Why the leaking of New York Times Innovation Report is a gift—to itself

Certain sections of the Internet worked themselves into a lather this week over the “leaked” internal report on innovation at the New York Times. What followed was a broad cross-section of responses ranging from, “they just don’t get it,” to, “here’s what they need to do to fix it,” and, “here’s what it means as an example to the rest of us”. To call it a provocation would be an understatement.

New York Times Headquarters at night by photogreuhphies -  January 10, 2011 Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

New York Times Headquarters at night by photogreuhphies – January 10, 2011 Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Regardless of the self-congratulatory tone the report takes at the outset, there are few companies anywhere that would ask the question, “how are we doing in this area?”, let alone would deliver such a comprehensive answer. For this, the Times should be lauded. Especially since they do recognize their own shortcomings almost as swiftly noting that, “…Huffington Post and Flipboard often get more traffic from Times journalism than we do.”

For all the general analysis, and some of it quite specific and valuable (consider the response from Nieman Journalism Lab), there is a lot to learn for all incumbents seeking to innovate in their current markets with their existing business models. However, I think the most value to be gained here is actually on the part of the Times itself. Not only has it done a great job of exacting self-examination, in leaking the report it has also widened the range of possible responses and potential solutions to its concerns.

A more fragile organization might have buried the report, or severely restricted access to it. The Times, being what it is—a news organization, is not going to do that, but what it gains now via leaking the report has paved the way to foster open innovation. Although no specific external partners have been solicited for feedback, the public way in which the report has come to light has fostered some excellent commentary. As a paradigm for using external ideas by building on internal ideas, especially as a firm seeks to advance their technology position, this accidental slide into open innovation is an unexpectedly positive outcome for the paper.

I heard once that Google made a habit of sometimes choosing not to hire every smartest person they could find, instead adding them to a broader network and leaving them where they were in order to foster a more robust technology ecosystem. Mark Zuckerberg also espouses the value of more perspectives, “In terms of doing work and in terms of learning and evolving as a person, you just grow more when you get more people’s perspectives…”. Perhaps this is an opportunity for The Times to recognize the unintended consequences of their report in the public domain might be a whole lot of valuable feedback to help them on their innovation path.

Whether it chooses to recognize the gift of this commentary as feedback remains to be seen. One of the primary rules of feedback is that in order for it to have value a recipient must be ready and willing to listen to it, let alone accept it. As I see it the public response to the leaked report is a gift. Yes, there is certainly a truckload of snark to wade through in order to uncover some observational gems. The challenge will be to see if the Times can take these responses and fold then into their good work.

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Risk is critical for change but the spectrum of acceptable risk is personal—#BIF9

Stacy-PearsallThe range of risk explored, for the sake of self-discovery and innovation was quite extraordinary at BIF-9. It was humbling to see the extent to which people placed themselves, and their sense of self, at risk in the pursuit of revealing new truths.

Combat photographer, Stacy Pearsall opened with a story about joining the military and the elite combat photography troop and through her work received a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. The acceptance of death as a possibility was necessary to do her job and led to her project documenting, “America’s unsung heroes.”

Pearsall described her camera as one of the most powerful weapons possible. That said, after her traumatic brain injury, she discovered that there was a gap in what it meant to be a veteran and how veterans are perceived. She began to photograph veterans to be able to help broaden the definition of what it means to be a veteran and what their needs are in society today. The Veterans Portrait Project was created and she is self-funding the effort.

She wants no other veteran to experience what she experienced in her journey to recovery.

Through her Charleston Center for Photography, Pearsall teaches disabled veterans by giving them the tools they need to feel better about themselves. She finds inspiration in others and the ability to help and exhorted us to do something today—and together.

The concept of a bias for action was very much in play over the two days. Scott Heimendinger, started out as a passionate food blogger and fell into the traps of scrambling for SEO and page views, etc. It wasn’t great, but as Scott noted, doing work is good.

Doing work is important, even if you are not sure what you are doing.

In 2009 if you wanted to cook sous vide at home it cost $1200 to buy a lab device. It shouldn’t have cost that much. Make magazine published his slow food DIY project and he unlocked the Maker merit badge as a result. Heimendinger found the “right pond” to swim in through a process of taking more and more small risks on over time.

As someone who is very risk averse, I have come a long way.

Over time he created a molecular gastronomy cooking club and is establishing Culinary Jam Sessions. Jet City Gastro Physics, just filed its first patent on the way to making better French fries. Along the way he took a Modernist Cuisine course and snagged an internship during which he met Nathan Myhrvold former Microsoft CTO and molecular gastronomist, who created a guide. Now, after directly telling Myhrvold that he should hire him, Heimendinger is working there are as Director of Applied Research and recently had an amazing launch on Kickstarter for his $199 sous vide cooker.

For more on this topic listen to my post session interview with Scott.

Primed-in-5-logoPrimed in 5 with Scott Heimendinger

His efforts were rewarded by taking a series of risks that were manageable over time. All it took was bold passion and being unafraid to be passionate.




That kind of dedication and passion is something that Angela Maiers sought to tap into during her story. For Maiers, the act of contribution changes us. She sees that the moment we realize we have what someone else needs, in that moment our humanity is cemented.

To frame her story she noted that somewhere between preschool and grad school we have learned to hide our genius. And we need to change that. Then she launched into sharing the tale of a great project she conducted with some high school seniors on the last day of school before Summer. Maiers actively asked them to tap into their own genius, to risk a little by committing to something bigger than them selves. What occurred was nothing less than astounding. The students stayed for two days even though school was well and truly out for the year!

Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just changing the world.

The students felt that they were needed and were going to do something about it. Fifteen social enterprises launched and they all believed in themselves and in each other. By taking a risk they became invested in their own genius. And some of the participants joined Angela on stage at BIF-9 to share their own takeaways from the event and share their own stories, “These two days were really important to me…” which was great to see. Another risk taken…

FutureProjectIf Angela Maiers exemplified the process of leading others to recognize and take ownership of their own genius, Andrew Mangino illustrated the results of that journey of discovery from the student’s perspective. Arising from his work as a student journalist Mangino shared his path to eventually founding The Future Project,




High schools aren’t living up to what we all know they can be. Too many students drop out. Even more are disengaged daily. And the current thinking–to blame more teachers, impose more rules, and inject more money–just isn’t working.

At The Future Project, we see the problem simply: Our students aren’t pursuing their dreams. We’re out to turn high schools into Future Schools, where students develop the skills to do just that.

Here are the nine lessons he learned on the way:

  1. When we discover a passion, we discover we can do anything.
  2. Young people learn most when they are changing the world
  3. Schools are not really broken. They are working just as they were designed to work. And so they must be re-invented. [The performance system. Duh]
  4. A nation build on infinite possibility doesn’t feel like it.
  5. The most unjust gap in modern America is the inspiration gap. (seen as a luxury)
  6. The most solvable gap in modern America is the inspiration gap.*
    *But it is going to take a movement to do it.
  7. We don’t have to wait for permission to start.
  8. Nothing happens without a great team.
  9. It’s time for a new kind of leader in America—someone who stands for you.

The Future Project asked, what if there were dream directors? Now they have 16 dream directors across 4 cities in schools. Standing up for the infinite possibility of young people exemplified by Marielle, a student who stood up and began to transform her own school,

I have been a dreamer on stand-by for a long time. And that ends today.

Another way of looking at risk was presented by JoAnn Stonier, Chief Privacy Officer with MasterCard Worldwide. For Stonier, risk is not an immovable concept—it is highly fluid. One of the great challenges she sees for us as we innovate in an age of big data is that the risks to our privacy are not fully known and are not being considered widely enough to influence public policy and private behavior.

“The right to be let alone” arising out of the Gilded Age, is the early precursor to the right to privacy and at the time it was needed to create a retreat from the world due to the encroachments of the Industrial Age. That right to holding private some aspects of our identity and the data that is the manifestation of it is even more important now. Last year Stonier had spent the Summer months addressing the encroachment into private data by the NSA.

We are having these conversations because of the nature of the changes in our society today. Law lags innovation—they are never the solution.

If we look to law we are going to be waiting a very long time for a corresponding support. We need to be wrestling with what is at risk now. Privacy matters and it needs to be a part of the conversation for all who are innovating so that we can ensure that our own risk tolerance can be managed.

Perhaps Steve Blank captured the reframing of business risk best. As the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual, Blank has been uncovering the ways in which those who take risks to begin new enterprises go about their work. He noted that Joseph Campbell identified the hero myth in multiple cultures as essentially the same story. Campbell recognized the pattern in the data.

Blank did 8 start-ups in 21 years. At no time was he looking for patterns, as he had his head down the entire time. Yet he did identify patterns.

After retirement Blankbegan sitting on boards and had one a series of private investments over the course of time he began to write his memoirs. While writing he identified a pattern emerging that no-one else had ever called out.

For the last century everyone had been striving for success is by treating start-ups as smaller versions of larger enterprises.

He offered a countervailing view. He noted that no business plan survives first contact with customers and that the only people who use 5 year plans are VC’s (venture capitalists) and Soviet-era countries.

The best start-ups went from failure to failure learning as rapidly as they could. Blank observed the “pivot”—times during which companies changed strategy by changing the people (firing the VP of Sales) and recognized that there needed to be a different way of handling the failure as a result of risk taking.

What we should have been doing instead of firing the person we should have been changing the plan.

On their first day, Blank said, every start-up is a faith-based enterprise based on guesses and no processes to test those guesses. There is no way you are smarter than the collective intelligence of your customers, so experiment with them. Make the risk to the enterprise manageable by learning as fast as you possibly can.

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New at WaPo: How To Breed Big Innovation Inside A Small Business

WaPo-MediumAn endless list of priorities often relegates “innovation” to the list of buzzwords small business owners read about but can never tackle – something for the well-funded R&D labs at big corporations, not for the entrepreneurs on Main Street.

But innovation is about being competitive and inventive in your approach — and small firms already have everything they need to be a big player in the innovation game.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-small-business/post/how-to-breed-big-innovation-inside-a-small-business/2013/03/26/b1a8953e-962a-11e2-9e23-09dce87f75a1_blog.html 

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5 Keys to Unlocking Middle-Market Innovation at Middle Market Executive

MMExec-MediumRecently Primed Associates was featured over at Middle Market Executive. Here’s what we had to say about opportunities for innovation in this space:

When it seems that everyone is talking about innovation these days, you would think most firms are already riding the wave. However, most organizations have only begun to dip their toes into the water and are missing a full understanding of the broad range of ways in which they might innovate their enterprise. For most middle-market companies and even large enterprise firms, innovation is too often viewed only as a particular product suite, and that makes sense — when you consider the term “innovation” is closely tied to invention. Innovation has now come to be understood as offering so much more.

 Today, companies must break out of a product-only innovation mind-set. Furthermore, the focus for innovation need not be only physical. In fact, there are five key areas ripe for innovation in most organizations today.

For the full article go here.


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Motivated to innovate: How an organization’s culture can cultivate or crush

While motivation is essentially a self-generated state, the organizational culture of a group or individual dedicated to the pursuit of innovation greatly influences their performance. That culture both dominates and mediates, and if it is not positively addressed, competing motivations and needs can come into play. As has been mentioned previously more than once in the Think Primed Blog, innovation requires the introduction of change into inherently stable systems. Because of this, an organizational culture plays a large role in fostering and sustaining motivation.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

–       John Muir















Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg


To meet those competing needs, an organization must address powerful personal motivators. One of the best models highlighting what’s at stake during this kind of effort is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

So much of organization life takes place at the bottom of this pyramid; the equivalent of “keeping the lights on and the water running.” Which is a great model for an Industrial Age company intent on making an endless succession of the same widgets in a production line. Not many of those companies thriving today, are there?

A step up from physiological needs are the types of organizations that pitch benefits packages addressing the safety and security concerns of their members and, to a certain extent, some esteem needs. Organizations with strong and stable cultures often reinforce the needs associated with love and belonging, yet they have all the fun and dysfunction of families. They’re mostly built for comfort rather than speed, required to respond to changing and dynamic market forces.

The most dynamic and innovative companies seek to work at the highest levels of this model, to get the best from people every day.


Price of admission

It’s not enough for an organization culture to provide the equivalent of shelter in a storm, especially not if that same organization wants its members to invest themselves in the success of the enterprise. Prior to the Great Unpleasantness (aka the Great Recession), companies were scrambling to create environments that attracted the best and the brightest. Though many companies today remain focused on that, the majority merely pays it lip service or don’t pursue that practice at all.

These latter companies are minding their reserves and hoarding their resources. This is practice won’t yield significant results at all.

The price of admission to those seeking to create innovation-capable cultures is the same as it has always been: collaborative cultures where people feel safe to share their ideas, where they feel like they can find a “home,” where they are recognized for their contribution, and were they feel they can be their best selves. Charlie Gilkey, author of the Productive Flourishing blog, recently noted that it took him several quarters to come up with his list for a post titled “What I Believe.” The end result is something that reflects what most of us are looking for in our lives. Work is where people spend most of their waking hours, so organization better figure out how to create the conditions for a culture that supports those beliefs he mentions.

One such example of the fulfilling organization, a company dedicated to the principals of loose/tight leadership (small set rules, tightly managed), is the online video powerhouse Hulu. Recently Fast Company magazine ran a great profile online of Hulu’s organization culture, which showed how power is distributed to the lowest organization level possible for effective decision-making and execution. Engagement is driven by the establishment of a small set of performance-based rules that are tightly enforced, while most aspects of organization life are left to the individual or group to design, organize, implement, and process. The net result is an organization that makes people want to deliver their best effort.

We all want to belong

This kind of democratically-biased culture creates a cohesion that is rare in many larger organizations. Usually when start-ups cross the growth chasm (as distinct from the adoption chasm defined in Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm), the transition in revenues or size (over $10 million and over 150 people, respectively) means their flexibility collapses under command-and-control patterns and poorly defined and managed performance expectations. That hasn’t happened at Hulu. They are large, growing larger, and thriving by deferring to their community members.

Organizations that fail to cross the growth chasm come up hard against the reality of being inhospitable. They cease to grow and flourish, because they don’t make room for the strength that others may provide by applying their own unique and divergent talents. The start-up company that fails to grow is usually completely tied to one person’s hierarchy of needs: the founder. The founder is usually on a never-ending treadmill of addressing their most elemental needs for safety.

In Hulu’s case, ownership of issues, problem-solving, and performance management is baked into the culture of this company. Everyone has an opportunity to accept responsibility and accountability for outcomes. Rather than struggling with lines of authority, each person is supported in discovering how they may best contribute collaboratively to the overarching corporate success. This cohesive sense of belonging serves as a path for higher levels of self-actualization, each of which offers material benefit in attaining organization strategy.


To be held in high esteem

The path through successive levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy is not necessarily straight, but the value to the company of performing at each successive level is nearly always positive. Provided that each level offers some opportunity for consolidation of the needs met, and that the striving continues upward, value generation will be significant. Given a place to call “home” and the recognition that they do have a place to contribute, many employees capitalize by fostering esteem among their peers.

That focus informs value by playing to the individual’s strengths so that they may be successful and have increasing impact over time. The respect of peers for contributions, whether directly from innovation or as a result of building on an existing practice or procedure, by turn fosters self-respect. This leads to a positive environmental feedback loop—each success creates the opportunity for greater successes over time.

A better you/me/us through self-actualization

At the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy is the concept of self-actualization. The term originated in a work by Kurt Goldstein called The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man (commence head-spinning now). While Goldstein used the term to describe a state all humans strove to achieve, Maslow used the term self-actualization to describe a desire, not a driving force, that could lead to the realization of one’s capabilities. For Maslow, self-actualization did not determine one’s life; rather, it gave the individual a motivation to achieve personal ambitions and fulfillment.

Taken as a level of development to meet specific personal needs, self-actualization is completely in alignment with effective innovation. Those people who are operating to become more self-actualized are more likely to embrace reality and facts rather than deny truth. This leads to more rational understanding of the root causes of circumstances and a drive towards focusing on problems outside themselves.

When it comes to an understanding of the human-centricity required for effective innovation — the notion that an innovation must have a specific utility in mind — those who firmly address their need to self-actualize accept their own human nature with all its shortcomings, and similarly accept the nature of others with a general lack prejudice. This breeds resilience and a spontaneity that are great innovation traits.

Those organizations that can play to this desire for self-actualization, that recognize the need to become our better selves, will reap the benefits. Command- and control-driven organizations will, by their nature, drive performance from the level of meeting physiological needs of safety and property. Those organizations that treat their members with respect, recognizing their talents and contributions, will enable their members with the freedom to be their best, and in so doing, will make better organizations because of it.

What kind of organization are you building? A safe place? Or a place to become your best self? If you’re interested in more innovation, it had best be the latter.

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New from Primed Associates – Primed for Innovation Issue 1

Primed for Innovation Issue 1 - The Innovation Ecosystem

Primed for Innovation Issue 1:

Welcome to Primed for Innovation a primer on things to consider when you are interested in improving your organization’s approach to innovation. The following topics are offered as thought starters. [Read more…]
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Organization Structures for Innovation – Stop reorganizing deck chairs on the Titanic

Every company has two organizational structures: The formal one is written on the charts; the other is the everyday relationship of the men and women in the organization.
Harold S. Greene

Organization. It’s a noun and a verb. It’s a label applied to any collection of individuals pursuing a perceived common purpose, regardless of how organized they may be. It’s an act designed to bring structure out of chaos and meaning out of confusion. It’s a loaded word. So much rests on the shoulders of organization. This is especially the case when innovation is the desired result of organization’s application.

As its members work together, every group will evolve a structure over time, whether by design or not. Many of the performance deficiencies of a group will often be blamed on individuals, in spite of the fact that performance more often arises from the fitness of the organization structure and its cohesion. By paying attention to the structure of an organization and the roles within it, significant advantages may be created that enable increased group efficiency and effectiveness. Perhaps the most vital lesson for an organization that wishes to become more innovation-capable is that it should create a structure that enables it to flex in response to changing environmental conditions, modifications of tasks, and shifting circumstances.

A challenge arises when we acknowledge that organization design needs to be based on the unique strategy and situation of the organization itself. In the absence of a uniform approach to organizing organizations, what considerations are universal?

We don’t know what we don’t know
If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.
Karl Albrecht

One of the most immediate concerns is that all aspects of the organization should be “fit for purpose.” Each business unit, department, group, team, and function should be aligned to the strategy of the organization and should have, if necessary a sub-strategy that directly supports and addresses the key attributes of the overarching enterprise strategy. That strategy should have as a primary target the customers the organization is designed to serve and a plan of how it will serve them. Without a clearly defined and universally understood strategy, an organization will grow haphazardly, accommodating distractions that come into view rather than focusing on specific goal completion.

Strategically focused organizations become useful backgrounds against which capability gaps and confused or absent roles may be identified in the context of the other enterprise variables necessary for innovation success. This might be knowledge management systems, business processes or even leadership attributes. If a clear strategy is in place, an organization’s leaders should ask some of the following questions to understand whether the organization should be modified or restructured:

  • What’s the nature and degree of innovation-related interaction among a group’s participants?
  • What is the geographic distribution of an innovation group?
  • Given the innovation objectives and limits, where does autonomy reside for the innovation group (internal, external, adjacent)?
  • How is coordination achieved?
  • What is the best structure for the present?
  • How can we best accommodate structure changes in the future?

The answers to these questions may determine clear next steps, which may include asking additional, deeper questions. This self-examination creates the capacity for an organization to create spaces into which sub-strategies, in support of the overarching strategy, can be embedded.

The critical component in this exploration and the eventual decision-making around organization structure is communication. Communication is critical so that the front line is aligned with the bottom line. Without it, not only might chaos ensue but the effectiveness of the structure may be hampered from the outset. Yet this is one factor that many organization leaders fail to consider, or if they do, they pay it only cursory attention—to their eventual dismay.

Moving deck chairs on the Titanic
We believe we will be able to get the airline back during the reorganization process.
Jerry Murphy

Reorganization is one trigger that’s often pulled, to the least effect. For many organization leaders, reorganization is the one thing they know that they can do and “implement” quickly, giving them both the satisfaction of taking action and the recognition that they are “doing something.” Unfortunately, the hair-trigger reorganization does little to improve an organization’s innovation performance. Instead, many organizations suffer through poorly planned transitions during which the need to “get it done” trumps “well done.”

What these leaders demonstrate are the very worst aspects of impulse control. They desire visible evidence of something (anything) being done, and they want it now. Reorganization is often the first initiative of new leaders, even when it’s not clearly needed. An organization structure should represent a resolution of any number of enduring performance dilemmas, and it should not be tampered with unnecessarily or unthinkingly.

Often in fast-growing or start-up organizations the desire to reorganize arises from the feeling of being out of control. Reorganization may be the most appropriate response in these circumstances. For a larger organization, multiple reorganizations in a short period of time are not only uncalled for, they may be detrimental in the long-term to the organization’s viability. The key is to think through the repercussions before taking action. By asking, “When we do this, what might go wrong?” it may clarify alternatives that won’t require the upheaval (and distraction) that reorganization represents.

Yes, a leader seeking innovation may use a reorganization to challenge comfort zones, but unless they also take time to create organization resilience, they may deliver carnage instead of results. Not pretty.

Impediment or enhancement
It’s about bringing the structured and unstructured information in an organization together, analyzing the information and delivering it to the right people in the organization when they need it.
Michael Schroeck

Organizations should focus on fostering implementation of plans and projects, delivering increased throughput and maintaining quality. Any organization that creates barriers, or blocks and impedes issue resolution, will kill innovation capability. The whole reason for (the verb) organization is to bring order so that information can flow and materials can be transformed into the services and goods necessary to meet customer needs in the cleanest and simplest manner. For innovation to thrive, an organization must also make accommodations for that information and for those materials to be used in unique and different ways. Rather than confining, it should promote expansive actions.

At its most elemental, an organization structure represents a set of pre-made decisions about where, when, and how to deploy resources to greatest benefit. It should create a supporting performance environment that values and recognizes contributions of its members and keeps them focused on the achievement of the strategic intent. If innovation lies at the heart of your strategy, how you decide to organize can be a firm foundation for your future success. Just remember, a given organization structure may resolve present tensions, but it might not be appropriate for all times. Keep monitoring your organization structure—and when it impedes your ability to innovate, then and only then, you should consider change.

Effective restructuring requires both a microscopic view of typical structural problems as well as an overall, topographical sense of structural options.
Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal

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Co-creating innovation—a better participation experience

To further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art—this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days.
John F. Kennedy

Innovation, certainly open innovation, is an invitation to participate in a shared experience of co-creation. It asks everyone involved to come to the table ready to fully engage and give of themselves to the best of their ability. This doesn’t happen of its own accord unless there are some basic elements in place to create an environment in which trust can be generated over time. One of the ways to create the conditions for trust is to orient the environment toward the participants, to make it as accessible and engaging as possible.

The process of creating an engaging environment may begin with relative simplicity, but as anyone who specializes in environmental psychology will tell you, it can become quite complex over time. This interdisciplinary field of psychology focuses on the interplay between humans and their surroundings. In the need for the acceleration of creating an innovation space that supports the formation of trusting working relationships, the primary focus is on one attribute in particular: prospection. As defined by Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness, this is “the act of looking forward in time or considering the future.”

Anticipating is (almost) everything
Prospection is driven most explicitly by our ability to imagine—a critical ingredient in forming innovations—and an environment that invites this positive behavior is one in which innovation may not only take root, but thrive. Like its root word, prospecting, prospection is concerned with anticipation of some type of benefit. In the case of innovation, that benefit is, a novel solution to a compelling need that generates value.

To generate the kind of positive outcomes we seek in our organizations, this process of anticipation needs to be jointly experienced. As a driver of behavior, anticipation increases enthusiasm, often with a corresponding ability to delay gratification that can move like a contagion across a group. Factors that contribute to bias toward anticipation are making thinking visible—the actual in-process outputs of the innovation experience—as well as creating a way to stage the development of ideas over time. Seeing and feeling the results of ethnographic research in terms of videoed interviews, or the volume of Post-It notes concepts generated via brainstorming, or the material outputs from a prototyping exercise can all contribute to the physical reinforcement of a positive outcome.

This kind of anticipation, the focus on prospection, can be self-fulfilling. It generates a momentum that is difficult to create or sustain without the benefit of physical cues in the environment. With them, the pace of innovation may be accelerated.

How else might we better support broader participation in innovation?

Collaborative toolkits
Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situation of experience its own full and unique meaning.
John Dewey

For some organizations, creating comfortable, relatively quiet locations where participants can always meet, with food and beverages available to share and materials to support creative output, yields positive outputs. Why? By establishing differentiated spaces for innovation activities, the behavior that occurred in those spaces is also differentiated. Some organizations pride themselves on the diversity of their physical spaces. Advertising agencies have been known to create unique, client-centric spaces, in which they will focus on the products and services of those clients. Product development consultancies also create divergent work environments as mental and emotional triggers to support the creativity desired for innovation. One such firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Inventionland, has created a workspace filled with pirate ships, raceways, and tree houses. This may seem quite trite until you learn that Inventionland is the inspiration for 2,000 to 2,400 brand-new inventions each year licensed and secured by businesses.

The provision of work spaces that support innovation participation is not relegated to the physical world only. Consider the impact that online collaboration tools may have on people who are not geographically co-located. Most social networking sites have support capabilities for group or project organizers—SharePoint has long been used for this purpose, Google Aps like Google Docs is used to do this, too. Even tools like WebEx or Adobe Connect offer ways to use virtual whiteboards. Sometimes it may be as simple as a series of emails to support team members that can make all the difference in fostering participation. The key is to choose those structures and tools that will be most meaningful given the organization culture in place in your enterprise.

With the appropriate environmental conditions in place, fostering innovation participation becomes an easier prospect. Be clear about goals and the tools required to meet them. Be clear about the skills necessary to achieve your goals and the people who can provide them. Create a space to act as a crucible to bring them together and get out of the way. With the stage set, and managed, co-creating innovation will be something to look forward to and the opportunity to delight will present itself.

What environmental conditions and tools do you recommend for fostering innovation participation in your enterprise?

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Is it hot in here? A review of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire by Braden Kelley

For those of you who don’t know Braden Kelley, he is one of several thought-leader, whirling dervishes in the innovation space. Braden is the founder and executive editor of the innovation hub, Blogging Innovation, and most recently is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Culture of Ingenuity and Purpose. This readily accessible offering is focused on getting the fundamentals of innovation right. It directly addressed key obstacles that cripple innovation in organizations, regardless of their initial innovation successes.

It should be noted that I know Braden and admire his work in innovation. That said, I purchased the book myself (Kindle edition) and have every intention of offering a clear perspective. When I make recommendations I fully understand that my reputation is on the line, too. So, I am pleased to be able to offer a strong endorsement for this book. For anyone interested in innovation in their organization, the ideas presented matter.

One of my favorite features in this obviously well-researched effort is the devotion to case studies. Braden uses the case studies to both highlight best practices and shortcomings in innovation and the wide range makes his thinking relevant to people across all industries and levels in organizations. Interestingly, while many authors have positioned Apple’s journey as one of a paragon of innovation virtue, Braden takes the time to truly unpack and review Apple’s overnight innovation success. His attention to detail means that we begin to understand how hard innovation can be, even for the best, and what we can do to address the blockages to success head on.

Now, for those hoping to find a silver bullet for innovation success, this book is not for you. Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire is focused on providing the reader with practical, incremental steps that can be taken to build innovation effectiveness over time. There are no quick fixes. There are no simple solutions. On offer is solid advice, clearly presented. It is not ground breaking, but to perfectly clear, that’s not what is needed. People need to understand that for innovation to matter in an enterprise and to be sustained over time the basic tenets that Braden identifies and clearly explains need to be in place. Without them the opportunity to fail will present itself quite readily.

The book’s natural progression from vision and strategy through to organization psychology and innovating under crisis conditions makes this a useful guide to keep at hand as you continue on your innovation journey. Braden notes, and I wholeheartedly agree, that there are fundamentals without which you will not be successful. He clearly describes the challenges and offers sensible solutions for addressing them. His approach is to create the culture and systems and processes that will support innovation for the long-term.

Perhaps one of my favorite sections is titled “Saying No in the Right Way.” So many times I have seen the passion of innovators in organizations run aground on the negativity attendant with the strategic (and sometimes, not-so-strategic) decision-making surrounding which opportunities to pursue and which to abandon. Braden addresses the ego inherent in people sharing and evaluating their ideas in a public domain. He also notes that sometimes the smartest people in the room have the least capability to explain or develop their ideas in order to make their invention an innovation reality. The approach he recommends is to foster trust by understanding the skills that people bring to the table before you go down the innovation road as well as set clear expectations for the process of selection. All of which requires preparation.

Ultimately, the investments you make in creating clear communications around your idea evaluation policies and processes, and in maintaining their transparency, will be repaid tenfold. Innovation ideas will continue to flow only as long as there is trust and faith in the healthy operation of the process.

Which is the heart of the matter. If you want to innovate you cannot simply jump in and expect the best outcomes. You need to think and prepare. That does not mean you must prepare to perfection. But you do need to have the elements in place, the basic framework that will support your collaborative efforts, to keep your innovation efforts heading in the right direction. Like a bonfire, innovation burns best and brightest when it has a stable structure to which you can keep adding fuel. If your organization is struggling to get its innovation efforts off the ground, or if you feel it has lost its way, then you should take a look at Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, it will help your business rebuild its hidden or lost innovation capabilities.

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Recognition as a force to foster innovation

Sometimes, the wide range of things that must be accomplished to improve an organization’s innovation culture can be overwhelming. The sheer range of available actions along with the anticipated complexity of their implementation can cause one to feel like a small woodland creature caught in the headlights of a large truck. Or, worse yet, may simply cause you to want to sit in a corner and quietly cry yourself to sleep. Sorry, was that out loud?

Nevertheless, there are some simple steps that, when repeated, can create an engine that will drive innovation practices across your enterprise.

Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.
Peter Drucker

Recognition is the key ingredient to get things moving.

Recognition is not the ability to identify something, although that helps. What we’ll focus on here is the systematic observation and public witnessing of the right kinds of behaviors in the organization. It means “catching people doing the right thing,” and believe me, as a practitioner, it is much more fun for the giver and receiver than any performance management system focused on finding fault and making corrections. The power of recognition is that it can be simple, readily applied, and the knock-on effects can have enduring positive impacts that may carry on repeatedly.

Measure for measure
Count what is countable, measure what is measurable. What is not measurable, make measurable.
Various attributions (the more common variant meme: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.”)

Measurement is an important factor in the recognition of innovation-supporting actions. The challenge with measurement is in selecting the appropriate measures of performance to assess the progress toward a desired set of outcomes. If we choose metrics less than wisely, we can find that our actual performance and our desired performance slowly drift apart. The same can be said of recognition. As an acknowledgment of performance against expectations, choosing where and how recognition should be applied must also be considered just as wisely as what we measure.

When we decide to recognize performance, we come up hard against the realities of measurement in our organization. We soon discover that we are actually required to manage what we cannot measure. Innovation is an especially difficult area in which to define absolute measures. When we attempt to do so, we realize that not everything that can be measured should be managed, and that not everything that must be managed can be measured. Innovation recognition requires us to focus on movement toward desired actions rather than any hard and fast outcomes. It may also mean some missteps as we become clearer about what we need to recognize in order to move our unique culture in the appropriate direction.

One of the greatest management principles is that the things that get recognized get done again. If you’re looking to create innovation momentum, look for the behaviors you want to recognize, and explicitly tell the organization what you’re looking for, whether it’s deeper customer observations, more ideation, or faster prototyping. Be clear and be repetitive. You get more of the behavior you recognize, but you certainly will not get what you merely hope for, wish for, or beg for. Better yet, when you do see the behavior you were looking for, don’t wait a moment–make the recognition immediate, visible, and shareable.

From a performance management perspective, the closer you can tie individual (or group) performance and action to it being recognized, the stronger the tie will be in the eyes of the receivers and any observers. Any time separating their performance and its recognition, means the opportunity to foster the needed behavior diminishes rapidly.

Remember, recognition systems are much more than just bonus plans and stock options. While it is certainly possible to include both of these incentives, they can also include awards and other rewards, such as promotions, reassignment, non-monetary bonuses (e.g., vacations), or a simple thank-you. Above all, make recognition a production.

Recognition is all about seeing
Sawubona – “I see you” (traditional isiZulu greeting)

In their most recent book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath discuss how to create change when change is hard. Fostering an innovation-capable culture is hard work. One of the earliest concepts in their work is the notion of being able to “find the bright spot.” This concept is firmly tied to the work on appreciative inquiry of David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University. Finding the bright spot means looking diligently for and highlighting that which is going right. It means making the success, no matter how small-seeming, a visible and desirous outcome. They are “successful efforts worth emulating.”

Recognition is about identifying and promoting the desired innovation-focus behavior. The reason to focus on recognition rather than reward systems is because recognition elicits a psychological benefit, whereas reward indicates a financial or physical benefit. Although many elements of designing, managing, and sustaining reward and recognition systems are similar, it is useful to keep this difference in mind, especially for small business owners interested in motivating staffs while keeping costs low. Additionally, recognition is great for early stage and in-process outcomes essential for behavior change, while rewards are generally end-stage and conclusive-results focused.

Being prepared to recognize is key. Some simple guidelines include:
• Create goals and action plans for innovation-supporting behavior recognition,
• Maintain fairness, clarity, and consistency in recognition, and,
• Set guidelines so all leaders acknowledge equivalent and similar contributions.

In order to develop an effective recognition program, leaders must be sure to separate it from the company’s reward program. This ensures a focus on recognizing the efforts of organization members. Effective recognition should be sincere; applied consistently and fairly; noise-free (not combined with other reporting activities); timely and frequent (especially when fostering early behavior changes so that no one’s efforts are overlooked); flexible; appropriate; and specific (specific in terms of what it recognizes and specific in terms of how it recognizes the desired behavior). See people do the right thing, early and often.

It is important that every action that supports a company’s innovation goals be recognized, whether through informal feedback or formal company-wide recognition. All members should have the same opportunity to receive recognition for their work, too. Finally, a common understanding of the behaviors or actions to be recognized should be shared. One way you can ensure this is by visibly and explicitly describing what actions will be recognized, and then reinforcing this by communicating exactly what someone did to be recognized.

How are you recognizing your bright spots and capitalizing on them?

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