Australian Defence Magazine published the second of my innovation columns in August. Its title was 'How prepared are you to innovate?' and it's about the structure that an organisation needs if it is to be innovative and responsive to what's happening around it. It's reproduced below, with a couple of minor additions.
Thanks to ADM Editor Katherine Ziesing once again for the opportunity.
How prepared are you to innovate?
INTRO: Facilitators ready? Bean bags primed? Whiteboards clean, bright and slightly oiled? Stop! As you were!
‘Innovation’ is almost a buzz-word: it’s one of those things that’s hard to define, to the point that trying to create a single definition to cover all circumstances is simply pointless.
Understanding that Innovation is about change is important. Creating an Innovation Culture is important. Engaged leadership is really important. But how do you configure an organisation to exploit that innovation culture and leadership?
The organisation that you run or work for is (or should be) configured for the business you’re in. You might be manufacturing a product (guided missiles, or sugary cakes), or delivering a service (as an MSP contractor, or delivering flowers, or running a government department), or running an air force.
The business you’re in will determine your structure and size, but to be innovative you need also to honour the principles of leadership, subject matter expertise and customer awareness as well as the willingness to pursue and embrace change.
Whatever your business, the same four fundamentals apply: Self-Awareness; Situational Awareness; Professional Mastery; and Business Mastery (or Leadership).
Self Awareness is about the innovator’s ‘internals’ – what he’s capable of, and what he needs to change if he wants to do more, or do something quite different. It’s an internal quality control system and it’s vital.
Situational Awareness is all about the ‘externals’: what is happening externally that may force a change, or that might present an opportunity? What is happening with technology, or the economy, or market conditions, or customer behaviour?
The two feed each other. The innovator’s Situational Awareness determines his ability to expose and identify threats and opportunities; the innovator’s Self Awareness will shape his ability to respond.
The actual response to those opportunities and threats will be conditioned, and possibly determined, by the innovator’s Professional Mastery.
No person or organisation exists in a vacuum: whether we’re talking about a charity, a government department, an elite sportsman, a star entertainer or a manufacturing company, the innovator’s activities almost always centre around a specialist domain in which he is (or should be) the subject matter expert – this is Professional Mastery.
For the ADF it is the ability to generate and apply military power at the behest of the elected government (its ‘customer’): every aspect of training men and women and operating equipment to the highest levels of proficiency. For the manufacturer, it is the technology embodied in his products and services that make them saleable, and the manufacturing techniques and enabling technologies that allow the players in this market to survive and flourish.
The relevance of your Professional Mastery, and the professional and technical standards you need to achieve, are informed by your Situational Awareness and Self Awareness. The organisation’s leaders and the internal culture they help create will determine how welcome and valued each attribute is within the organisation. Good managers will also create the internal processes and mechanisms and nurture the skills and specialist expertise necessary to exploit the insights they gather.
This is the bedrock of enterprise-level innovation and it’s what Business Mastery is all about: the ability to maintain an organisation’s openness to change, on the one hand, while managing its everyday activities as efficiently and economically as possible, while also developing timely responses to threats and opportunities. This embraces business management, administration, human resources and strategic planning. And innovation. This applies to the lone innovator as much as it does to a large, complex organisation.
The mutual dependence of Self Awareness, Situational Awareness, Professional Mastery and Business Mastery can be shown in a simple diagram:
Their relative importance will wax and wane as an organisation passes through the business cycle. All are essential, but Business Mastery will help determine where the balance needs to be struck at any one time.
Don’t laugh, but the ADF gets this and Defence as a whole is slowly catching up. What government organisations struggle with, however, is an innovation culture at odds with a conservative, hierarchical tradition of top-down management and caution over policy development and the expenditure of public funds. Industry and academia enjoy a freedom that public organisations don’t, so have fewer impediments to embracing innovation – if their leadership and culture allow.