In the Moment

The Long Haul: moving beyond innovation whack-a-mole

Erika Bailey

When I talk to innovation design peers here in Toronto and abroad, I inevitably have conversations about all the options for how businesses like ours can engage in great innovation design with our clients. Inevitably it comes down to a conversation about how the difficulty of the work varies depending on how deeply we want to go into innovation work. As innovation design consultants, we can act like agencies (you give us the work, and we take it, design it and return it to you). On the other extreme, we can act like partners (joining with your team to build capability and culture over time). At The Moment, we have chosen the latter. We’re in this innovation design for the long-haul.

So, the question is why? Building long-term capability and culture is not easy, simple, or linear. It is risky work, in that the difficulty level is intense for many people to commit resources and people to the effort. It takes bravery on the part of both us and our amazing clients. So, the question remains: why would we take on the most difficult of innovation work when it is so much easier to act like an agency?

The first answer to that why is this: watching the endless loop of innovation whack-a-mole in organizations runs contrary to our purpose. You know how it goes. Design agencies go into organizations and either deliver some great design/innovation work, or enable the client to know just enough about innovation to be inspired but not to execute. Then these inspired people go back to their daily work only to have their culture whack each innovation effort on the head until the culture submits to the status quo. As a result, the newer innovation “moles” usually show greater timidness and a growing fear of failure.

We believe, like many folks out there, that innovation is not an option in today’s world but is instead a necessity for organizations that wish to remain relevant in the marketplace. In order to build resilience and the ability to thrive it is essential to build an innovation culture that fits your innovation goals. Thus, the innovation whack-a-mole is not only unpleasant but dangerous. The more you whack those moles down, the less likely it is that home grown innovation effort and creativity will continue to pop up. The longer you wait to address and build your innovation culture, the harder your work becomes.

Because of our dedication to this type of work, we have built a tool to help organizations build an intentional innovation culture and adapt as people make it their own: The Culture Scan. We’ve made it available to everyone and we’re starting to learn a lot about how people are using it, and about some of the challenges in getting into innovation culture work when you’re not an expert.

Here are some key take aways:

  1. The tool helps you to visualize your culture and get real about what you can work on and leverage toward your innovation success.
  2. That being said, the Culture Scan is just a tool. The “gold” is in the conversations you have with your people and the actions they take to change things over time. Each discussion or argument about how we would assess a certain element of our culture creates new shared understanding and the springboard for effective action toward shaping the culture you want.
  3. The Culture Scan accelerates awareness and understanding of what your innovation culture is like and what could be your cultural goals or milestones. It’s an excellent start, but accelerating the work of culture change takes the expertise of a skilled guide who knows how change happens, and can help you get there. Culture work is hard when you’re in the culture you’re trying to change. I should know…that’s usually my predicament.
  4. It is essential that leadership not treat the Culture Scan as a tool for reprisal, where everyone has to assess the culture positively. You’ll only reinforce negative patterns if that’s the case; the tool can’t help you until you get that problem addressed. Be on the lookout for moments when people stop being curious about a piece of the culture scan data, and instead want to judge a motivation behind the results. Surprising results while using the Culture Scan are an invitation for dialogue and discovery to better understand and act upon anything that is out of alignment.

If you’re tired of watching your innovation efforts get pummelled by the cultural whack-a-mole bat, muster some courage! The system is telling you that your innovation work is to build a culture that will support innovation and a resilient future. If you take this on, you can make that bat into a feather or (better yet) scaffolding that lifts your innovation efforts up into the light.

A free version of our Culture Scan and some resources to help you can be found here. We hope you find it helpful in beginning your innovation culture journey.

This piece was originally posted on medium.com

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