Category: Knowledge Management

Assessing Innovation Capability

The full-blown industry of innovation management consulting includes the usual complement of academia; professional services including training; the business media; and experienced in-house FTEs. At the same time, measures of success more often seem to exist only within the small percentage of organizations that already perform innovation well, somewhat like trade secrets. And from the outside, once we exclude the top ten lists, it is difficult to distinguish between exceptional success and repetitive success among all others. Finally, much more is heard about the difficulty of being successful than about the confidence of becoming successful. Since innovation is now a default imperative in most businesses getting press, this situation is not one that will remain unchanged.

Changing it leads to the need for identifying the key factors and indicators involved in successes and failures, and being able to compare them.  But an interesting and persistent problem is that so far, despite years of effort, both practitioners and motivated researchers offer such a wide range of differences in descriptions, explanations, methods and priorities for addressing the capability to innovate. This might simply reflect the true level of complexity of innovating successfully, but what we don’t know is whether the apparent complexity is originating in certainty or in uncertainty.

The challenge of reaching consistency in matching different ideas and approaches to successful outcomes also reflects two familiar problems. One is the problem of not being aware of what is unknown yet needs to be known. The other is the difference between correlation and causation. In both cases, guidance is needed for deciding what to look for and what to notice about it. And per the subsequent discovery, is innovation more like chess, or more like physics?

In the following discussion, an Archestra framework has derived from first surveying how people talk about innovation, with a special emphasis on what distinctive but general topics have most often recurred as “highly important” across the breadth of roles and environments cited. The initial perspective is very high level:

Innovation as Generic Production Capability

The further exploration is essentially about the underlying semantics that cross circumstantial boundaries of the speaker’s roles and environments. We classified the recurring discussion subjects and topics into two groups of meaning: one about the general subject of opportunity to innovate; and the other about the general subject of actually generating the innovation. We also took each group’s individual topics as placeholders to each be interpreted into corresponding issues about intent and about execution.

Opportunity topics and their related terms:

Innovation Opportunity Topics

Actualization topics and their related terms:

Innovation Actualization Topics

The final interpretive work cross-references the opportunity versus actualization issues for intent, and the opportunity versus actualization issues for execution, yielding two corresponding frameworks for the “front end” of innovation capability and the “back end” of innovation capability, respectively. These frameworks call out the specific factors contributing to the capability to innovate. See the documentAn Innovation Capability Assessment Framework for the detailed discussion of the frameworks.

The Big Idea

With a tip of the hat to Maslow, here is a visual compilation of my observations from over ten years in the web/social arena, about people saying what’s on their mind. The diagram is an analogy of psychological prioritization with no intent or effort to be prescriptive. However, it is a result of considering how and why thoughts begin to emerge, become exposed, and persist or not — in an environment where individuals constantly interact in a universe of nearly unrestricted information access.

As might be expected, the hierachy identifies the most essential requirement at the bottom (fundamental) and the most discretionary requirement at the top (aspirational). Although thinking may gain the awareness of outside parties pretty far down in the stack, the further up the hierarchy you go, the more social influence matters.

One sample of the implications of the hierarchy is that ideas may come and go, or keep and lose support, based on whether someone cares enough one way or the other to keep them in circulation. This is an illustration of why “caring” might occur or cease, showing five different levels at which the caring can be challenged or motivated. In retrospect, there is a notable accountability in these terms, of “thinking”.

This model separates the “unrestricted access” within the current information environment into how exposure of the thinking typically appears to be sensitive. The sensitivity is to managed versus unmanaged attention outside of what is already an “internal” reference point for the thinker.

In effect, a thinker has an emotional disposition, at different points in time, and on various levels, that affects whether the thinker’s idea will begin, and/or continue, to reach exposure.

The Social Hierchy Of Thinking