Posts Tagged ‘Words’

Innovation – Words vs. Actions

Innovation isn’t a thing in itself.  Companies need to meet their growth objectives and innovation is the word experts use to describe the practices and behaviors they think will maximize the likelihood of meeting those growth objectives. Innovation is a catchword phrase that has little to no meaning.  Don’t ask about innovation, ask how to meet your business objectives. Don’t ask about best practices, ask how has your company been successful and how to build on that success.  Don’t ask how the big companies have done it – you’re not them.  And, the behaviors of the successful companies are the same behaviors of the unsuccessful companies. The business books suffer from selection bias. You can’t copy another company’s innovation approach. You’re not them.  And your project is different and so is the context.

With innovation, the biggest waste of emotional energy is quest for (and arguments around) best practices.  Because innovation is done in domains of high ambiguity, there can be no best practices. Your project has no similarity with your previous projects or the tightest case studies in the literature. There may be good practice or emergent practice, but there can be no best practice. When there is no uncertainty and no ambiguity, a project can use best practices.  But, that’s not innovation.  If best practices are a strong tenant of your innovation program, run away.

The front end of the innovation process is all about choosing projects. If you want to be more innovative, choose to work on different projects. It’s that simple. But, make no mistake, the principle may be simple the practice is not. Though there’s no acid test for innovation, here are three rules to get you started. (And if you pass these three tests, you’re on your way.)

  • If you’ve done it before, it’s not innovation.
  • If you know how it will turn out, it’s not innovation.
  • If it doesn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s not innovation.

Once a project is selected, the next cataclysmic waste of time is the construction of a detailed project plan.  With a well-defined project, a well-defined project plan is a reasonable request.  But, for an innovation project with a high degree of ambiguity, a well-defined project plan is impossible.  If your innovation leader demands a detailed project plan, it’s usually because they are used running to well-defined continuous improvement projects.  If for your innovation projects you’re asked for a detailed project plan, run away.

With innovation projects, you can define step 1.  And step 2? It depends.  If step 1 works, modify step 2 based on the learning and try step 2.  And if step 1 doesn’t work, reformulate step 1 and try again. Repeat this process until the project is complete.  One step at a time until you’re done.

Innovation projects are unpredictable.  If your innovation projects require hard completion dates, run away.

Innovation projects are all about learning and they are best defined and managed using Learning Objectives (LOs). Instead of step 1 and step 2, think LO1 and LO2.  Though there’s little written about LOs, there’s not much to them.  Here’s the taxonomy of a LO: We want to learn if [enter what you want to learn].  Innovation projects are nothing more than a series of interconnected LOs.  LO2 may require the completion of LO1 or L1 and LO2 could be done in parallel, but that’s your call. Your project plan can be nothing more than a precedence diagram of the Learning Objectives.  There’s no need for a detailed Gantt chart. If you’re asked for a detailed Gantt chart, you guessed it – run away.

The Learning Objective defines what you learn, how you want to learn, who will do the learning and when they want to do it.  The best way to track LOs is with an Excel spreadsheet with one tab for each LO.  For each LO tab, there’s a table that defines the actions, who will do them, what they’ll measure and when they plan to get the actions done. Since the tasks are tightly defined, it’s possible to define reasonable dates.  But, since there can be a precedence to the LOs (LO2 depends on the successful completion of LO1), LO2 can be thought of a sequence of events that start when LO1 is completed.  In that way, an innovation project can be defined with a single LO spreadsheet that defines the LOs, the tasks to achieve the LOs, who will do the tasks, how success will be determined and when the work will be done. If you want to learn how to do innovation, learn how to use Learning Objectives.

There are more element of innovation to discuss, for example how to define customer segments, how to identify the most important problems, how to create creative solutions, how to estimate financial value of a project and how to go to market.  But, those are for another post.

Until then, why not choose a project that scares you, define a small set of Learning Objectives and get going?

Image credit – JD Hancock

On Being Well Rested

All business processes are powered by people. Even with all our automation and standardization, nothing moves without people. And people are powered by language. Language is important.

“Fix that so we don’t make any more mistakes.” Snarl words. “Figure out what we do well, and let’s do more of that.” Purr words. Which are more powerful?

“Wonderful work.” Purr words. “Wonderful, more customer complaints.” Snarl words. The same word is both, but it’s clear to all which is which. One is empowering, the other demotivating. Which is better for business?

Subtle usage makes a difference, intonation makes a difference, and tone makes a difference. It’s not just words that matter, but how they’re delivered also matters. Words can build or words can dismantle, and so can delivery.

We know people drive everything. And we know words influence people. Yet we don’t use words in ways that respects their gravity.

It takes care to use the right words in the right ways, and it takes thoughtfulness. But with today’s race pace, it’s tough to be well rested which makes it tough to use care and forethought. Well rested shouldn’t be a luxury and shouldn’t be scoffed at. In an instant the wrong words at the wrong time can be catastrophic. Trouble is the value of being well rested cannot be quantified on the balance sheet.

People power processes and words power people, and the right words at the right time can make all the difference. But it takes thoughtful, enlightened people to deliver them. And for that, they should be well rested.

Innovation – words and actions

I sat down to write my weekly post with the hope of coming up with something meaningful on innovation.  Nothing came.  I asked the all-powerful oracle named Google for some guidance, and my thinking diverged.  I realized that there are too many definitions for the word innovation, too many contexts, too many facets.  There is too much written about the word and too little written about the actions.  I, too, am guilty of using the word for its multiple meanings and sex appeal.  I put it in the title of this post to get some attention (I’ll let you know if Google Analytics reports more hits).  Heck,  I even use the word in the description of the blog.

When I started writing my dissertation,  Chris Brown, my advisor, handed me a book and said something like, “You should learn how to write, so read this”.  The book  was Language In Thought and Action, by S.I. Hayakawa.  I read it, finished my dissertation, and, most importantly, learned about words.  Since my struggle with innovation was all about the word, I dusted off Hayakawa and asked him to help.  Here is what the senator had to say.

To map meaning to a word it is best to point to the physical world (extensional meaning).  Putting your hand over your mouth and pointing to a chair is a good way to assign meaning to the word chair.  Closing your eyes and talking about a chair (intensional meaning) is not as good.  So, to understand innovation it would be best to point your finger at it.  But how?

Using an operational definition is a good way to point to the physical world.  He quotes physicist P.W. Bridgeman who coined the term.

To find the length of an object, we have to perform certain physical operations.  The concept of length is therefore fixed when the operations by which length is measured is fixed…..  In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations.”

Hayakawa would ask, “Can you put your hand over your mouth and point to innovation?”  Bridgeman would ask, “Can you define the set of operations for innovation? ”   

This week my answer is “Not yet”.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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