Thought Leadership

November 3, 2020

A Mindset for Innovation - Part 3: Techniques

Part 3 of our Mindset for Innovation series, this time focusing on techniques to encourage innovation.

Executive Summary

Whether we are supporting the core technology of our company’s products or implementing or improving core applications and systems that support our company’s business operations, innovation is a critical aspect of every CIO & CTO’s responsibility.

This blog article will cover the following concepts in several parts, as applied to Innovation:

  • Types of Innovation
  • Approaches to Innovation
  • Techniques to Encourage Innovation
  • Fostering an Innovative Mindset

This is Part 3 - Techniques to Encourage Innovation

Fostering a Mindset for Innovation

Be Open to Change

Embrace the fact that the world around us and even in our own business, that things are always in a state of flux and changing. As Technology Leaders, we need to be aware of both incremental and radical changes that may affect our business, and have the mental curiosity to predict its long term impacts to our business.

At the same time, recognize that not everyone can deal with Ambiguity very well, so we also need to become the Agent of Change and lead the organization through the various Change Management steps, before we can realize the full benefits from making this Change.

Kubler-Ross Change Curve (Simplified)

Denial

It is very common for all of us to initially Deny that a new Technology or Change in our Industry will impact our organization either positively or negatively.

Example:  paraphrasing the CEO of a Marketing Promotion Management Company

“I’ve built a multi-Billion dollar company previously, this is the way it works. We focus on consumer mail-in rebates. That is what made us successful 20 years ago, and that’s what will make us successful today. I’m not interested in selling our whiz bang multi-tenant Cloud Channel technology platform to new Clients. That’s not what we do.” 

Defense

This occurs when the individual, team or organization realizes that there is a threat, and instead of embracing the change, actively seeks to prevent the change from occurring. On a small scale this can be seen as bringing up all sorts of objections, claiming that the new technology is not needed, won’t work, isn’t designed for their business processes, is too expensive, etc.

On a more macro scale, this can include large businesses or industry consortiums suing the new disruptors or even lobbying to enact laws or regulations, to prevent or dramatically slow the adoption of their new technology. At an even larger macro scale, this includes Countries raising tariffs in order to artificially prop-up a particular industry sector, which no longer has a comparative advantage on the Global stage.

Cautionary Tale:  Sometimes the Deniers are Right

As Technology Leaders, we can fall into the trap that because XYZ Solution worked previously in solving this business problem at another company, then it will work within our new organization as well. We need to be open to what the SME’s are saying about how the business works, to better understand and evaluate whether a particular System is a good fit or not.

I once worked for a CIO at a mid-sized publicly traded company who made this mistake. He brought in a Cloud based CRM package, because it worked for him at a previous company. At the time it was extremely great for B2B Marketing & Sales, but terrible at B2C Marketing & Sales, which unfortunately was 99% of our revenue stream. So, we were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Ultimately, our business users refused to use the new system, and we ended up taking a $ 3.5 million dollar write-off.

Find a balance between pushing for the new and listening to your SME’s from the Business.

Depression

This occurs once most of the team or organization slowly begin to realize that the change in question will occur, even though they are not happy about it and are depressed about not being able to stop the change.

It is only once they work through their internal struggles, that they can finally recognize the potential benefits to them and the organization from the change.

Acceptance

Once individuals or organizations have gone through the Depression stage, then they can fully accept the change, recognize the benefits of it, and improve the overall process and management of the change.

It is important to note that individuals can move both forward and backwards in this process as various times during the Change Management process. Not everyone will move at the same pace, or be at the same stage.

Blitzkrieg Change - Denial to Acceptance

In today’s fast paced world, there are times when you must make radical changes very quickly, in order to react to an external factor, which is dramatically shifting your business model, internal processes, products, or technologies.

In these cases, you have to force the team and organization from Denial to Acceptance in lightning speed. There is sometimes no time to allow individuals to adapt to the new normal and go through all of the stages.

Example:  Military Combat

As an Officer in the Military, you are trained to plan your attack, defense, logistics support, etc. However, things happen in Combat situations and you never truly have 100% intelligence on the enemy and what they are planning (The Fog of War). So, you are taught that once the Plan is Executed and the bullets start flying, that you and your unit will need to quickly adapt your original Plan to changing circumstances. Or even throw it out entirely, and come up with a brand new plan on the fly.

The key is staying calm, focusing on the new situation, and quickly directing individuals to different tasks. Because the quicker you react, the more successful you will be.

The Art Of Innovation

Fostering Innovation requires the individual or team to think creatively. To think “Outside the Box” and create something new or an improvement that doesn’t already exist. In many ways, you are painting a picture of what something might look like and explaining that vision to others in order to make it come into reality.

To encourage and have individuals embrace creativity, start with implementing some fun creative activities for your team:

  • Hold a Lunch and Learn - you provide the food, and everyone participates.
  • Painting Class
  • An Improv Class - where each person has to talk about a random topic for 2 minutes with no preparation.
  • Pick a Fun & Creative theme and then assign everyone to write an Internal Technical Blog article along that theme, and publish the best ones once a week.
True Story:  Pinky & the Brain - Tech Blog
  • In the late 1990’s there was a very popular Warner Brothers Cartoon called the Pinky & the Brain, which featured two lab mice who were trying to “Take over the World.”
  • So, what we did was pick a technical topic each week and publish a Blog Article in the “Voice of Pinky & the Brain”.
  • It was hugely popular within our 200+ person Software Development Team.  And we were flooded with ideas and topics they wanted to hear about.
  • It was both fun and creative, but also allowed us to reinforce Best Practices, Good Coding Techniques, the Need for QA and Unit Testing, Good Database Design Techniques, etc.

Think BIG!

Doing incremental improvements to an existing product or process is important, but rarely will it take the organization to the next level and beyond. So, if we want to create a huge opportunity, then we need to expand our thoughts and “Think BIG!”

In order to foster this and generate these BIG Ideas, it is best to form a very diverse group that combines individuals with analytical skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to dream and create a vision of the future.

You want to avoid picking individuals from the same Department or same mindset, as they will tend to look at the problem the same way, and come up with the same solution.  But this is less likely to result in a new revolutionary concept or idea.

Taking Risks Requires Courage

Implementing Change within any organization requires the individual or team, to take Risks, as they are inherently challenging the Status-Quo within the organization.  Which can be filled with danger to them:

  • Organizational Politics
  • Innovation would eliminate or replace a Business Unit
  • What happens when the Innovation goes over budget, takes longer than expected, or fails to deliver?  Does the Executive Management Team blame the Change Agents, or do they chalk it up as a “Lesson Learned.”

As a Technology Manager or Executive within an Organization, often how you react when an Innovation has struggles or fails, will have a greater impact on future Innovations, then if it is hugely successful.

At the end of the day, every employee within the organization wants to know and believe that, “You have their back.” If you are constantly firing individuals who stick their neck out to implement a change, then you will end up with no one willing to suggest or champion a future change or take that risk.

In addition, with the “Need for Speed”, there are often times when it becomes obvious that the proposed Innovation won’t work, that you want to “Fail Fast”, so that you can have your Innovators start working on a new idea that could work.

It is important to publicly celebrate individuals and teams who took the Risk involved with implementing an Innovation / Change, and they will have the courage to do it again and again, as well as learning from what didn’t work.

President Theodore Roosevelt:
“Far better is it to dare things, to win glorious triumphs, even when checked by failure. Than to take rank, with those poor souls, who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight, that knows not victory, nor defeat.”

Conclusion

In this Blog Article we have discussed:

Stay tuned for our next topic in the series:

  • Fostering an Innovative Mindset

So, go forth and conquer… create the New, Improve upon the Existing, and foster a Culture of Innovation.

We hope you enjoyed this article,

Thank you, David Annis.

David Annis
David is a VP and Agile Coach within ArkusNexus, having served in multiple CIO, VP of Software Development roles previously. He is based in Tijuana, Mexico, and assists our Sales, Marketing, and Operations Teams on critical initiatives and projects.
dannis@arkusnexus.com
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