Intentional innovation

Someone recommended me a white paper , funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation Intentional Innovation: How Getting More Systematic about Innovation Could Improve Philanthropy and Increase Social Impact. Defining 'innovation' as a 'new ideas that work' the authors suggest that

"Systematic innovation requires well-managed and repeatable processes, to move an organization beyond a dependence on the lightning-strike of sporadic innovations and to create a more constant and dependable flow of new ideas. According to innovation expert Larry Keeley, "Innovation that works is a disciplined process…. The real frontier is to not think of it as a creative exercise, but to think about it as being disciplined in using the right methods."

They present a conceptual framework for being systematic that involves:

  • Setting the conditions required to support innovation
  • Identifying the problem or opportunity about which you want to innovate
  • Generating ideas to solve the problem or capture the opportunity
  • Experimenting and piloting those ideas to test how well they work in practice
  • Sharing the innovations with a broader set of stakeholders

This looks fine and out of curiosity skipped to the discussion on Culture for Innovation. What's difficult about this section is not the idea that the framework should be held within a "culture" of innovation or the point the authors make (p.29) that: "Signaling a commitment to innovation is a critical first step in the innovation process."

But the fact that in the following paragraphs four other cultural types are mentioned

The development of a sustainable culture that expects and encourages innovation at every level and function of the organization actually undergirds each element of the innovation framework. Culture is both the starting place and the underlying base for the entire innovation process. Creating an innovation-friendly culture means moving steadily toward comprehensive changes that make the organization a different place.

From the smallest decisions about the quality of office supplies to hiring employees and making major strategic business decisions, a socially responsible corporation aspires to a coherent and integrated culture of responsibility.

Creating an innovative culture is totally intertwined with creating a learning culture.

So within one page five types of culture are mentioned: sustainable culture, innovation-friendly culture, culture of responsibility, innovative culture and learning culture – with the implication that cultures can be 'created'. In other research I have come across lots of arguments suggesting that culture cannot be 'created' and additionally, even if culture can be created, this white paper is not helpful in clarifying which of the five cultures mentioned would be the best for innovation, nor whether they have the same or different characteristics.

I'm assuming that the authors think that they have the same characteristics because they suggest that there are some key practices that support innovation. Specifically mentioned (and discussed) are:

•Demonstrate leadership and intentionality
•Democratize innovation
•Experiment and learn
•Run the risk
•Collaborate and network
•Measure and be accountable

A 3-column table is presented at the end of the section. Column 1 lists each of the key practices – the list is not exactly the same as the one given at the start of the section but maybe this doesn't matter? Column 2 lists ideas for each key practice under the heading "people/process". Column 3 lists ideas for each key practice under the heading "structures/process". (I'm not sure why 'process' appears in both those columns). These ideas are helpful but relatively useless. For example, under the heading "Measure" The idea given in the people/process column is "Incorporate measurement and accountability into individual and team roles for innovation." That's ok but it is also self evident – there's no suggestion on what the measures might be, how to make them valid and reliable, etc.

Is the paper worth reading? Probably not the whole thing which takes a lot of words to say not very much but the Executive Summary is worth a skim read – if only to start the thinking process and discussions on designing organizations for innovation – why, how, and the value add.

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