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  • Writer's pictureRiikka Tanner


You know how they say that nothing kills innovation like success? Well, maybe organizational structure does (smirk). Yes, we want everyone to be innovative, yes innovation is at the core of our strategy, yes absolutely..

..just as long as you make your numbers and bring in the revenue as forecasted or bill the hours you are supposed to keep us profitable.

Sounding familiar?

Welcome to the real life of innovators. It’s like fighting gravity.

There are organizational constraints that pull us towards the ground, towards existing frameworks and ways of operating that are limiting our innovation capability. To fight gravity, we must first understand these constraints and acknowledge that they are very real, although we tend to underplay their existence.

The biggest organizational constraints on innovation are business strategy (!), organizational structure and resource access and allocation.

From Focus to.. Focus?

Strategy or lack thereof has a huge significance on your innovation success. The intent of your organization must be clear for those involved in innovation work, otherwise precious resources might be wasted on something that is not aligned with your company’s vision and future.

Oftentimes I find myself a little skeptic here since isn’t disruptive innovation supposed to be something that will eventually eat your core business away? So I would be careful when defining strategy and alignment, emphasizing more direction than drawing rigid box around company’s products and offering.

Also you might want to ask yourself, if you are inventing on the right part of the value chain?

We might think that we need to invent on a specific part of the value chain, e.g. product design or functionality but the real value customer’s are looking for lies somewhere else, like maybe in complementary services.

It only takes one "No"

Organizational structure comes into play in both small companies and big corporations alike. There is always someone from whom you need approval for your idea. If not management, then creditors or investors looking for return on their investment.

In a fairly standard organization setting you have to work your way through different layers of nay-sayers and it can be pretty intimidating. Depending on the complexity of your organization, you might need to go through six different people (imagine you are playing in the game show who wants to be a millionaire) and at any given level, if you come up with a wrong answer, you’re out.

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, No.. and you are out. Game over.

And the idea actually might just be the next honeypot for your organization. As a counter-measure we need to cultivate dissent and build mechanisms to appeal these decisions. It should never be a single person’s judgement call to kill ideas.

Steve Jobs is good example of this. He didn’t put up with any of this bureaucratic bullshit. If he wanted an idea prototyped and done, he always got his way. But then again, he was Steve Jobs.

Wanted: Brilliant Minds

Probably the most often cited organizational constraint is resources. Capabilities such as knowledge and expertise, time and money. All of which are in short supply.

By using fluid structures and building project teams of individuals bringing information in, you can pull on different kind of resources when they're needed. I have taken notice recently that this kind of thinking is being raised more often, that how could we best source or hire brilliant brains from other organizations, flexibly and just for a specific need? And we are not talking about consulting companies but other companies where these people already hold a position. It is an interesting question and emerging trend that you should keep close eye on.

Essentially, what sourcing brilliant minds facilitates, is mixing ideas. What are we learning and how are we learning it? Sharing insights and showing the things people are working on. Tearing down the walls of innovation labs and understanding that innovation belongs to everyone. It is everyone’s job and responsibility. This in turn, calls for a process to align innovation efforts towards strategic goals.

To succeed in becoming innovative organization, you must simultaneously be able to bring structure (yes!) to the process whereas you must tear down structure (hell yes!) in other parts of the organization.

Start here.

Modified from David A. Owens

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