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  • Matt Arnold

Let's Make Innovation Less Scary





This post originally appeared in a recent Spark newsletter. The intent is to make innovation less scary and more productive. Reducing the costly innovation theater that is a mask of innovation, rather than true innovation -- something that creates and captures new value.


I hope you are doing well and enjoying the transition from summer to fall. In the spirit of Halloween, I'm inviting you to make innovation a little less scary. Something that might be truly frightening about the state of innovation: companies are struggling with innovation more now than they were ten years ago. In Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, the authors explicitly state what many of have been feeling: "Everyone is in favor of innovation. Yet nearly every organization conspires to kill it." Innovation in most organizations is sadly masquerading in a form of Innovation Theatre, which becomes more trick than treat for all involved. These zombie-like efforts never truly grab our imagination nor do they create and capture new value for the organization. Creepily and slowly moving along in search of innovation brains. What does Innovation Theater look like? There may be an innovation team, there may be an innovation lab, there may even be some cool new chairs for the ideation session. But, like a bad seance party, the organization never conjures the spirit of value and mopes as it clings to the stories of the past. It's a narrative that plays out over and over, like a campy movie trope, and like the viewers of such horror movies, we want to scream "don't do that! That's where the innovation programs go to die!" Recent research on corporate innovation provides a a spooky stat:

"88% of organizations manage innovation haphazardly." - Governing Innovation: The Recipe for Portfolio Growth, Accenture 2020

It doesn't need to be that scary, as most innovation wounds are self-inflicted. When the sun rises, the light shows that most organizational transformation and innovation efforts fail due to corporate politics and turf wars. However, we can and need to do better. In ”What Companies That are Good at Innovation Get Right” (Harvard Business Review, 2019), we see that the “model set of respondents spend less time and energy on incremental innovation and small process improvements and devote it instead to transformational work.” In other words, they aspire and choose to do more, to be more. They move beyond the theatrics and safety of continuous improvement and organizational folklore. Peaking Around the Corner We have the potential to build capabilities to look ahead, peak around corners, and be intentional about the future. We can use futures and foresight as a method for innovation. Friend and co-con"spirit"or, Paidi O'Reilly posted some inspirational and provocative thoughts on LinkedIn about the need to build a foresight capability. We need to be brave enough to actively and intentionally work on our future. It's a lot less scary when we do. We need to move beyond what UNESCO calls "the malaise of poverty-of-the-imagination." Futures Literacy is one way to address this. You can read more about UNESCO's work here. Earlier this year, Nick Scappaticci (CEO, Tellart) and I gave a talk about embracing a futures approach called "Futures as a Design Method for Innovation." If you like to know more about that talk, let me know. As Stephen McDonnell says, "nothing cures fear faster than action." What action are you taking to cure your innovation fears.

Looking for tools, techniques, or guidance to make your innovation and transformation efforts less scary and less risky? Let's talk! Get stuff done and build happy teams with Spark. Matt