Two books that I read recently have given me a few insights into making innovation work. As you well know, innovation is the hot topic in government today as we face shrinking budgets, demands for better citizen engagement, and the challenge of openness. There is a good deal of emphasis on producing innovative ideas but not as much as on determining what is a good idea to implement and specifically how to implement the innovative idea.
Many have written about the challenges of trying to implement a new innovation in their organization. I used to think that this was the usual resistance to change inherent in organizational cultures but Adner’s book on innovation ecosystems has convinced me that innovators need to take a wider view of how their ideas will affect others. As he explains, many innovations fail because innovators only focus on executing their innovation and not on the ability of potential partners to co-innovate or adopt the innovation.
An example from the book is Michelin’s PAX System. This was a tire designed to “run flat” for up to 125 miles. Market tests showed it was it popular with customers, service garages, and Michelin’s partners. The product launched well but eventually failed because customers couldn’t find enough service stations that handled the PAX System tire. As Adner explained, Michelin did well in considering the execution risk but they didn’t consider what co-innovations were needed and the risk for their adoption chain. Most innovations (even disruptive innovations) rely on other partners in the organizational ecosystem for success and thus considering their needs better prepares your innovation for success.
Adner describes several tools to help you understand your innovation ecosystem and position your innovation for a higher probability of success. These are good for the analysis part of your change effort but I believe you will find McChesney, Covey, and Huling’s Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) system helpful in implementing the change.
Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important: The idea here is to focus on one or two ideas to implement. The more ideas you try to implement at one time dilutes your efforts and increases your risk of failure.
Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures: Develop measures that help you predict your ability to reach your goal and that your team can influence. These are lead measures. The other type of measures is a lag measure which tells you how well you did something in the past. Lag measures are like driving by the rear-view mirror. You need to see where you are going and not where you have been.
Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scorecard: The best way to motivate a team is to give them continuous feedback on their progress toward the Wildly Important goal(s). It has to be simple and based on the lead measures you established in Discipline 2.
Discipline 4: Cadence of Accountability: Have team members report frequently to each other on their individual progress. Each team member holds the other team member's accountable and can offer assistance when needed.
As in Adner’s book, McChesney, Covey, and Huling also have tools for implementing the 4DX System. I believe the real strength lies in combining the tools so that you can shape your idea for maximum success in your organizational ecosystem. Then, you can use 4DX to help you, your co-innovators, and your adoption chain partners implement your Wildly Important Innovation. An added bonus is that the tools will help you mitigate change resistance because you took your partners’ concerns into consideration and the lead measures scorecard provides constant and understandable feedback to your organization. It’s not that we need more innovations in government; we need more successful innovations in government.
Disclaimer: All opinions are mine and do not reflect the opinions of my employers or any organizations I belong to and should not be construed as such.
Adner, R. (2012). The wide lens: A new strategy for innovation. New York: Penguin Group.
McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. New York: Free Press.