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Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
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28 March 2008

Innovation & Execution

Clark @ 10:47 am

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about how to improve organizational performance. It’s part of thinking broader about how technology can be used to support performance, but then you have to have a picture of organizational learning as a whole. As I look at organizations, many are focused on excellence in execution, and quite a few have recognized that the competitive advantage comes from continual innovation. What I’m not seeing enough of is recognizing that the two are intimately linked. They’ll focus on innovation in engineering, and execution in customer service, but not connect the two across the organization.

For example, I’m seeing organizations supporting execution with training, and supporting innovation with knowledge management or eCommunity. I’ll see training groups supporting execution, and management invoking innovation exercises, but management not worrying about training, and training not worrying about innovation.

The thing is, you develop people from novice, through practitioner, to expert. You might hire experts, but you can also develop them. And even experts won’t innovate unless they see the big picture of where the field and organization are going, and are in a supportive culture. And if they’re not developed internally, you’ll have some barriers getting them steeped in the organizational goals and culture.

When I talk about a performance ecosystem, I’m usually talking about the technology infrastructure to support it, but I’m also implicitly talking about the culture and mission. And I’ve been finding it quite useful, with clients, to use that framework to help them look at the larger picture. My question is, are others seeing this too, or am I missing something? Because if others are seeing the concept like I am, and aren’t seeing the implementation, as I’m not, we’ve got a need and an opportunity here to really help some organizations take a significant step forward. What are you seeing?

5 Comments »

  1. Hi,
    I think this is very true and it is about seeing the whole organisational picture, rather than one piece being distinct from another.

    I think some innovation can be driven by a kind of internal venture capital scheme – a big step away from traditional reward scheme – oh thats a good idea, have some money – which personally I think misses the point – something that helps you act as an internal entrepreneur and understand the business processes that you would need to follow in order to carry out your innovation – therefore developing your organisational / BPM or other knowledge at the same time. I have worked for a couple of companies that provided venture capitalism expertise as an external client service, but I was unable to find an internal equivalent offering. If you do have innovative ideas for improving internally, it is useful to have a process, suppport, scenarios you can explore with your own accountability for it working or not being linked into any financial or other gain.

    Some internal innovation ideas may not relate directly to your team so it may not be a valuable use of your manager’s or mentor’s or anyone else’s time to ‘coach’ you through the process and/or it still doesn’t provide you with accountability.

    Comment by Nicola Avery — 29 March 2008 @ 7:40 am

  2. Nicola, great idea. I recall hearing of some organizations that had internal innovation support of the sort you describe, but I don’t recall the details. Something like: a way to propose projects, have them reviewed, and a real budget to support the oens that passed the test.

    I also recall a business unit that had a ‘business proposal’ template/tool for new ideas that helped you figure out the costs and benefits as scaffolding to support thinking through new ideas and raise awareness. It also served as a filter.

    That is part of the cultural aspect of showing real support for innovation, and then you want to couple it with infrastructure to make it easy to collaborate, model, etc.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

    Comment by Clark — 29 March 2008 @ 8:34 am

  3. Hi Clark I had another thought about this – re customer innovation – which I think possibly has a knock-on effect of staff innovation. I remember a presentation last year when Kristina Nyzell of Lego explained how their customers helped transform the innovation of products – supported by Lego providing web-based community ‘facilities’ through their website. Vodafone appear to be doing something similar with their BetaVine and Nokia etc with their beta labs. Also more recently ReDesignme.org which are not specifically managed by one company.

    So an acceptance within the company that their customers can contribute to their innovation processes, staff working with the customers or the community type facility to understand how the customers have provided this innovation and how they can make the process even better and easier for their customers too.

    Comment by Nicola Avery — 30 March 2008 @ 11:45 pm

  4. Nicola, you’re right that customers can (and should) contribute to the innovation. You want external performance ecosystems as well as internal ones, but what I think you’re pointing out is that they can and should be interoperable in certain ways, so that customers and staff can work together. Hmm, will have to think more about this. Great contribution, thanks!

    Comment by Clark — 1 April 2008 @ 7:28 am

  5. You make a great point here Clark. What I have experienced is that usually if execution excellence is achieved, it is easier to focus on innovation. And innovation is required to gain competitive advantage as well as achieve execution excellence. Personally I have found hard to innovate to gain competitive advantage (let’s create a new product offerings) when my nose is to the grind attempting to achieve execution excellence (let’s get the projects out of the door successfully, meet the quarter numbers etc.). I do need to innovate and find new ways to ensure that operations are executed flawlessly.

    Comment by Manish Mohan — 3 April 2008 @ 10:37 pm

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