“The ‘surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality”, said Kjelle Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle in their book Funky Business. Can a company expect extraordinary results if what they do is what other companies ordinarily do?
Even large, once-mighty corporations struggle to prevent the commoditization of their products. The only hope is to deliver on oft-repeated promises of meaningful innovation. To do this, they must transform themselves into innovative organizations.
What’s organizational innovation all about?
Consider a bureaucratic, hierarchical, cautious organization that only makes carefully considered decisions. Contrast it with a lean, agile, flat organization that sometimes makes mistakes, but fails quickly. Which is more suited to navigating a dynamic business environment?
To use a metaphor from Star Wars, transforming corporate bureaucrats into creative workers is like turning obedient, mechanistic and orderly storm troopers into rebellious, creative and self-motivated Jedi knights. To do this, you’ll need to drag your people out of their conformist uniformity, and encourage them to bring forth their personal traits, talents and passions. Free them from unnecessary rules and procedures and empower them to think, act, create and decide. Well, you’ll probably also have to fire Darth Vader.
Why are companies scared of becoming innovative?
I confess: our innovation company Thinkergy has yet to shepherd a client through an innovation culture transformation. We have had discussions with several Asian corporations who said they wanted to become innovative organizations, but they all balked once they realized that they would have to really change. It isn’t easy to change a bureaucratic organization into a creative company. It takes at least 3 years of substantial effort and serious commitment. It means that long-established traditions, routines and entitlements need to be replaced with the practices of a lean, agile creative organization. And it means that executives must change themselves.
From copycat to creator
To help make corporate transformation easier, I have spent the last decade developing an innovation culture transformation method based on research, and informed by my experience with our innovation company Thinkergy, which lives and breathes creativity and innovation every day.
The transformation into a truly creative company involves five dimensions: leadership, commitment, collaboration, culture, and structure/systems. To guide the process, we measure 56 variables that show what factors inhibit or support innovation on an organization. For example, to build cultural momentum, executives need to encourage their employees to try things and risk failure, which is anathema to the existing intolerance of failure. Our innovation transformation method includes these eight steps:
- Change impetus. Changing a supertanker’s course isn’t as easy as turning a speedboat. Before a corporation will consider change, it has to be in real pain, or have spotted an exciting business opportunity. This is normal — most people dislike change and only undergo it when forced to.
- Check and diagnosis. A patient who self-diagnoses often gets it wrong. Likewise, organizations usually need outside help to see what, specifically, is wrong. An innovation audit identifies systematic problems both vertically — across different hierarchy levels — and horizontally — across different business units. The results of our innovation audit let the “doctor” diagnose the organization with a mild disorder, a serious but curable disease, or a terminal case that should continue on its current path until the end.
- Leadership engagement. In the next step, each leader must evolve into a creative leader by following a path based on their individual cognitive preferences. Once that has happened, it’s time to revisit the organization’s strategic core by writing an inspiring and potent corporate mission, a compelling vision, and appropriate corporate values, and then creating the strategic roadmap and action plan to deliver on those ideas.
- Commitment in earnest. Commitment is the acid test. It encompasses commitment to a focused action plan for innovation transformation, as well as the commitment of resources to realize this action plan.
- Collaboration and culture momentum building. Now is the time to bring the creative change to the full organization. Start by introducing focused actions and initiatives to enhance collaboration and create momentum for a creative culture change.
- Culture evolution and structural alignment. Now the focus is on ensuring that the organization works on deeper-rooted cultural factors. For instance, the personnel could stop being satisfied with mediocrity and instead demand excellence. Moreover, the organizational structures, policies and systems should now change to support an innovation culture.
- Anchoring. The seventh step further reinforces the creative changes on all five dimensions to make them stick.
- Measurement and results tracking. A second innovation audit checks on the success of the transformation, and identifies things that still need work. This is also a good time to introduce an innovation measurement system to track future results.
Conclusion: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your organization were to transform from copycat to creative? It may sound like a dream, but sooner or later, something will force this change on you, and it’s better done earlier than too late. After all, what’s the option?
Thinkergy would love to guide your organization on this transformational journey from copycat to original creator and eventual innovation leader. With our organizational innovation transformation method CooL – Creativity UnLimited, we will guide your corporation through the eight steps of metamorphosing from a rigid, slow-moving and bureaucratic organization into a lean, market-oriented, agile creative company. Wouldn’t now be the best time for a CooL change? Start the journey to build a creative company by taking the first step today: Contact us and tell us more about your organization and your intentions.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2015. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on February 5 2015.