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What principles define an innovative organization?

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What principles define an innovative organization?

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It’s pretty well known that innovating is hard for many companies to achieve.  A big reason for that is that most of their profits are derived from being as efficient as possible with their main revenue driving products and services.  That mindset for efficiency is often completely at odds with the mindset required to innovate and do things differently.  It’s a dichotomy aptly explained Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Tucker in The Other Side of Innovation, where they discuss the various challenges that come from this dual approach, and how you can begin to tackle them.

It’s a perspective that is focused upon by John Kotter in his recent book Accelerate.  He uses the metaphor of a dual operating system, whereby one is focused on efficiency, and the other on innovation.  When explaining his hypothesis, he outlines a number of basic principles that he believes define this setup:

  • Change comes from anywhere – The flow of information is something I devote a chapter to in The 8 Step Guide To Building A Social Workplace, and it’s something that Kotter leads with.  He suggests that for change to arrive from throughout the organization, information needs to be free and transparent.  Employees need to be free to act upon their own initiative and own information rather than merely following orders.
  • A get to mindset – Motivation is something I’ve spoken about many times on this blog, and in particular in relation to open innovation.  Numerous studies have shown that when you give people freedom to follow a task they believe in and are passionate about, then that is often the best motivation possible.  Kotter suggests that for innovation to thrive, you merely need to give people that kind of possibility.
  • Utilize the head and the heart – Logic only takes us so far, and Kotter believes that to truly drive change, it needs to be something that stirs the emotions.  It needs to be something that gets the heart pumping.  Of course, that isn’t always easy, but if you can give employees a greater meaning and purpose, then that is incredibly powerful.
  • Leadership rather than management – It’s an oft spoken argument about the differences between the two, but Kotter believes that to thrive in an uncertain environment, you need leadership to course through your organization.
  • Strong links between both sides – It isn’t enough to have the efficiency side of your business and the innovation side if the two never interact.  There needs to be a constant flow of information and activity between the two parts of the business.  Kotter suggests that this often occurs because employees will operate on both sides.

Suffice to say, none of this is all that revolutionary.  It builds on the earlier work of Tucker and Govindarajan, who themselves have built upon the work of people such as Ronald Coarse.

It’s valuable however in the sense that it advocates the same people taking on dual roles.  When innovators are split off from the cash cow part of the business there can often be animosity or disconnect between them.  A major difference between Kotter and Govindarajan/Tucker seems to be that Kotter believes people can fulfill the dual role of efficient operator in the cash cow whilst also innovating.  Govindarajan/Tucker however believe that the innovation team needs people devoted to that project, albeit with a sprinkling of employees from the cash cow side of the business.

What do you think?  In the right conditions, can people perform in this dual function?  Is it possible to deliver efficiency and innovation at the same time?

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