Enter the ‘Innovation Mode’

Excerpt from “The Innovation Mode” (Springer 2020)

Establishing a truly innovative company is difficult — it takes time and requires determination in driving a massive cultural, structural, and technological change. True innovation goes beyond isolated programs, techy labs, hackathons, fancy collaboration spaces, and bold innovation titles. While all these are very important when considered in the right context, the “innovation mode” refers to much more than that: a drastically different approach in running a business.

“True innovation goes beyond isolated programs, techy labs, hackathons, fancy collaboration spaces, and bold innovation titles.”

“Conventional” companies are configured to go after their ambitious short-term financial targets. They tend to protect their established position in the market, and they are uncomfortable with potential disruptions. In such environments, innovation is usually perceived as a business luxury or just as an opportunity to boost employee morale and drive publicity. Moreover, it is not uncommon to see middle or upper management being unsupportive of innovation — they often perceive it as a potential disruptor of the rhythm of business.

In contrast, companies operating in the “innovation mode” are optimized not only to improve revenue streams and profits but also to pursue long-term success and expansion to new areas, by being highly adaptable. Such companies do not settle; they do not restfully or proudly enjoy the status quo and their position in the market; they stay at the edge by leveraging their reflex advantage, their ability to sense and react fast. The key to this adaptive nature is the strong connection with the market and the rapidly changing technological landscape: innovative companies are very effective in identifying emerging patterns and insights. They feed this external stimulus into the innovation process to inspire ideation and concept generation. Doing this in a systematic way allows them to maintain a portfolio of opportunities and benefit from their ability to test them fast and make the right decisions.

Organizations evolve while in an infinite loop of experimentation, learning, and improvement — a continuous process that leads to better results for customers, shareholders, the environment, and society. At the cultural level, the “innovation mode” introduces a “new” way of working, putting emphasis on a sharing, collaboration, and experimentation culture. People across levels and specialties are tuned to challenge the established, cooperate and contribute, not only by sharing ideas and solutions but also by articulating problems worth solving and challenging questions that need to be answered.

“When in the innovation mode, organizations embrace innovation as a means of serving their bold purpose.”

The Innovation Mode (George Krasadakis, 2021)

This contribution comes naturally — simply because people believe in the purpose of the company, the vision of the product; they know that innovation is appreciated by the leadership and used in “real-world” scenarios. Innovators are comfortable to experiment with prototypes and they know how to move them through the validation process — they have a mindset that can handle failure. They are able to balance big thinking and business reality as needed — according to the state and the needs of the business — without disrupting its production and operational aspects.

On the other hand, leaders demonstrate their support for innovation by accepting failure as part of the process and by acknowledging the value of continuous improvement through experimentation. They understand and appreciate the importance of innovation, and they believe in ideas as the source of differentiation. Beyond ideas, leaders realize that the organization needs to systematically evaluate innovation opportunities for better products, business models, or even new markets; they genuinely support the formation of a community of innovators and provide the technical means that encourage people to engage with innovation.

[…] leaders demonstrate their support for innovation by accepting failure as part of the process and by acknowledging the value of continuous improvement through experimentation.

When in the innovation mode, organizations embrace innovation as a means of serving their bold purpose: people celebrate the outcomes, not necessarily the innovation process itself. This ongoing pursuit of opportunities is assisted by the innovation intelligence service — a “nervous system” powered by human and machine intelligence — that senses emerging patterns and reacts by triggering the opportunity discovery process. The actual reaction takes the form of problem exploration, ideation, and prototyping and eventually leads to experiments, new features, products, or business models. This mechanism raises awareness of the global economic system and helps the organization to convert market insights into competitive advantages.

Getting to the innovation mode takes time and requires both intelligent design and evolution: innovation is initially architected into the organizational structure and engineered into the “operating system” of the company, but it then evolves naturally, through experimentation, adaptation, and learning loops. In every iteration, the organization becomes smarter and more agile — as technology improves, and the innovation culture grows across levels, departments, teams, and disciplines. The organization eventually flattens — groups and divisions become less rigid and less hierarchical: they converge to a broader community of ambitious, capable, and highly motivated innovators.

“Innovation is initially architected into the organizational structure and engineered into the “operating system” of the company.

When this transition is achieved, the need for special programs and ad hoc innovation initiatives gradually fades out: the innovation program blends with other business activities and becomes part of the foundation of the organization. Innovation endeavors get embedded in daily routines, in the standard ways of collaboration, decision-making, and product development.

In this mode, the organization performs better, not only in terms of innovation but in every dimension — as a whole: people and teams communicate and collaborate more effectively; they leverage the embedded innovation system, the accumulated knowledge, and the spirit of innovation to better serve the bold organizational purpose. When operating in this mode, innovation simply happens.

When operating in this mode, innovation simply happens.

Excerpt from “The Innovation Mode” — read also the preface of the book here.

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