“Innovation is complex, although we strive to simplify it in multiple ways.”

Paul Hobcraft, Advising on Innovation Transformation

Innovation is complex, although we strive to simplify it in multiple ways.

Innoboard: There is no consistent definition of innovation. Every industry and every department perceive it differently. How do you define innovation?

Paul Hobcraft: We all fall into the trap of offering a standard ‘potted version’ of innovation, it is a mistake yet it also does allow everyone to begin to relate and gain some definition. The worry is it can freeze this early definition in our minds and we often fail to mould it to our circumstances, we often fail to adjust it or even be prepared to radically revise it. It gets filed away and never challenged to see if it is “fit for purpose”.

Last year for example in a round-up of 15 so called innovation experts by Nick Skillicorn, over at ideatovalue com I was asked what was my definition. My reply was:

“the fundamental way the company brings constant value to their customers’ business or life and consequently their shareholders and stakeholders”

What I liked about this collection was the analysis of the 15 views to provide a ‘consolidated one’:

“Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer”

Do I stay ‘frozen’ or wedded to these, no. We know new innovation needs to require new value, a value to the market. We know we need to convert ideas into this value and this often is explicit and it is the execution that determines commercial success. Can we capture it in one definition, I don’t think so but for me we have five steps to work through and these define our needs to go through in innovation.

1. Explore

2. Generate

3. Optimize

4. Select

5. Mobilize

” So we need to perceive innovation for the opportunities, the value they can potentially generate, so as to execute on the results seen to deliver on this.”

Perhaps this is my definition today.

If you could build an innovation management of a company from scratch. What would be your first three steps?

My reply is actually requiring perhaps giant building steps but within each of the three steps suggested we can build the foundations of innovation knowledge.

We do make the mistake of attempting to simplify everything and in my experience this can often come back and haunt us later. Any foundation needs to be built on a solid base, innovation management is no different.

Starting from scratch we need the first step of education, awareness and expectation. Any baby taking their first tentative steps needs some awareness and guidance. We all have this innate ability to want to make strides, to explore, to be investigative, and to satisfy our curiosity. If we can create the environment for this learning, to offer a safe place for experimenting and exploring, we build the first foundation for providing and building the identification of the climate, the environment and the culture we wish to establish.

Innovation is complex, although we strive to simplify it in multiple ways. My second step would be to invest in time to learn and understand innovation, in all its multiple guises, to speed up learning. For this I think employing a guide or mentor who can work alongside you, to coach and provide triggers allows for curiosity to bubble up, so knowledge can be partly transferred but encouraged to be investigated and explored by the individual or team or collectively worked upon across the company. In golf, there are so many sand traps and bunkers to navigate and learning to avoid them or play yourself out of, knowing the techniques, applying all the tools and methods at your disposal to practice. Being aware, learning to correctly swing, address the ball and where to play and what to avoid becomes so valuable. Having an innovation coach, like golf, can be as useful if you want to be serious about innovation.

My third step relates to building collective innovation muscle. We often fail to build the common language of understanding on innovation; we don’t talk about this enough. To build capabilities and capacities to innovation we need to recognize this essential innovation muscle building. To build it we need to ‘cascade’ the necessary forces and energy throughout the organization. This means seeking out identification of what innovation means to the company, achieving identification at all levels but allowing for this ‘sense of identity’ to form collectively. As we build this ‘essential innovation muscle’ it can enable everyone to find common purpose and identification so as to establish their own personal regime to build their part of this ‘collective muscle’.

Each of these foundation steps enable innovation to grow and be build with a growing confidence that the knowledge underpinning the efforts has a good basis to move forward.

You research, write and advise extensively across innovation. What changed in innovation management over the last 10 years? What will change in the next 5 years?

I liken this over the last ten years to moving from “divergence to convergence”.

We had an incredible variance and alternative opinions on how innovation should be set up and conducted, in the past. In the past ten years, we have spent huge amounts of investment money on systems, processes and procedures that all have built-in redundancy.

Yet we are always reluctant to let go of legacy, the ‘sunk-costs stick around on our books, within our procedures and locked in to the history of how innovation has been conducted within our organization. It has been a very divergent period, when you look back. We were discovering our ways to innovate. By the time we felt we had got there in our mastery, along came game-changers that shifting the goalposts for innovating. They radically moved innovation from being inside the organization to being outside through the movement towards open innovation.

That moving from internally generated, the well-resourced internally innovation to a leaner, externally resourced process, searching out expertise where it was potentially ‘at its best’ has been a game-changer.

It has been technology driven in our abilities to connect, to relate, to build relationships and growing external networks of expertise. This has dramatically changed this divergence into a need to converge.

We are converging around the enablers of innovation.

These are technology, our abilities to build platforms, to tap in to social networks and leverage all the social applications. We use a growing set of applications and software to explore and exploit discovery, generate solutions or alternative options, to manage a growing diverse portfolio of concepts along an established pipeline management system, with well-established checks and balances (stage-gate being one of them) and learning to be more confident in our experimenting and validating techniques with the use of increased analytics and data gathering.

We are moving towards a clear innovation management system that can be more automated, collaborative and transparent.

Clearly we are not yet there. We have not found the ways to be more optimal yet. We still keep parts of the innovation process in ‘discreet’ pockets of knowledge or awareness. We need a greater convergence and that will come from the digital transformation all of us are undertaking, to transform how we manage in our lives. Innovation is no different.

We have got more customer centric as we have technology to shorten the connections between discovery and ‘real’ customer and market need.

This has ushered in the collaborative age of innovation.

Collaboration generate the necessary growth in knowledge assets, it brings ‘collective’ intelligence into play, it combines all the diversity of innovation to recombine, it sets out to reduce complexity within the system, we break down linear approaches that have been the ‘essential’ way we thought of innovation, as a process and allowed it to become simultaneous, evolving and emergent.

Technology is driving our ability to pen up even more and find new ways to collaborate. Ecosystem thinking has pushed “open innovation” and digital platforms have provided the mechanisms to advance this collaborative work.

So as we learn to converge more in the next few years we will leverage technology, digital and social connections and explore ways where emerging thinking about the design, about a leaner and more agile management can take hold. One that will be exploiting and exploring all that is known or about to be known within the extensive extraction of leveraging the innovation ecosystem management, digital platforms and connecting all the parts of the innovation system into a ‘whole’ fully connected one through software, technology and the devices we use increasingly on a daily basis.

There is a real promise beckoning innovation in the years ahead. I believe we are entering a new era of innovation. I wrote about this recently here and summed this up as follows:

“We have a perfect merging of conditions that will have a transforming storm effect on innovation based on the ones outlined here. They are converging rapidly so please be ready to clear that existing agenda of innovations within your present (very) linear pipeline and be prepared to rework the entire innovation space. It will be radical as the forces coming to bear are exactly that, disrupting forces and they will require an awful lot of management’s attention in 2017 to steer and manage”

What are your personal goals regarding innovation for the next 12 months?

As I outlined above we are at a transforming point in innovation. There are an awful lot of disruptive forces coming into play. These are within the businesses themselves, within the markets they operate in but equally in the digital transformation we are going through.

Innovation will demand a growing level of top management’s attention to steer well and appropriately in managing. The forces of convergence I mentioned earlier are very powerful.

The question I constantly ask myself where, what and how do I offer my services into this disrupting time surrounding innovation.

As I constantly stay open to discovery I feel there are many transforming points that continually alter my views. Innovation is highly dynamic, it is a constant need to discover, translate and select the points where I can offer value into the communities I work with.

Client work, knowledge provision work requires building constantly different and evolving capabilities that can then be provided to many people who do not have the time or commitment to learn it as deeply, to understand the consequences and the value generating points to leverage.

I will continually build my innovation practice as a “go to” trusted authority where I can provide an independent expertise that unlocks innovation knowledge and sense of purpose for others, who I find are often time starved. A place for specialised innovation understanding where I can coach, mentor and advise those willing to invest.

My work for the next twelve months is to 1) link sense of purpose, 2) translate the new emerging knowledge into client and knowledge sharing value, 3) lay out the capacity to perform so as to 4) achieve a greater impact and intensity and 5) create a growing sustaining value out of innovation understanding.

It is never easy to be independent, to stay focused and highly resourced constrained but it is a space I have been working in for fifteen years, good and bad ones alike. I simply hope I can continue to provide a value to those who seek different opinions to build their innovation capabilities and capacities from an independent perspective that seeks to give a real value of return.

About the interviewee:

Paul Hobcraft simply enjoys innovation. He got ‘hooked’ fifteen years ago and since then have increasingly focused on innovation until it is 100% of his business thinking, offerings and activities today.

He researches across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides his views and answers to many issues associated with innovation with a range of solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at  www.agilityinnovation.com.

His aim is to support the individual, teams, and organizations, in their innovation activity, applying what he has gained in experiences and knowledge, to further develop core innovation understanding, so clients and those seeking innovation understanding can achieve positive and sustaining results from their innovating activities.

His present focus is spent building this innovation practice, providing advice on building the right capabilities and capacities, into organizations or individuals, wanting to advance on what they have already in place; to improve, accelerate and develop their innovation competencies and understandings of the ‘fit’ of innovation.

You can read more by Paul Hobcraft on www.paul4innovating.com.