For an organization to survive and thrive it is not enough to want more innovation, you must have the will to do the work to make the practice of innovation commonplace. Jeffrey Phillips tackles this subject head on in, Relentless Innovation. He offers a path for organizations to make innovation an everyday occurrence in which the whole system of the enterprise is aligned around the discipline of creation.
One of the frustrations for me, as someone passionately interested in fostering innovation in organizations, is the recognition that unless it is addressed holistically over time innovation is driven from most areas of the enterprise. Innovation means change; and change, like all new elements requires accommodations on the part of organizations which are all too often entirely focused on their efficiency and the immediacy of their effectiveness. This leaves little room for innovation to take hold, let alone flourish.
This requires a fundamental rethinking of the way innovation is introduced and addressed over time. In Relentless Innovation, Phillips notes that, “If larger firms…don’t relearn innovation and reintroduce it to their business models, they’ll have little competitive advantage left.” He sees that few firms (if any) can afford to rest on their laurels as the pace of innovation continues unabated. To combat that innovation must become a consistent capability, developed, refined, and supported over time.
In this book Phillips lays out the clearly defined roles and responsibility that executives, middle managers and front line employees have for specific outcomes, ensuring that innovation is everyone’s job. The end result: focused and systemic innovation that becomes business as usual. The reason for that is that sustained innovation is not driven by any one part of the organization or any one role. The myth of the brilliant CEO is exactly that ― sustained innovation is a cultural issue, not an issue of leadership. This is something I emphasize with my clients frequently and consistently.
Perhaps the more revealing insight at the heart of this book is the concept of the impediment of BAU (Business As Usual) to innovation success. When the organization seeks to protect BAU there is no room to innovate and BAU becomes the order of the day. It makes an organization timelessly unchanging and profoundly uncreative in which the people “have a stake in sustaining a common, consistent operating model to achieve results repeatedly.” Phillips rightly points out that the ever-increasing focus on efficiency is in direct competition with innovation; the risk associated with and necessary for innovation is driven from the hyper-efficient organization.
To combat BAU and strike a balance between efficiency and innovation Phillips highlights the value of some tried and true business elements, such as clear vision and a focused strategy. He combines those with what he refers to as a “project” versus a “capability” mindset where the outcomes are targeted and defined by resource development over time. His approach makes innovation a process that is repeatable, sustainable and improvable over time rather than a discrete series of one-off events. Relentless Innovation sees that innovation is to be planned for, accounted for and executed with a clear goal of capturing, reusing and developing knowledge over time.
In that quest for reuse of knowledge Phillips highlights the need for accountability for innovation. Everyone in an organization must be specific about their innovation goals. Executives must link innovation to key strategies, and they must develop measures and metrics to hold innovators—and themselves—accountable. Middle managers must be measured on the performance of their teams in meeting those goals and measures and their team members must be held to account for their contributions to the state of innovation in the enterprise. Without an holistic approach that engages the all aspects of the organization innovation won’t be a fundamental part of the operations it will continue to be an afterthought.
Above all Relentless Innovation asks the reader to strive to seek a balance between the everyday demands of efficiency and the future focused demands of innovation. There is no magic formula for innovation but in his book Phillips offers a very good mirror so we can see where we are deficient in our own practices and how we might choose to become smarter in our innovation efforts. As with all change, adopting this approach is highly likely to be hard, but what valued discipline isn’t?
I highly recommend you read Relentless Innovation. Your organization will be better for it.