When a company innovates, it means that the people within that company have been able to change the storyline of themselves and of the company they work for. They acted.
When we act, we express ourt human ability to distinguish ourselves.
When we ‘act’ we show our identity. When employees ‘act’ to re-position or re-invent the company they work for, they identify themselves with that company.
But, at the same time, their action will affect the identity of the other employees, who also take part in the company-play.
The observation that innovation requires ‘human action’ explains why merely ‘ordering innovation’ will not work. Instead, innovation requires germ cells of human action in relation to the identity of the company. To activate the innovation potential of a running company, we therefore ‘only’ need to develop such germ cells of human action. How?
From psychology we know that someone will be only able to ‘act’ if he or she
(1) has created a conceptual picture (insight) of the situation he/she is in, which allows him/her to identify the ‘degrees of freedom’ for action
(2) he/she understand how his/her special talents, skills or connection can enhance the degrees of freedom in the given situation
and (3) he/she feels part of a community with a shared fate in which the relations between the members leaves space for open-ended initiatives.
But what does this mean in real life? Just imagine that your company intends to grow double its size while retaining its current carbon footprint. To deliver innovations towards this stretching goal, we will need to develop two pieces of information: (1) where are the opportunities for growth and (2) how can we reduce our carbon footprint. Germ cells for innovation can only be created within communities who commit themselves to this strategic intent in various areas of the business. The basis of such a community will be the insight on how the individual members can contribute towards delivery of that goal.
Building such a community can be managed as a ‘learning process’:
1) Focus: the innovation leader agrees with senior management a promising area for innovation towards the new strategic intent (for instance deodorants in Africa)
2) Insight: the innovation leader identifies a small group of people (inside and outside the company) that can help him/her develop a better understanding of the innovation opportunity, and works with them to develop a deep understanding of the opportunity ahead. This process will eventually lead to the kick-off of the community through the development of the key insights.
3) Invent: with selected number of experts and free thinkers to develop the first ‘concepts for action’.
4) Create: Develop opportunities.
5) Execute: Implement the most promising options and track the success
At each point of the learning process the innovation leader needs to be closely aligned with senior management to create the room to invent, create and execute, and at the same time build a community that may potentially develop innovations that may fundamentally change the company! Balancing that tension requires courage and perseverance