Consider the Layers — Develop Innovation Capability Successfully

Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is John Brooker (United Kingdom).

Imagine your senior leadership team wants an in-house programme on innovation and request your advice. How would you respond?

To develop a successful programme you must consider different factors that form an innovative organization. To illustrate these factors, let use the layers of a metaphorical rainforest, which, like an innovative organization is a rich, creative and complex environment:

Layer 1 — A Clear Innovation Strategy

Without a strategy, your programme will have no direction. I interviewed a CEO recently and two pillars of her innovation strategy were to:

  • Differentiate from competitors — innovate in areas other than operational efficiency
  • Introduce a standard method and language for people to innovate.

If your organization has no innovation strategy, here are questions to ask the leaders:

  1. Why does our organization want to innovate? To drive more revenue, save costs, differentiate us from the competition or improve staff retention? What else?

2. What type of innovation does the leadership team seek?

  • Is the goal to drive more ideas (front-end innovation) or to implement ideas (back-end innovation)?
  • Do we want to create propositions that enhance products and services, reduce costs and improve processes (incremental or operational innovation), or to find new markets, new business models, innovative products etc. (radical or strategic innovation)?

3. What is the focus? Is our focus to manage existing innovation initiatives or to be more innovative

4. If we develop innovation capability, what signs of business progress do we want to see?

Be clear on your measures. I reviewed an “invitation to tender” document recently that described “innovation progress measures”. However, 80% were input measures, e.g. the number of courses run and innovation champions assigned. These are valid, but measure an innovation bureaucracy, not an innovative business. More powerful measures show business progress, e.g. processes improved and new products implemented.

5. How will we know our progress is sustainable?

It is relatively easy to implement a few new propositions, harder to sustain innovation. Clues that it is sustainable might be that the organization uses a standard method throughout the organization and it implements propositions.

6. How will we adjust our reward and other governance systems to facilitate innovation?

People rewarded to log trees focus on that, not other aspects of the rainforest ecosystem. If you reward people on operational performance, will they focus on innovation? You will need to consider your governance policies if your programme is to be effective.

Layer 2 — A Structured Model to Innovate

A structured model is like a map of the forest that guides people to sense an opportunity, create a proposition to exploit it, shape a strategy to implement it and plan action. This “map” guides people to work on the same stage, at the same time and in the same mode of thinking (creative / logical modes). It helps people collaborate, enhances the thinking process and creates well thought through propositions. You can find out more about a structured model here.

Layer 3 –An Innovative Climate

Is your organizational climate a desert or a rainforest? By creating the right climate in your organization (a “macroclimate”), you enhance creativity and collaboration. When your people return from a development programme, will it be to a desert of the same procedures, processes and management thinking that stifles their enthusiasm to innovate?

There is much research on innovation climate, (Goran Ekvall’s is the most cited), and if your organization is a desert, you need to think how you will plant and nurture a forest before you run your programme.

Your first step might be to design and demonstrate the right climate, a “microclimate”, for people to collaborate in creative meetings.

You can find out more about building climate here.

Layer 4 — Use of a Creative and Logical Thinking Toolkit

When innovating, people use two modes of reasoning, “Divergent” (creative) and “Convergent” (logical). At each stage of the structured model mentioned above, you use tools to facilitate these two modes to ensure you think widely. If your toolkit has a range of tools it will enhance thinking and maintain interest. You can find example tools here.

Layer 5 — Acceptance of Innovation Styles

People have different innovation styles and this can cause issues when innovating. If people understand and accept the styles it can improve communication and collaboration. Consider using a style inventory as part of an innovation programme; Google, “innovation styles” to find out more.

Layer 6 — Reduced Risk and Complexity

Typical solutions for development programmes are initiatives to train the whole organization to be innovative, to change the culture or to steep all leaders in the processes of innovation management. These often addresses only part of the system and an organization-wide programme is a major risk in terms of cost versus benefit and will likely meet resistance from decision makers and people seeking the same resources.

The CEO I mentioned previously, having abandoned an “idea generation initiative, has taken this lower risk approach:

  1. Form a multifunctional team to innovate.
  2. Introduce the team to a structured innovation model and a toolkit.
  3. Run a pilot workshop to exploit a real opportunity and create a real proposition.
  4. Implement the proposition.
  5. Learn lessons from the pilot to resolve strategy, climate, approach, governance and leadership issues.
  6. Repeat steps 1–5 using the lessons learned and build impetus.

This has three benefits. It allows her to:

  • Risk fewer resources
  • Address the layers in small steps
  • Demonstrate a tangible business benefit quickly and thus justify further funding.

In Summary

To develop a successful programme:

  • Consider innovation as a system and ensure that your programme takes in to account key aspects of it
  • Ensure management is very clear why they want to innovate and how they will measure it in business terms
  • Run a pilot workshop to create a real proposition and let people learn from this; as I say, “Innovate to learn, don’t learn to innovate.”

Most of all, urge the people in your organization to stop talking about innovation and innovate!

About the Author

John Brooker is a former Senior Vice President of Visa. Since 2001, he has facilitated organizations and teams to collaborate, innovate and transform. He is the author of “The Creative Gorilla; Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate.” For practical innovation tips, you can learn more at

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Gerard O'donovan

Gerard O'donovan

CEO and Founder of Noble Manhattan,,,, Visit me-

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