Innovating with Meaning: Elements of the "Innovation Field"

Often our clients ask us: how do we know if we are an innovative organization and how can we measure if we are improving? Based on our experience practicing, teaching, and consulting in Innovation Management, we developed an empirically-based model or framework to view innovation from a team and organization-wide perspective. This model, which we call the "Innovation Field," is described in our bestselling book, The Seeds of Innovation. Here is a quick overview of the model.

The Innovation Field incorporates eight key areas or elements that, together, create a systematic and holistic view of how to ensure and improve upon the conditions needed to support and sustain team and organizational innovation. These eight elements, which can be viewed as the "soil" composition necessary to grow the "seeds" of innovation introduced in last week’s post, are:

1. Shared Innovation Vision and Strategy
2.
Innovation Environment Supports
3. Innovation Resource Allocation

4.
Innovation Process Networks
5.
Innovation Programs
6.
Innovation Skills Development
7.
Innovation Rewards and Recognition
8.
External Stakeholder Innovation

Let’s take a look at the first two of these elements (don't worry, we'll examine the other elements in future posts!):

1) Shared Innovation Vision and Strategy
It is critical that all employees have a good understanding of the overall organization–the vision as well as the operating strategies and goals–so that they can align all of their innovation activities and focus their efforts for the organization’s benefit. However, often we have witnessed leaders stand up at their annual meetings and request "we need more innovation" without outlining what they mean by "innovation" and "in what areas, they require more innovation." Do they want and will they approve radical innovation or are they really seeking incremental innovation? With limited resources, where should the focus be placed? In order to maximize the contribution of all employees, it is important first to have a clear vision of why you want to become a more innovative team or organization and, secondly, how you plan on integrating all the diverse innovation activities so that they support the overall organization’s strategies and goals. This should not be a "one-shot" event at an annual meeting; rather, it needs to be an ongoing program.

2) Innovation Environment Supports
One of the biggest influences on and determinants of innovation is the "culture" of the team and organization that either supports or hinders innovation. When we say culture, we are referring to the patterns of behaviors, shared values, formal and informal power structures, and generally "the way we do things around here." Organizations not only have to compete for customers and finite financial resources, they also have to compete for staff. Organizations that treat their employees with respect and provide a "culture" of support for personal and collaborative innovation, in our view, will win in the coming years.

Innovation leaders need to create a psychologically secure, i.e., safe, environment in which employees can not only take risks but also take harbor and relax long enough to contribute their best ideas for strengthening the organization. It is important to note, however, that an innovation leader does not have to build consensus. Experience has shown that stopping to build consensus is too slow, if not impossible, for today’s fast-paced economy. Instead, collaborative innovation, where ideas are developed based on the collective experiences and shared knowledge base of all stakeholders, allows leaders to retain the responsibility of making the final decisions and move the innovation process forward. Collaborative innovation means that everyone is given the opportunity to become meaningfully engaged and participate to provide insights for the collective good.

Cultivating and growing an innovation culture involves feeling "free" to challenge each other and ask questions, experiment with alternative ideas, and embrace change versus hang too tightly onto the past.

Are you Innovating with Meaning by identifying your Shared Innovation Vision and Strategy, as well as creating and sustaining a supportive Innovation Environment?

Blog Co-Authors:

Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com) and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com).  They are co-authors of Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).

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