Strategy

Innovation, Meet Strategy

Just like strategy, being innovative or creative is useless unless ideas can be executed on.

While academics and practitioners alike still argue over whether innovation can be dictated and prescribed, these arguments tend to revolve around the act of creativity or inspiration, rather than the process of innovation.  Just like strategy, being innovative or creative is useless unless ideas can be executed on.  The innovation strategy framework does not attempt to regulate the act of inspiration, only to provide an environment fostering both the identification of ideas as well as the development of these ideas into successful projects.

InnovationModel

Figure 1. The Innovation Strategy Framework

One of the single greatest challenges in developing sustainable innovation practices is not the lack of ideas, but the inability to focus on those ideas most likely to succeed, both in the market as well as within the organization.  Organizations are awash in good ideas, but lack the resources and capabilities to develop all of them into viable products, services, and processes.  Rather than selecting and curating the best ideas, the ones most aligned with the organization’s capabilities and direction, ideas are often selected solely at the whims of organizational influencers using idiosyncratic criteria.  Innovation tends to be born out of circumstance rather than cognizance.

This is where strategic domains fit into the innovation strategy framework (figure 1).

Strategic Innovation Domains

Every company has a set of strategic goals, either explicit or implicit.  These strategic goals help orient the organization, prioritize spending, and become the yardstick by which success is measured.  It only makes sense that these same goals should help an organization identify, develop, and manage its innovation efforts.  Strategic innovation domains align the innovation process with the overall organization acting as agents in the innovation process to seek out innovation opportunities contributing to organizational success.

The inclusion of strategic innovation domains is the key difference between the innovation strategy framework and many other approaches to sustainable innovation.  Innovation is frequently addressed as something that everyone in the organization should do, or be a part of.  Again, this is likely a result of confounding ideation from execution; however, even regarding ideation, expecting organizational participants to be more innovative or creative simply because they are told to do misses the mark.  Employees see this as another task they are expected to perform in addition to their existing duties, without additional compensation.  In addition, this approach is based on the notion that organizations lack ideas, rather than lacking a focused approach to seeking out and executing on the right ideas.

Applying Focus to Innovation Efforts

Strategic domains focus on innovation execution.  Each strategic domain is responsible for identifying, developing, and managing innovation aligned with its strategic focus.  Rather than relying on happenstance to surface the right innovation ideas, strategic domains leverage the innovation processes (attracting, foraying, and experiencing) to seek out appropriate ideas as well as develop the most promising ones.  There are several benefits to this approach.

Imagine if an organization refused to invest in accounting and just told employees to be more accountable.

The most obvious benefit is the alignment of innovation and the strategic trajectory of the organization.  There should be as many strategic innovation domains as there are strategic goals within the organization.  If the organizational strategy changes, then the strategic innovation domains should change to reflect this.  In this manner, the organization’s innovation efforts are focused on those most likely to fit within the organization’s capabilities and long-term focus.  This significantly reduces the signal to noise ratio by eliminating those ideas unlikely to be successfully executed by the organization.

By making an individual (or group) specifically responsible for innovation efforts, you also gain ownership.  If everyone is responsible for innovation, then no one can be held responsible for the success or failure.  Using the innovation pipeline approach of the strategic innovation framework, the innovation efforts of each strategic domain can be measured; and, that which can be measured, can be managed.  Strategic domains make innovation just as much a part of business operations as HR, accounting, sales, or product management.

Finally, making innovation the primary function of an individual (or individuals), leads to more consistent performance.  Making innovation “everyone’s job” in addition to their existing roles means either innovation or operations will suffer when the two objectives compete.  Employing people with dedicated innovation functions ensures continued focus on developing innovation and raises the chances of success significantly.

Importance of Strategic Domains

The number of organizations believing they will be successful with innovation without investing is staggering.  This would be a ridiculous approach to any other business activity.  Imagine if an organization refused to invest in accounting and just told employees to be more accountable.  Yet, when it comes to innovation, leaders somehow assume that telling employees to be more innovative will somehow launch the next market-leading product or service.   Investing in strategic innovation domains not only creates an environment where innovation can succeed, it also telegraphs the organization’s commitment to being successful.  It’s easy to say you believe in the importance to innovative, but until you are willing to invest, it is hard to believe it.

 

 

Ecosystems Thinking for Social Change

Ecosystem, or “system” thinking is not necessarily about ecology, but uses an ecological metaphor to explore the interconnectedness of various aspects of any system (Mars, Bronstein, & Lusch, 2014).  This is a critical skill for business organizations to aid strategy and innovation.  It is also an area where versatilists often shine, because versatilists are uniquely adept at taking deep knowledge from one system and applying it to their understanding of new systems, often leading to unique insights.  However, that is not what this blog is about.  This is about how a lack of systems thinking is trapping our society into repeating the same issues repeatedly.  This is about how electing people who comprehend systems thinking might be a better means of bringing about social change.

The Heart of Systems Thinking

At the heart of systems thinking is to keep in mind that no problem, no solution, no individual exists in a vacuum.  The whole world is a set of interrelated systems that influence and affect those around it; changes in one system ripple throughout our entire society.  Systems thinking involves attempting to understand and evaluate any problem or solution within the context of the bigger picture.

For instance, take constraint theory (Tulasi & Rao, 2012).  Constraint theory suggests that any system or process is constrained by the least capable or least efficient step in the system; this is often equated with the “weakest link” idea that a chain is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.  The idea behind constraint theory, however, suggests that if you fortify the weakest link (solving that problem), you have simultaneously created a new “weakest link” (formerly, the next-to-weakest link).  In addition, the newer, stronger link may also have other unintended consequences (maybe by making it stronger, you have also made it bigger, which affects some other function).  In essence, the process to creating a stronger chain is a never-ending task as each solution has ramifications.

In systems thinking, you must evaluate how a solution to one problem may create a new problem or change the dynamics of another system.  This potential new problem must also be evaluated to determine if it is a bigger problem than the one you are attempting to solve, or makes the solution you have proposed untenable.  Problem solving, like creating a stronger chain, is a never-ending process.  However, the intended result is improving the overall whole, ensuring one solution doesn’t create a bigger problem somewhere else.

Unfortunately, without systems thinking, we are failing to create an overall better society, but are remaining mostly stationary.  Solutions examined and evaluated within a vacuum, create ripples that, instead of moving us forward, keep us in a constant state.

Examples of Non-Systems Thinking Challenges

The worst part of failing to apply systems thinking to the problems of our society, is when the same groups of people argue for two independent solutions, which are counterproductive; i.e., when the same group argues for one solution that aggravates another problem they are trying to solve and vice-versa.  It is important to understand that, in and of themselves, the proposed solutions may be perfectly good solutions; it is only when you combine the system effects that issue become apparent.  It is also important to note that this is not an analysis of the merits of any particular solution or point of view.  There is no intent to endorse or oppose any of the individual solutions, simply to illustrate the systems effects of those solutions.

Immigration Reform and Free Trade Agreements

By itself, building a border wall, while economically questionable, is a perfectly legitimate solution to preventing illegal immigration via our southern US borer.  It is not the only solution of course, but it is a possible solution.  We can debate this one way or the other, but even opponents must admit that it is a solution whether they agree it is the right one or not.

Similarly, eliminating or significantly reducing free trade, particularly with low-cost labor countries like Mexico is a legitimate solution to reducing job-loss in the US via off-shore outsourcing by US companies and keeping US investment in the US.  Again, not the only solution, but certainly one way to address the issue.  We can once again debate this, but it must be accepted that it is a solution.

However, when put together, these solutions are counter-productive.  By eliminating the ability for Mexico to continue to develop and build their economic capability (by granting them easy access to US markets and US investment), their standard of living will likely decline.  A decline in standard of living (loss of jobs and the income from it) only perpetuates the growth of illicit enterprises (e.g. drugs) as well as makes illegally emigrating to the US more attractive.  As such, from a systems perspective, reversing free trade agreements will likely compound the issue of illegal immigration, as well as drug smuggling and other issues.  This places even bigger demands on the needs of border protection and immigration control.  These are misaligned solutions from a systems perspective.

Welfare Reform and Birth Control

Another counterproductive combination of arguments is simultaneously arguing for reducing the US welfare system, while simultaneously arguing to eliminate birth control options, including sex education and access to safe abortions.  Again, in and of their own, each of these arguments are perfectly reasonable and can be understood.   Without applying personal judgements on them, they are reasonable goals and can be respected.  From a systems perspective however, these are not isolated issues or goals, they have complex interactions which makes arguing for both less reasonable.   The only logical result of limiting sex education and access to birth control measures is an increase in women and children within the welfare system.  It is illogical to argue for both actions, even if either one of them in isolation can at least be recognized as reasonable.

Cyber Security and Encryption Strength

Just this last week, there were two articles published.  The first one detailed how Russian hackers have been targeting the personal (non-government) cell phones of NATO soldiers to track, intimidate, and spy on them.  The second one detailed the Department of Justice (DoJ) pushing for US technology firms to make it easier for law enforcement to access the encrypted (personal) devices of accused criminals.  Again, arguing for improved safety and security of our personal information, particularly through strong encryption is a reasonable solution to rampant cyber crime.  It is also reasonable to argue that law enforcement should be able to access the information they need to convict criminals for breaking the law.  Unfortunately, you cannot reasonably argue for both as the one comes at the cost of the other.  Arguing that we need to better protect our personal information from thieves, while simultaneously arguing to hobble encryption for government access are mutually exclusive goals.

Understanding the Bigger Picture is Essential

Systems thinking requires us to look at the proposed solutions and understand their ultimate effects.  It asks us to better understand how seemingly separate systems interact and how changes in one creates ripple effects in others.  Besides allowing us to mediate between counter-productive arguments, systems thinking also provides an opportunity to discover new solutions.

By broadening our thinking, systems thinking allows us to uncover new solutions to old problems.  If we see how changes in one system can ripple into others, we can harness these ripples for positive change in our society.  It asks us to look at why things happen, at root causes, rather than addressing the ramifications or symptoms of those problems.  It allows us to explore how numerous problems in our society may be linked by ripple effects of similar issues we haven’t imagined.  For instance, could the rising costs of US health care (and its effects on treatment of mental health issues) be a progenitor of the rising threats of violence and recruitment of disaffected youth by terrorist organizations?   Could the antiquated US tax system be a progenitor of immigration challenges, job-loss through outsourcing, and increased income divisions?  Could US foreign policy be a bigger source of terrorist threats than religious extremism?  Systems thinking helps us see how solving one challenge may also have positive benefits on others.

Unfortunately, we do not look at problems as components in a unified system of systems, we tend to look at individual problems and argue solutions without thinking about the ramifications of those arguments.  We frequently miss the forest for the trees.  The effect is to leave us in a perpetual state of uncertainty, never moving society fully forward no matter how many problems we try to solve.  We never address the true source of the problem, only applying patches that don’t align and don’t solve the underlying problem.  We would all do better if we took a more holistic view of the problems we face, rather than reactively addressing symptoms.

 

References

Mars, M., Bronstein, J., & Lusch, R. (2014). Organizations as ecosystems: Probing the value of a metaphor. Rotman Management, 73–77.

Tulasi, C. L., & Rao, A. R. (2012). Review on theory of constraints. International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, 3(1), 334–344. http://doi.org/10.2307/25148735

 

4 Steps to Initiating Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is an increasingly common topic.  The advent of freemium and non-linear revenue generation is shaking the foundations of many established organizations whose tried-and-true business models are feeling constrained and sluggish. Even large organizations with strong track records of innovation are feeling consistent pressure to keep up with these rapidly changing market dynamics (Terlep, 2017).  Ironically, many business leaders and strategist have given very little thought to their business model.  Here are four steps, and resources, to assist in getting a grip on initiating business model innovation.

#1 Understand What Your (a) Business Model Is

Perhaps it is an artifact of our technology driven culture where massive companies are built without ever even having a business model, but before you can innovate a business model, you need to understand what a business model is in its most basic form, and what your specific model is.  At its core a business model comprises two basic concepts:

  1. Value Creation (how do you create value); and,
  2. Value Capture (how do you capture some of that value as profit) (Matzler, Bailom, von den Eichen, & Kohler, 2013).

While perhaps pedantic, understanding this basic construct of a business model is highly informative and the progenitor to all other business decisions. They are also the starting place for business model innovation.  Increasing the perceived value of your product without changing the cost to produce it can increase market penetration by being seen as a value offering if you don’t increase price, can increase profit if you capture this new value as profit by also raising prices, or both if the increase in perceived value is greater than the increase in price.  Conversely, maintaining perceived value, but reducing price or the costs to create the product can affect profit.  All business decisions start at this basic level and the business model informs every other aspect of the business.

The part of a business model most misunderstood is the effect of perceived customer value; yet this is one of the most important factors.  Even if your product is no different from competitors, if customers perceive it as more valuable, you have created more value – value you can capture either as market share or in direct profit.  This makes understanding your product’s value proposition a key part of business model innovation.

#2 Understand Your Product/Service Value Proposition

Many businesses either don’t understand the true job that their product performs for their customers, or believe it has no effect on the bottom line (Christensen, Anthony, Berstell, & Nitterhouse, 2007).  Yet, understanding how and why a customer is using your product or service is a key component to evaluating the perceived value.  If you don’t know what job your product is performing, it is difficult to properly affect the perception of how well it does that job.  Christensen, Anthony, Berstell, and Nitterhouse (2007) document several examples of how understanding the right job for your product is essential to understanding perceived value.

For example, how does the value of certain features of your product change depending on how the user is using it?  Does a soccer mom have a different perception of her vehicle than a travelling salesperson?  Does this perceptual difference affect the perceived value of your current product?  Understanding how your products and services are perceived and what their true function is in the lives of its consumers is critical to your business model.  Not only will it help you find ways of maximizing your current business model, it may also lead to new ways of capturing and/or creating value (Bettencourt & Ulwick, 2008).

Understanding how the percieved value of your offering differs, and what contexts affect this perception is a gateway to finding new ways of value capture.  Instead of just offering a product, there may be services when combined with the product could greatly elevate the value.  The easiest example of this is the iTunes store added to the iPod.  Not only did the iTunes store add a significant new revenue stream to apple, it greatly increased the value of the iPod because it worked seamlessly with iTunes to make finding and exploring new music simple.  Capturing “out-of-band” value is an excercise in nonlinearity.

#3 Understand Nonlinearity

Linear bias, the tendency for humans to think in straight-line correlations, can lead to very costly mistakes (Bart de LangheStefano PuntoniRichard Larrick, 2017).  While understanding we live in a nonlinear world is important in and of itself, it can have pronounced effects on business models.  This linear thinking process can severely limit your ability to understand or comprehend business model innovation; we are taught from day one in business school that profit is generate through the difference between the cost to create a product and the price we sell the product for.  In Competing Against Free (2011), Bryce, Dyer and Hatch examine how this linear approach to business models can prevent successful organizations from competing with start-ups using nonlinear business models to capture value indirectly.

The reality is we generate profit based on the cost to create value, and how much of that value we can capture.  This does not suggest that we must capture value directly from the sale of the product, nor does it say we can’t. This is most readily visible in software subscriptions (Microsoft, Adobe) and other technology sectors, but companies like Gillette, HP, and others have built their business similarly for decades.  By selling their “products” at, or below, cost and captured value through the supplies necessary to keep those products functioning they have moved from “product” companies to “service” companies by realigning how they create and capture value.    Evaluating the cost and benefits of these approaches is why understanding nonlinearity is especially important to business model innovation.

#4 Understand Whether to Innovate, How, and When

One of the lessons of Competing Against Free (Bryce et al., 2011) is just because someone else has a different business model, doesn’t necessarily mean you should change yours as well.  Business model innovation is not a simple process and can depend on the conditions of the market and internal dynamics like the presence of leadership capable of making tough decisions and building organizational consensus (Giesen, Riddleberger, Christner, & Bell, 2010).   This is not a process for the faint of heart as it likely affects every aspect of your business from how you market and sell your products, the partner organizations you work with, and even basic accounting, cost-controls, and financial reporting.  Since the business model is the most basic statement of your “theory of business”, changing your model changes everything.

The positive side is that even if you don’t implement a complete business model change, going through these steps will surely uncover a host of ideas about how you can elevate customer perceived value or better capture the value you already create.  It may also help you better understand what new competitive business models might be lurking out there, how they operate, and how you can address them should they come knocking.  Lastly, it may lead to a business model refresh, softening the organization for the day a full business model innovation needs to take place.

References

Bart de LangheStefano PuntoniRichard Larrick. (2017). Linear Thinking in a Nonlinear World. Harvard Business Review, (June). Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Bettencourt, L. A., & Ulwick, A. W. (2008). The customer-centered innovation map. Harvard Business Review, 86(5), 109–114. http://doi.org/Article

Bryce, D. J., Dyer, J. H., & Hatch, N. W. (2011). Competing against free. Harvard Business Review, 89(6). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/

Christensen, C. M., Anthony, S. D., Berstell, G., & Nitterhouse, D. (2007). Finding the right job for your product. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(3), 38. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/

Giesen, E., Riddleberger, E., Christner, R., & Bell, R. (2010). When and how to innovate your business model. Strategy & Leadership, 38(4), 17–26. http://doi.org/10.1108/10878571011059700

Matzler, K., Bailom, F., von den Eichen, S. F., & Kohler, T. (2013). Business model innovation: Coffee triumphs for Nespresso. The Journal of Business Strategy, 34(2), 30–37. http://doi.org/10.1108/02756661311310431

Terlep, S. (2017). Procter & Gamble vs. Nelson Peltz: A Battle for the Future of Big Brands – WSJ. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/p-g-vs-nelson-peltz-a-battle-over-the-future-of-big-brands-1507485229

 

The Processes of Innovation

Successful innovation requires more than just an idea, but the knowledge necessary to develop and deliver innovation based on those ideas.  Even with access to rich knowledge resources, failure is an inherent part of the innovation process (McGrath, 2011).  Processes for selecting, promoting, and executing innovative ideas are critical to innovative strategy.

Different Types of Knowledge Development Processes

Capturing the full value of an organization’s knowledge resources requires understanding the value of various knowledge sources and the processes for selecting, promoting, and executing on the most promising ideas.  Not all knowledge has the same value to the organization, nor can it be captured using the same processes (Mahroeian & Forozia, 2012; Wilson & Doz, 2011).  Wilson and Doz identified three different types of knowledge: existential, embedded, and explicit; although, Mahroeian and Forozia simply define knowledge as existing on a continuum between explicit and existential (or tacit). Each of these knowledge resources requires unique processes and systems for effective utilization by the organization.  Leveraging the concepts of agile innovation (Wilson & Doz, 2011), these processes include attracting, foraying, and experiencing.

Attracting

Attracting is a process designed to bring ideas into the organization from outside.  What may once have been the sole domain of customer experience surveys and suggestion boxes has evolved rapidly over the last few years.  Today, attracting is commonly achieved via communities of excellence, online community forums, and crowdsourcing platforms.

Leveraging the concepts of agile innovation, these processes include attracting, foraying, and experiencing.

Foraying

While attracting, once initiated, is mostly a passive activity managing the influx of ideas and opportunities, foraying is a much more active activity.  Foraying is a process where individuals within the organization seek out and discover information and ideas.  This can be formalized as business development activities, or accidental as part of the normal business interactions with customers, vendors, or other employees.  Foraying requires more direct involvement in uncovering potential ides.

Experiencing

On the opposite end of the spectrum from attracting is experiencing.  Some knowledge and ideas cannot be fully understood or mastered without experiencing them directly.  This is particularly true with tacit knowledge, or ideas rooted intricately in the culture or context in which they originated.

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

The process to capture, promote, and execute on the different types of knowledge requires varying degrees of effort.  For instance, Wilson and Doz suggested explicit knowledge was easiest to capture through an attracting process similar to virtual communities (VC’s) or crowdsourcing approaches (Hammon & Hippner, 2012; Schröder & Hölzle, 2010). VC’s provide an organization a simple, cost-effective method for capturing the innovative ideas of the masses.  At the same time, this easily codified and transmitted knowledge can also be easily stolen or replicated by competitors, diminishing its competitive value.

On the other end of the spectrum, Wilson and Doz argued tacit knowledge can only be acquired through an experiencing process involving greater time and investment targeted at specific markets, challenges, and geographies. This tacit knowledge is more difficult and expensive to obtain. Yet, because of the time and investment, it is also much more difficult for competitors to replicate, which means it also holds much greater strategic value.

Organizations need to develop integrated methods of accessing and converting these resources into viable products and service opportunities, suggesting processes cannot only be for ideation, but also for the selection and continued development of innovative solutions.  At the same time, they must fully understand the risks and rewards associated with the means of accumulating and developing that knowledge.  This is a critical element of innovation success.

Fitting Process into the Innovation Strategy Framework

Innovation processes represent the specific tools through which the organization engages knowledge resources in ideation and execution (black boxes in Figure 1). Per Wilson and Doz, these are not mutually exclusive, but represent potential means of engaging knowledge resources as required in the development of innovative solutions.  For instance, ideation might be achieved using VC’s (attracting), but further development might require rapid prototyping (Sandmeier, Morrison, & Gassmann, 2010; Tuulenmäki & Välikangas, 2011) using direct, on-site customer engagement (foraying), or long-term development within market (experiencing).  Likewise, innovative ideas developed through experiencing might be tested in different markets (foraying) or through crowdsourced selection processes (attracting).  The processes are the formalized ways in which the people across the model interact; they are the tools of innovation selection and development.

InnovationModel

The Innovation Strategy Framework

Furthermore, successful innovation practices require the continued application of knowledge resources from ideation through execution.  The prospect of failure is not only inherent to innovation, failure is a likely part of innovation execution (McGrath, 2011).  McGrath encouraged organizations to embrace the learning opportunities inherent in innovation execution, proposing the use of small-scale experimentation to minimize large-scale failure.  The application of rapid-prototyping and extreme programming processes to new product and service development promote similar practices (Abele, 2011; Sandmeier et al., 2010; Tuulenmäki & Välikangas, 2011).  Sandmeier et al. investigated the use of extreme programming practices in the development of innovative products, and found the early and continued involvement of diverse external knowledge resources was positively related to successful innovation.  Tuulenmäki and Välikangas extolled the similar value of rapid prototyping and experimentation in the successful execution of innovative solutions.  Each of these perspectives suggest the continued inclusion of an organization’s knowledge resources throughout innovation execution to refine and develop optimal solutions.   As a result, the use of attracting, foraying, and experiencing processes to leverage an organization’s knowledge network does not end once ideation is complete, but must be integrated across the entire innovation process.

Opening the entire innovation process to actors beyond the direct control of the organization requires significant dedication from an organization’s leadership.  Developing a culture of innovation is the final major element of innovation strategy.

 

 

References

Abele, J. (2011). Bringing minds together. Harvard Business Review, 89(7–8). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/

Hammon, L., & Hippner, H. (2012). Crowdsourcing. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 4(3), 1–166. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12599-012-0215-7

Mahroeian, H., & Forozia, A. (2012). Challenges in managing tacit knowledge: A study on difficulties in diffusion of tacit knowledge in organizations. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(19), 303–308. Retrieved from http://ijbssnet.com/

McGrath, R. G. (2011). Failing by design. Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 76–83. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Sandmeier, P., Morrison, P. D., & Gassmann, O. (2010). Integrating customers in product innovation: Lessons from industrial development contractors and in-house contractors in rapidly changing customer markets. Creativity and Innovation Management, 19(2), 89–106. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8691.2010.00555.x

Schröder, A., & Hölzle, K. (2010). Virtual communities for innovation: Influence factors and impact on company innovation. Creativity and Innovation Management, 19(3), 257–268. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8691.2010.00567.x

Tuulenmäki, A., & Välikangas, L. (2011). The art of rapid, hands-on execution innovation. Strategy & Leadership, 39(2), 28–35. http://doi.org/10.1108/10878571111114446

Wilson, K., & Doz, Y. L. (2011). Agile innovation: A footprint balancing distance and immersion. California Management Review, 53(2), 6–26. http://doi.org/10.1525/cmr.2011.53.2.6

“Zone to Win” Missing Critical Elements of Innovation Strategy

Although Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete In an Age of Disruption by Geoffrey Moore is a wonderful framework for the management of organizational resources to both lead, as well as survive, disruptive innovation, there are some missing elements that might prove useful to readers.  Specifically, Moore focuses on management, and although absolutely necessary, management does not supersede strategy or innovation in long-term success.  Zone to Win fails to encompass appropriate innovation strategy in two ways: the idea of disrupting your own organization, and gap between innovation ideation and implementation.

The Strategy of Disrupting Your Own Organization

Moore seems uncharacteristically blunt on the idea of organizations needing to disrupt their own business.  Moore suggests “all that stuff about how you have to learn to disrupt ourself–it’s baloney. It can’t be done.”  Moore’s contention is that it is impossible for an established business to replace one business model with another; yet, later in the book documents the success of organizations like Adobe and Microsoft that have radically changed their business models to deliver software via subscription instead of perpetual licensing.  It turns out Adobe and Microsoft are two excellent examples for exploring why it is absolutely important for organizations to engage in deliberate acts of self-disruption.  Adobe intentionally disrupted their existing business model (a highly profitable one) before anyone else could eat their lunch; Microsoft changed theirs only after Google started taking away their business.  Adobe was seen as a leader; Microsoft as a laggard.

From an organizational strategy standpoint, it is absolutely critical to develop strategic scenarios of how the future world may look, and how those changes may affect your existing business model.  Scenario planning provides context that is essential when disruption happens, but more importantly, can presage potential disruptions before they happen.  If scenario planning illuminates a significant threat, the organization has only two options: disrupt their own business in order to transfer old business to new business; or, let someone else start eating away your customer base.  It can be argued that cannibalizing your own business, if only to prevent someone else from doing so, makes sense in its own right.  If that new business also portends an era of growth, more the better.

Working to disrupt your own business should not be an organization’s only focus, but failure to even contemplate it, or act upon it, is a strategic failure.

Moore does cover how an organization can respond to disruptive innovations once the initial attacks begin and makes an excellent case for how to manage those attacks.  However, by dismissing, out of hand, the idea that an organization can lead those disruptions, and thus avoid the attack in the first place, Moore seems to completely discount the value of doing so.  While a brilliant theorist like Moore likely meant to dissuade companies from trying a wholesale rip-and-replace of their business model (not something any serious innovation strategist would propose), simply dismissing the strategic value of self-disruption seems cursory.  Moore’s stance is even more glaring considering the zone management framework he proposes actually makes it possible to disrupt your own business in a structured, well-managed way.

Working to disrupt your own business should not be an organization’s only focus, but failure to even contemplate it, or act upon it, is a strategic failure.

Mind the Gap

Another topic which gets too little attention in Zone to Win, is the gap between innovation ideation and the development of the Incubation Organizational Units (IOUs) suggested to incubate and develop promising innovation efforts.  Here again, Moore proposes management organization and governance brilliantly, but only once the innovation ideas get to the point of being a well-formed business proposals.  What is missing is the innovation strategy to get from ideation to the point of proposal.  Aside from a brief mention of internal R&D or other means, Moore fails to specify where this fits in the zone management framework, or how to appropriately fund it.

There is substantial research supporting the notion that “having ideas” is not the challenge for most established organizations.  On the contrary, the most commonly cited challenge is in identifying ideas with potential, and exploring them to the point where they can be taken as serious projects for the organization.   This process needs to be budgeted for, managed, and held accountable in order to be successful.  Without it, the only projects that move forward will be those lucky enough to have a champion with the authority, clout, and budget to develop them.  This creates a choke point to innovation.

Yet, it misses the fact most start-ups don’t start life with venture capital; they start with funding from the founders and personal investors until they have something they can pitch to those VCs.

Moore’s framework suggests treating IOUs as “start-up” companies and funding them just like venture capitalists (VCs) would, which is (again) a brilliant way to manage well-formed ideas.  Yet, it misses the fact most start-ups don’t start life with venture capital; they start with funding from the founders and personal investors until they have something they can pitch to those VCs.  This stage in the innovation cycle is critical and where most start-ups fail.  It is the large end of the funnel.  In such a well thought-out framework as Zone to Win presents, missing this critical element is disappointing.

Appropriately funding and managing the initial R&D neccessary to initiate innovation is just as critical to success as any other component.  However, the idea of funding pure R&D is not common among many of the organizations that would most benefit from taking Moore’s framework to heart.  Even technology organizations often do this as skunkworks or “off-the-books” projects with little organization, governance, or metrics.  Moore’s failure to address this misses a critical element in successfully leading disruptive innovation.

A Step in the Right Direction

Barring these two criticisms, Moore’s work has certainly cemented his place in the annals of business gurus and shows a continuing dedication to helping organizations overcome their own success.  The zone management framework provides a blueprint for overcoming the obstacles Clayton Christensen (and colleagues) frequently cites as the downfall of established organziations in light of disruptive innovation.  Most importantly, Moore adds significant credibility to the idea that innovation can only be truly successful if: a) it is done outside of the main business (incubation versus performance zones); and, b) it is treated with the same care and dedication used to manage any business process.   By addressing the importance of strategic planning, and formally defining the R&D component, zone management would be even better.

Lastly, one word of warning to devotees seeking to implement zone management. Remember the words of Michael Porter: “strategic positioning, means performing different activities from rivals’ or performing similar activities in different ways (1996, p. 62).  Frameworks like Moore’s are effective tools, but without making them your own, they lose their strategic value.  This is where leadership takes over from management.

References

Porter, M. E. (1996). What is strategy? Harvard Business Review, 74(6), 61–78. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

 

The Three “People” Needed for Successful Innovation

Despite decades of research into the constructs of innovation, few practical sources of sustained innovation have proven causal to organizational success.  A cursory examination of innovation theory fails to provide concrete evidence that innovation, in itself, is key to long-term success; most innovation theories rely on post-hoc analysis of firm performance focused on successes, rather than failures (Buisson & Silberzahn, 2010; Burke, van Stel, & Thurik, 2010).  The term innovation is just as difficult to articulate being equally evaluated through ex post selection of successful innovation rather than innovative efforts in general.  While innovation may not guarantee firm success, it is clear that organizations failing to adopt to the pace of the modern, global marketplace will flounder (Reeves & Deimler, 2011); the chances of success increase dramatically if organizations are positioned to innovate and change in response.  As such, understanding the models, systems, and approaches improving an organization’s ability to innovate are increasingly important even if they are not proven to promote long-term success, or even successful innovation. This is the basis of the Innovation Strategy Framework, which attempts to combine multiple theories of innovation into a single construct.

InnovationModel

Figure 1. The Innovation Strategy Framework

Today, we are going to look at the importance of people to innovation strategy, what those people do, where they come from, and why they are important to innovation.

Human capital, or the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics (KSAO’s) of the people associated with the organization are the source of innovation.  Human capital is a critical starting point and requirement for the development of organizational knowledge and innovation capabilities (Choong, 2008; Ployhart, Nyberg, Reilly, & Maltarich, 2014).  This is not just the employees of the organization, but also the knowledge resources of partners and other collaborators.  The greater the diversity and density of these knowledge resources, the greater the potential for organizations to achieve innovative outcomes (Dell’Era & Verganti, 2010; Phelps, 2010).   Clearly, the depth, breadth, and quality of the people in the organization are critical dimensions of innovation capability.

The three main groups of people necessary for successful, serial innovation capability are: the people with innovation ideas, the people nurturing and developing ideas into successful innovation, and the organizational leadership fostering innovation.

People as the Source of Ideation

The largest group of people involved with innovation is the infinite sources of innovation ideas (left side of Figure 1).  This group of people, including customers, partners, employees, and others, are the heterogeneous sources of knowledge providing innovative ideas and solutions.  These resources are both internal and external, creating the depth, breadth, and diversity of knowledge to supply the organization with innovative fuel (Dell’Era & Verganti, 2010; Phelps, 2010; Rothaermel & Hess, 2010).  The composition of an organization’s knowledge ecosystem (employees, partners, customers, and others) significantly contributes to the ability of an organization to successfully innovate (Dell’Era & Verganti, 2010; Engel & Del-Palacio, 2011; Kim & Ployhart, 2014; Phelps, 2010; Rothaermel & Hess, 2010; Sandmeier, Morrison, & Gassmann, 2010; Wilson & Doz, 2011).

Interestingly, while this is the largest group of people directly involved with innovation efforts, they are not necessarily the most important.  Yet, many organizations embark on innovation efforts by encouraging their employees to “be more creative”, or “be innovative”.   To the contrary, research suggests most organizations have far more innovation ideas than they can possible deal with; the problem is selecting and developing ideas into real-world solutions.  While organizations need to encourage innovation and creativity, making it the primary focus of innovation efforts will fail more often than succeed. The belief that innovation stems from the rare, perfect idea is a pervasive myth.

Ideation is essential, but completely useless without the other people necessary for innovation success.

People Strategically Selecting and Developing Innovation

On the right side of Figure 1, people in the strategic domains represent the knowledge resources responsible for taking innovative ideas and developing them in alignment with organizational goals and strategy (Ramírez, Roodhart, & Manders, 2011). This group of people is arguably the most important innovation resource in the organization as they are often able to achieve innovation in the absence of well-defined innovation strategies or formally defined roles to direct innovation.  Unfortunately, in the absence of a strategic innovation practices, innovation success is less than assured, becoming the victim of conflicting responsibilities.

Instead of relying on happenstance, organizations should create specific job roles whose entire function is to surface, develop, and promote innovation ideas specific to one strategic organizational goal.  While the strategic goals themselves may change from year-to-year, or be longer term, these strategic innovation specialists are charged with all aspects of taking ideas aligned with their strategic focus from ideation all the way through market release.  These individuals are like innovation product managers, with a portfolio of potential innovation ideas.

The caveat here is that each individual (or team) should be focused solely on one strategic organizational goal, and must have the appropriate resources (outside of existing product management) to develop and mature their innovation portfolio, which leads us to the last group of people necessary for succesful innovation.

Innovation Leadership

Developing an innovation capability within an organization takes substantial effort (Barreto, 2010; Wilson & Doz, 2011).  Accumulating the vast knowledge resources to drive innovation and implementing the systems and processes to integrate knowledge into innovative execution takes significant resources, will, and commitment.   At the top of Figure 1, innovation leadership develops knowledge networks, provides resources to create innovation processes, and the creation, funding, and direction of strategic domain groups (Brown & Anthony, 2011; Engel & Del-Palacio, 2011; Ramírez et al., 2011; Rufat-Latre, Muller, & Jones, 2010).  Without dramatic changes in the way organizations are led, innovation cannot consistently take root (Hamel, 2009).

Innovative management strategies incorporate novel ways of interacting with customers, driving cultures of trust, and opening the organization to honest debate (Abele, 2011; Capozzi, Dye, & Howe, 2008; McGrath, 2011).  McGrath argues fear of failure inhibits organizations from achieving great innovation and an acceptance of potential failure can help organizations use failure to achieve success. Capozzi, Dye and Howe report the benefits of challenging the status quo of the organization often presents a springboard to innovation.  In much the same way reducing the fear of failure helps to spark responsible risk taking, reducing the fear of challenging organizational orthodoxies helps ensure that new ideas are not discarded simply because they are counter to the way things are currently done.  These cultural changes are more difficult than getting the right people or developing systems and processes; they require commitment at the highest levels of the organization.  Without leadership demonstrating this commitment to innovative practices, organizations are unlikely to truly capture their innovative capabilities.

Bridging the Divide

Having all the right people is critical to achieving long-term innovation capability.  Organizations already have an embarrassment of riches in terms of innovative, creative ideas, but without the appropriate people committed and dedicated to their development, innovation success is only a matter of chance.  It happens all the time, but rarely more than once or twice within the same organization.  Only the organizations designed and aligned to foster innovation and committed to the process achieve long-term, repeatable innovation success (think Shell, P&G, or 3M).  Simply telling your employees to be more innovative or offering a suggestion box is not sufficient.

Even having the right people is not enough.  Without the processes governing how these people work together to create successful innovation, success is possible but not guaranteed.  In the next Innovation Playbook, we will look at how to manage the innovation process for success. 

 

References

Abele, J. (2011). Bringing minds together. Harvard Business Review, 89(7–8). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/

Barreto, I. (2010). Dynamic capabilities: A review of past research and an agenda for the future. Journal of Management, 36(1), 256–280. http://doi.org/10.1177/0149206309350776

Brown, B., & Anthony, S. D. (2011). How P&G tripled its innovation success rate. Harvard Business Review, 89(6), 64–72. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Buisson, B., & Silberzahn, P. (2010). Blue ocean or fast-second innovation? A four-breakthrough model to explain successful market domination. International Journal of Innovation Management, 14(3), 359–378. http://doi.org/10.1142/S1363919610002684

Burke, A., van Stel, A., & Thurik, R. (2010). Blue ocean vs. five forces. Harvard Business Review, 88(5), 28. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Capozzi, M. M., Dye, R., & Howe, A. (2008). Sparking creativity in teams: An executive’s guide. McKinsey & Company, (April 2011), 1–8. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com

Choong, K. K. (2008). Intellectual capital: definitions, categorization and reporting models. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 9(4), 609–638. http://doi.org/10.1108/14691930810913186

Dell’Era, C., & Verganti, R. (2010). Collaborative strategies in design-intensive industries: Knowledge diversity and innovation. Long Range Planning, 43(1), 123–141. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2009.10.006

Engel, J. S., & Del-Palacio, I. (2011). Global clusters of innovation: The case of Israel and Silicon Valley. California Management Review, 53(2), 27–49. http://doi.org/10.1525/cmr.2011.53.2.27

Kim, Y., & Ployhart, R. E. (2014). The effects of staffing and training on firm productivity and profit growth before, during, and after the Great Recession. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(3), 361–89. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0035408

McGrath, R. G. (2011). Failing by design. Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 76–83. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

 

Phelps, C. C. (2010). A longitudinal study of the influence of alliance network structure and composition on firm exploratory innovation. Academy of Management Journal, 53(4), 890–913. http://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.52814627

Ployhart, R. E., Nyberg, A. J., Reilly, G., & Maltarich, M. a. (2014). Human capital Is dead; Long live human capital resources! Journal of Management, 40(2), 371–398. http://doi.org/10.1177/0149206313512152

Ramírez, R., Roodhart, L., & Manders, W. (2011). How Shell’s domains link innovation and strategy. Long Range Planning, 44(4), 250–270. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2011.04.003

Reeves, M., & Deimler, M. (2011). Adaptability: The new competitive advantage. Harvard Business Review, 89(7/8), 134–141. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Rufat-Latre, J., Muller, A., & Jones, D. (2010). Delivering on the promise of open innovation. Strategy & Leadership, 38(6), 23–28. http://doi.org/10.1108/10878571011088032

Rothaermel, F. T., & Hess, A. M. (2010). Innovation strategies combined. MIT Sloan Management Review, 51(3), 13–15. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/

Sandmeier, P., Morrison, P. D., & Gassmann, O. (2010). Integrating customers in product innovation: Lessons from industrial development contractors and in-house contractors in rapidly changing customer markets. Creativity and Innovation Management, 19(2), 89–106. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8691.2010.00555.x

 

Wilson, K., & Doz, Y. L. (2011). Agile innovation: A footprint balancing distance and immersion. California Management Review, 53(2), 6–26. http://doi.org/10.1525/cmr.2011.53.2.6

Follow the Leader – Followership vs. Leadership

There has been significant effort and press defining the properties and characteristics of leadership. There are probably hundreds of discrete classifications of leadership styles, each with its own unique perspective on what makes a great leader.  However, few of these approaches mention the most significant common factor: followers. A focus on followers, or why and how people follow a leader, is perhaps more instructive to the development of future leaders.

The Umwelt of Followership

Umwelt is a term used to describe the different perspectives individuals can have when viewing the same situation (Suderman, 2012).  Suderman documents the umwelton of followership as a means of understanding how perspectives of followership shape the success of those that would lead.  The umwelton documented include: position, power, situational, and partner.

Positional and power umwelton are somewhat traditional views of followership.  In each of these, the follower/leader dynamic is based on the perceptions of hierarchy and power typical of many organizations.  Leaders are defined by their roles within the organization and/or the authority they hold to induce followers to comply.  Conversely, followers perform simply because they do not have position or authority to do otherwise.  In this sense, leadership and followership have no relation to individual capabilities, only to circumstances.  Followers follow, but only through fear.

Situational umvelt defines leadership/followership based on the needs of the situation.  Much like the views of interdependent leadership (McCauley et al., 2008), this umwelt is characterized by leadership coming from the elevation of individuals based on expertise or idiosyncratic capabilities not found elsewhere. Interdependent leadership cultures are characterized as those treating leadership as a collective, collaborative process transcending any specific individual, while encompassing all individuals within the organization (McCauley et al., 2008). This idea of interdependent leadership, where leadership materializes through an adaptive, collaborative process is consistent with the descriptions of an actor-oriented scheme of organizational structure documented by Fjeldstad, Snow, Miles, & Lettl (2012). The concept of hierarchy, at least in terms of providing specific direction or work effort, is minimized. Both constructs suggest the complexity and challenges of modern markets/environments gives rise to the need for new methods of organization/leadership commensurate with these complexities.  This perspective has been famously followed by Netflix, as well as Zappos.  It’s long-term effectiveness for organizations has not been proven.

Finally, the partner umwelt is characterized, not by position, power, or situation, but by motives and intent (Suderman, 2012).  Followers choose to follow a leader because they believe in the purpose and goals the leader puts forth.  This umwelt encapsulates the idea that followers and leaders are co-dependent, but “. . . leaders can only lead when enabled by followers” (Suderman, 2012, p. 16).  Those in leadership roles may still have the position, power, or specific knowledge backing them in directing the actions of others, and still not be leaders in the minds of those they direct.  Followership is a state of mind, a true commitment to those that lead and the belief in where they are leading.  The umwelt of partner followership has a profound implication to what leadership truly is.

The Importance of Followership Perspective

The importance of understanding the umwelton of followership is critical towards becoming an effective leader.  Just being in a leadership role does not make you a leader.  Having position or power might result in people doing what you tell them, but does not necessarily make you a leader of people.  It also doesn’t mean that people will be engaged, perform their best, or go the extra mile to achieve superior outcomes.  They will simply do the least amount necessary.

True leaders focus more on the goals, the purpose, and the intent of where they are leading and convince others the destination is worth the effort.  True leaders understand that leadership is about harnessing the beliefs and desires of the entire organization towards a single goal, rather than building their own legacy. While putting the group first is not a natural tendency, it is a core requirement for building the trust necessary for true leadership (Collins, 2001; Collins & Porras, 2002; Sinek, 2014).   And, once a leader convinces others to follow, it doesn’t matter if they are in a leadership role or not.

Only followers can choose whom they follow; and, without true followers there are no true leaders.  Leaders never accomplish anything on their own.

References

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Collins, J. C., & Porras, J. I. (2002). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Fjeldstad, Ø. D., Snow, C. C., Miles, R. E., & Lettl, C. (2012). The architecture of collaboration. Strategic Management Journal, 33(6), 734–750. Retrieved from 10.1002/smj.1968

McCauley, C. D., Palus, C. J., Drath, W. H., Hughes, R. L., McGuire, J. B., O’Connor, P. M. G., & Van Velsor, E. (2008). Interdependent leadership in organizations: Evidence from six case studies. A Center for Creative Leadership Report. Retrieved from http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&btnG=Search&q=intitle:Interdependent+Leadership+in+Organizations:+Evidence+from+six+case+studies#0

Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t (Kindle). New York, NY: Penquin Group.

Suderman, J. (2012). The umwelt of followership. Strategic Leadership Review, 1(1). Retrieved from http://scholar.google.com/

NetFlix: Practical Examples of People, Process, and Culture in Creating Innovation

In keeping with the traditional analysis of innovative success, a post hoc examination of an organization known for innovation provides anecdotal evidence of the impact of people, process, and culture on organizational success.  By most accounts, Netflix, Inc. (Netflix) is considered a prime example of successful innovation.  Netflix is the leading Internet-based television network and counts some 44 million customers in 40 countries streaming more than one billion hours of content (Netflix, 2014).  Since its initial public offering in 2002, Netflix has moved from an innovative provider of DVD rentals-by-mail to become the dominant player in the pure-play Internet streaming market, a market they almost single-handedly pioneered (Netflix, 2014).  Netflix has enjoyed significant growth in market share, customers, and stock valuation over the years, and the stage has been set for further growth through international expansion, strategic partnerships, and the creation of their own content (Ramachandran, 2014a, 2014b, 2015; Ramachandran & Stynes, 2015; Schwartz, 2015). An examination of key elements of Netflix’s success suggest that business models is not the only thing that Netflix has innovated on the road to becoming a household name.

One of the better-known innovations of Netflix is the organizational culture playbook they developed.  Incorporating aspects of both people and culture, the Netflix employee handbook was presented in 127 presentation slides (McCord, 2014).  From a people perspective, Netflix purports to “hire, reward, and tolerate only fully formed adults” (2014, p. 4).  Among the corporate values are the courage to speak your mind, the ability to make sound independent judgments, being curious, and being innovative (Hastings, 2009).  Hastings also suggests “adequate performance gets a generous severance package” (slide 22).  Netflix not only states a goal to hire and retain only the best people, but also sets an upfront expectation of a culture that supports innovation.  A key element in the Netflix employee methodology is a management philosophy to create a culture of freedom and innovation with employee self-discipline and freedom eliminating many of typical corporate controls like performance reviews, bonuses, and managed vacation time (McCord, 2014).  According to the founder of Netflix, “we’ve had hundreds of years to work on managing industrial firms … we’re just beginning to learn how to run creative firms” (McCord, 2014, p. 6).  McCord reports the development of a culture conducive to innovation is seen as a primary responsibility of Netflix leadership.  Netflix, as an organization, demonstrates a commitment to attracting the right people (knowledge) and fostering a culture that fosters innovation.

Interestingly, the Netflix philosophy that supports the people and culture, eschews formalized process.  According to the Netflix culture definition, process is only required when the complexity of the business exceeds the capability of the people (Hastings, 2009, slide 47).  Hastings declares process, while useful for avoiding the chaos of increasingly large organizations, a limit to the flexibility of the organization to adapt as the business environment changes.  The Netflix response is to drive the percentage of high-performance employees faster than the rise of business complexity to maintain an informal and adaptable organization.   The apparent success of this approach calls into question whether process is independent of people and culture.  It is possible an innovative culture, or superior human capital, mediates the necessity of formalized processes for the diffusion of innovation throughout the organization. It is also possible that Netflix either lacks the need for existential knowledge that would benefit from more formalized approaches to knowledge development (Wilson & Doz, 2011), or that Netflix is simply ignoring the benefits of more formalized knowledge development approaches.  Whether superior knowledge resources and culture mediates the need for more formalized processes is a provocative notion that simply underscores how little is known about how to achieve successful innovation.

References

Hastings, R. (2009). Netflix culture: Freedom & responsibility. Retrieved August 8, 2015, from http://www.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-1798664

McCord, P. (2014). How Netflix reinvented HR. Harvard Business Review, (JAN-FEB). Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Netflix. (2014). 2013 annual report. Retrieved from http://ir.netflix.com/

Ramachandran, S. (2014a, November 18). Netflix sets its sights down under. Wall Street Journal (Online). Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/

Ramachandran, S. (2014b, December 17). Dish Network to integrate Netflix app into its set-top boxes. Wall Street Journal (Online). Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/

Ramachandran, S. (2015, February 4). Netflix to launch in Japan. Wall Street Journal (Online). Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/

Ramachandran, S., & Stynes, T. (2015, January 20). Netflix steps up foreign expansion. Wall Street Journal (Online). Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/

Schwartz, F. (2015, February 9). Netflix offers streaming video in Cuba. Wall Street Journal (Online). Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/

Wilson, K., & Doz, Y. L. (2011). Agile innovation: A footprint balancing distance and immersion. California Management Review, 53(2), 6–26. http://doi.org/10.1525/cmr.2011.53.2.6

Is HR Sabotaging Your Innovation Efforts?

Re-post from LinkedIn from May 10, 2016

In today’s fast-paced, global economy, the traditional means of differentiation (land, capital and equipment) are becoming less differentiated and available equally to businesses large and small, old and new (Drucker, 1992; Friedman, 2006; Teece, 1998). This leaves the organization’s only means of differentiation the ability to combine undifferentiated resources together in unique ways … i.e. innovation (Lawson & Samson, 2001; Teece, 2011, 2012). Regardless of the approach to innovation you subscribe to (there are dozens, see Bowonder, Dambal, Kumar, & Shirodkar, 2010), the depth, breadth, and diversity of an organization’s people are significant antecedents to innovation success (Crook, Todd, Combs, Woehr, & Ketchen, 2011; Kim & Ployhart, 2014).  As a result, HR is a critical part of your innovation efforts.

Pre-employment assessments have been the principal tool used by HR to ensure the organization only hires the best and brightest. The use of pre-employment assessments by large U.S. organizations has increased from 26% in 2001, to 57% by 2013; eight of the top ten private employers use pre-employment testing for at least some of their positions (Weber, 2015). Unfortunately, as previously mentioned many of the traditional assessment tools have proven to be less reliable than flipping a coin when it comes to predicting future real-world performance. This realization has led to the increased use of psychological value assessments.  Value assessments attempt to match the values of prospective candidates with the value profiles of existing, high performing employees, essentially creating a way to find people who share the same values and perspectives of existing employees.  The idea is to find people who think and perform like existing top-performers. While these assessments may not be any better at predicting future performance, Weber reported on organizations reducing 90-day attrition rages from 41% to 12% in the span of only 3 years of use. Given the significant costs of hiring and training, this reduction in short-term attrition can be a significant savings for the organization. As the ease of utilizing these assessments continues to increase, the costs to utilize them decreases, they become increasingly difficult for HR organizations to ignore.

Surely, value assessments have benefit to the organization, but that value is no longer in the attracting and hiring “the best and the brightest”, and become the value of “culture” or “fit”. Even the validation of one of the most popular value assessments, the Hartman Value Profile (HVP), shows almost no correlation to real-world performance even when performance is subjectively evaluated by other members of the organization (Weathington & Roberts, 2005). Furthermore, making hiring decisions based on how well individuals “fit” within the existing organization seems at odds with the need for diverse knowledge and perspectives for effective innovation. While no one is arguing cultural “fit” is not an important aspect to collaboration and productivity, it is potentially dangerous to be seduced by the perceived benefits of values-based pre-employment assessments.

Innovation starts, and ends, with people. Decades of research demonstrate that successful innovation requires, not just the best and brightest, but also diversity in the perspectives and knowledge of those people. If everyone has the same perspective, values, and beliefs, it will be increasingly difficult to create anything “new”. If we compound this by not hiring the best and brightest (because we are more concerned with fit), the effects could be devastating.

Be wary about letting your HR practices sabotage your innovation efforts before they even get started.

References

Bowonder, B., Dambal, A., Kumar, S., & Shirodkar, A. (2010). Innovation strategies for creating competitive advantage. Research Technology Management, 53(3), 19–32. Retrieved from http://www.iriweb.org/

Crook, T. R., Todd, S. Y., Combs, J. G., Woehr, D. J., & Ketchen, D. J. J. (2011). Does human capital matter? A meta-analysis of the relationship between human capital and firm performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(3), 443–456. doi:10.1037/a0022147

Drucker, P. F. (1992). The post-capitalist world. Public Interest, 109(Fall 1992), 89–101. Retrieved from http://www.nationalaffairs.com/

Friedman, T. L. (2006). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Kim, Y., & Ployhart, R. E. (2014). The effects of staffing and training on firm productivity and profit growth before, during, and after the Great Recession. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(3), 361–89. doi:10.1037/a0035408

Lawson, B., & Samson, D. (2001). Developing innovation capability in organisations: A dynamic capabilities approach. International Journal of Innovation Management, 5(3), 377. doi:10.1142/s1363919601000427

Teece, D. J. (1998). Capturing value from knowledge assets: The new economy, markets for know-how, and intangible assets. California Management Review, 40(3), 55–79. doi:10.2307/41165943

Teece, D. J. (2011). Dynamic capabilities: A guide for managers. Ivey Business Journal Online, 1. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/

Teece, D. J. (2012). Dynamic Capabilities: Routines versus entrepreneurial action. Journal of Management Studies, 49(8), 1395–1401. Retrieved from 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01080.x

Weathington, B. L., & Roberts, D. P. (2005). Validation analysis of the Hartman Value Profile. Retrieved from http://www.hartmaninstitute.org/

Weber, L. (2015). Today’s personality tests raise the bar for job seekers. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com

Diversity is not just a social issue, it is an economic one.

The problem with treating diversity as only a social-justice issue is that social issues rarely get solved without demonstrating how they indirectly affect all people, not just the disenfranchised.  All you must do is look at the history of social corporate responsibility (CSR) to see this effect (O’Toole & Vogel, 2011).  CSR was treated with mostly lip-service until two things were demonstrably clear in the marketplace: 1) consumer trends were changing to favor organizations demonstrating CSR principles; and, 2) CSR (or sustainable) practices made economic sense by reducing waste, improving operations, and elevating brand.  While the messaging is about being socially conscious, CSR business models can lead to competitive differentiation, which leading to profits. The only real academic argument against CSR is the implied altruistic nature of most CSR proponents; every corporation engaging in CSR generates either direct or indirect economic profit from those actions, meaning CSR is nothing more than “enlightened self-interest” (Smith, 2003).  As much as we should care about social issues, until they affect us directly, critical mass is not achieved towards solving them.

Diversity is no different.  We, as a collective species, should promote diversity (religious, nationality, sex, age, values, etc.) simply because it is ethical and just. However, because of the numerous permutations of bias, no single group of disenfranchised gains sufficient support to make true change solely on the basis of justice.   Unless we can demonstrate how biases affect everyone, progress will remain slow, or non-existent.  The best way to combat isses of diversity is through developing the enlightened self-interest of the greater society.

Fortunately, there is tremendous support that diversity is the key to economic profit and productivity benefiting everyone, including those who are not victims of bias.  It is no accident that our national headlines, business articles, and social commentary are inundated with stories about both diversity as well as innovation.  These two concepts are intimately conjoined. Without diversity of experience, thought, and perspective, innovation does not happen; without innovation, society will no longer grow and prosper, but decline.  This affects everyone.

Innovation is the only true competitive differentiator in today’s world economy (Drucker, 1992; Friedman, 2006; Salchow Jr., 2016; Teece, 1998, 2004). Whether the innovation is a means to increase organizational efficiency, develop new business models, or an innovative product, the days of competing solely on accumulated land, capital, equipment, or market dominance are long over.  Those who don’t innovate, fail in the long-run. This affects people, companies, communities, and countries not just certain individuals. The inability to adapt to the global economy has decimated entire regions in the U.S. from miners, to steal producers, to manufacturers.   The number of companies and individuals directly affected is miniscule to the number of companies, individuals, and communities that have collapsed indirectly from these failures.  Lack of innovation capability affects us all.

Yet, we know that diversity in perspective, knowledge, experience, and capabilities is a foundation of innovation (Gladis, 2017). We know that diversity drives innovation (Niebuhr, 2010; Parrotta, Pozzoli, & Pytlikova, 2014), and creates economic rents, productivity, and success (Beck & Walmsley, 2012; Crook, Todd, Combs, Woehr, & Ketchen, 2011; Kim & Ployhart, 2014). Without diversity, we cannot hope to innovate because innovation is all about seeing things from a different perspective, a different value structure, a different life experience, a different cognitive lens.  It is through exploring and evaluating these differences that we see new possibilities, new solutions, and new ways of moving forward as companies, communities, and societies.  Diversity forces us to challenge what we think we know, and that leads to innovation.

It is sad that at a time when collaboration and access to diverse perspectives is so easy, we have instead taken to divisiveness, to segregation. We seek the illusionary safety of the known and miss the forest for the trees that don’t look, act, talk, or believe like us.  However, if we fail to see how diversity is an asset, not a liability, we fail our society. We fail, not because we violate the social contract, but because we will bankrupt society.  We fail by succumbing to what we believe is, rather than seeing what could be.  Without innovation, driven by diversity, we become static and eventually decline (Second Law of Thermodynamics anyone?).

Diversity is an economic imperative, not just a social one. The best way to secure your own future, is to seek out and embrace diversity. It is in our own self-interest.

References

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Crook, T. R., Todd, S. Y., Combs, J. G., Woehr, D. J., & Ketchen, D. J. J. (2011). Does human capital matter? A meta-analysis of the relationship between human capital and firm performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(3), 443–456. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0022147

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Friedman, T. L. (2006). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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Parrotta, P., Pozzoli, D., & Pytlikova, M. (2014). The nexus between labor diversity and firm’s innovation. Journal of Population Economics, 27(2), 303–364. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-013-0491-7

Smith, H. J. (2003). The shareholders vs. stakeholders debate. MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 85–90. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/

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Teece, D. J. (2004). Knowledge and competence as strategic assets. Handbook on Knowledge Management 1: Knowledge Matters, 40(3), 129–152. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-540-24746-3_7