Reframing ideas for effective innovation

  • godrejbiro
  • March 5, 2018

Venkat Kotamaraju for Deccan Herald

The article was first published in the Deccan Herald

There's so much said and written about innovation, disruption and collaboration and yet, it is no secret that organisations are struggling to make headway in their innovation efforts (at least, most are). Fundamentally, the participants in any living ecosystem (individuals, teams, organisations, governments) react to disruption in three ways.

Muddling through: where they are essentially focused on maintaining the status quo, while downloading change that's happening around them (stuck in their comfort zone).

Moving backward: going back in time and making 'X' great again, where 'X' is a known (falling back to what their strengths are – self-fulfilling prophecy at best).

Moving forward: leaning into the unknown to co-sense and co-create the future (boldly going where no one has).

In their innovation efforts, there is one thing that organisations mostly rely on. Falling back on 'best practices' (if only I had a penny for every time my client has asked me for best practices).

The problem with 'best practices' is that it works best for 'known problems' where the cause and effect relationship has been established and is widely known. In which case, there's a good chance someone has already figured this out (and you wonder where the best practice originated from?). So you invariably fall into the trap of creating something faster, cheaper, shinier. Just to stay in the game.

How does this effect collaboration, you ask? Well everyone has (so they think) or claims to have their own version of the best practice. So instead of tapping into the collective wisdom, they go on about their version of the best practice. There's no unified understanding of best practices.

So, if the game is about dealing with complex, unknown or complicated problems, the approach lies in emergent practices. Talking about novel and emergent practices (honestly, sounds fancy and daunting at the same time), the trick is starting with small smart moves.

Much of the lack of progress on collaboration or innovation is rooted in prevalent mental models. Essentially, mental models are the dominant logic or the core principles, which determine how we win - as individuals, teams or companies.

And these models get reinforced by success - the more we win, the more we believe that these theories of the world are right. It is also reinforced by tenure. The more people work in a company, the more they get infused by the playbook.

Yes, these mental models are dysfunctional and, unfortunately, are widely shared and deeply held. Unfortunately, these models don't surface easily and act at a subconscious level. They rise from unexamined assumptions and unless organisations are able to recognise and overturn these assumptions, they will not make headway in their innovation efforts.

The concept or significance of innovation that is elusive to most is that it is about doing something that has not been done before or coming up with something that has not been thought of.

One of my favourite tools is (re)framing which helps uncover, challenge and flip long-held orthodoxies, thereby allowing you to explore new possibilities which you didn't know existed or were possible.

And when you start doing that is when you enter the realm of radical innovation. Chasing ideas that were initially incongruous to your existing (and limiting) frame of reference.

Here is a thought experiment. When I think of the lack of collaboration, it is about having control and not letting go. Or in other words, the notion of "ownership." What do you think are the underlying and unexamined assumptions around ownership of each of these units? Some thoughts to get you started:

Individuals: owning ideas and thoughts versus owning success and failure.

Teams (cross-disciplinary): owning goals versus co-owning shared vision.

Organisations: building assets versus building partnerships.

How would you (re)frame the underlying beliefs and assumptions? What new avenues for growth are you uncovering?

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