If you have “innovation” in your job title (Part 1)

If you have “innovation” in your job title, it most likely means two things: (1) most people have no idea what exactly you’re supposed to be doing, and (2) you have the DNA of a “builder”. Whether you develop products, services, business models or innovative processes, the fact of the matter is that you like “building” new things and hopefully, creating new value in the process.

The ability to “build” new things is a pre-requisite for people who lead innovation. But the unspoken truth is that when it comes to corporate innovation, you must BREAK things if you want to build new things. The reason for this paradox is buried in the way organizations are designed.

Building AND Breaking

In a previous post I demonstrated how corporate organizations are designed to achieve repeatable and predictable results. This definition crystalizes a simple truth – the same design that enables organizations to perform like well-oiled machines also stifles innovation. The reason for this is that innovation is neither repeatable nor predictable. Organizational design manifests itself in the way organizations measure success, plan ahead, evaluate the past, build human structures, etc., all supporting ongoing operations and (in most cases) killing innovation efforts in the process.

So what should an innovation leader do?!  

If you want to lead innovation in a corporate environment, you should excel at “breaking” the walls that likely stand in your way. These walls are conceptual, cultural and at times even physical. Here are three things that earned a high score on my personal “to break list”:

1. Break your professional echo chamber

Organizations are naturally built from many professional silos. Each silo has its own unique paradigm of thought, language, capabilities and rules. Unfortunately, closed silos bring people to the misunderstanding that they need someone that “speaks their language” to lead innovation in their domain. This creates a professional echo chamber (pop quiz – how often do you invite people from other units to your brainstorming sessions?).

Research published by HBR in 2017 analyzed 3.5 million employees in different ideation processes and found that the diversity of the group ideating together is one of the main indicators that predict the effectiveness of ideation. To break your professional echo chamber, search for diversity in your innovation partners. Whether its gender, nationality, ethnography and, of course, professions, diversity of points of view is key for driving innovation.

2. Break the walls that separate you from your surrounding eco-system

“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”

Joy’s Law

Organizations have built walls around them ever since the industrial revolution where the war on IP and talent first started. Since then, traditional innovation has evolved into an open initiative rather than a closed one. Selected teams of “creative specialists” are replaced by crowd-sourcing systems (internal and external to the organization), and the struggle for IP is quickly replaced by collaborative platforms and open co-creation models.

Strange as it may sound, the biggest innovation resource an organization can have is actually outside its walls – its ecosystem. Start your exploration for ideas and complementing capabilities with natural partners such as startups, VCs, academic researchers, companies from adjacent industries and, of course, don’t forget your customers. Continuing our last item, consider that open innovation is just another step in your pursuit for diversity.

3.Break the organizational rhythm

As mentioned earlier, organizations are designed for predictable and repeatable loops of activity. This organizational “rhythm” is created by routines such as weekly meetings, quarterly reports, annual plans, etc. This rhythm is “the sound of ongoing operations” – leaving no room for innovation. Give your innovation a rhythm of its own – “jazz it up” in a way that allows you to fail fast and learn even faster. To do this, design short term experiments (rather than annual plans), restrict your projects to loops of 3-6 months and conduct innovation sprints that expedite otherwise lengthy organizational processes.

Ready….. Set…. Break!

I know, I know… I’m not the first to write about the strong connection between destruction and creation, but in terms of corporate innovation, the two are intertwined more than ever. In this post, I have suggested a few items you should consider breaking on your innovation journey, but don’t worry – there are plenty more where that came from (we are only on “Part one”. Stay tuned…). If you have any examples of walls or constraints you had to break on your innovation path, please share. My “to break list” is always updating.

Shachaf Snir has 9 years of experience in leading Innovation management and organizational consulting. Holds the position of Global Innovation Business Lead at the innovation program at Amdocs.

Creating the innovation center of excellence methodologies and best practices, and working with business units across Amdocs in tackling their business challenges through the practice of innovation, including: Development of product, service and business model innovation.

Formulation of organizational processes and best practice that supports innovation execution. Working with Amdocs customers in tackling their business challenges, building relationships and collaboration in the process.

A retired professional chef and a proud father of 2 amazing little girls.