of the existing model not beyond the scope of it. While this approach can achieve significant business improvements, the emphasis on the existing system can lock thinking into existing paths and assumptions making it difficult to explore or consider more disruptive possibilities about the future.

So how can you move beyond this to drive a level of transformational innovation that can catapult a business into new territory?

First -- when speaking about innovation, don’t make an explicit proclamation around change or use the change word, even avoid variants of it such as culture shift or doing things differently. Why? This will trigger an organization’s immune system and create the antibodies necessary to kill even the most well intentioned and desirable innovation efforts. Instead let actions signal the type of change needed and desired.

Second , create a different starting point - begin with a dose of inspiration and speculation, envisioning a desired future and then working backwards to the existing model to determine gaps and key innovation priorities. Leverage a highly creative and divergent process which considers wishes and desires first to encourage large leaps in thought instead of incremental steps. Seek analogies and metaphors to give new shape and meaning to the desired future state, and to enable the “what if” discussions. Bring the outside in, looking beyond what is already known for best practices and inspiration, and not being limited to current realities e.g. channels, technology, supply chain.

Third, create focus by determining the top few (1-3) high impact high visibility priorities to address.
Then cast the net of wide to engage others, leveraging diversity in thought, function and perspectives – and different strengths – those who don’t know what’s impossible and those who do. Give them techniques, methods and tools to help them experiment with new ways of thinking and working together - unlocking their true creative potential along the way. Enable them to give shape to ideas across space and time - remember that people will implement what they have had a part in creating.

Finally, generate early wins to build the confidence and buy in to keep moving forward. Communicate & share stories to inspire others and build more momentum. Realize and celebrate the business successes that have been achieved and the learnings along the way (the good, bad and the ugly).

Driving a level of transformational change through innovation takes time, commitment and fortitude to stay the course. Those organizations who do can create the momentum for breakthrough change that “sticks” and more importantly, they actually change the game – moving beyond operational excellence to discover new ways to drive value and deliver remarkable business results through innovation.

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