Archive for organizational fatigue
The great challenge in innovation is not coming up with a discovery or great invention. The challenge is in making it stick, in nurturing it and growing it so that it spreads and changes the world. Numerous antibodies and barriers are ready to snuff out every great idea, even when it offers a solution that the world is clamoring for. The story of scurvy in the British Navy, as shared in Chapter 10 of Conquering Innovation Fatigue, illustrates this principle.
Scurvy cost the lives of thousands of sailors and soldiers around the world for centuries. For the British Navy, that disease was one of the greatest challenges it faced. On long voyages, 30% or more of the crew might die from scurvy. Through confusion and error among England’s educated elite regarding scurvy, misinformation about its cause and its cure would persist into the 20th century. However, there was credible medical information in the early 1600s pointing to citrus fruits as a key aid in preventing and curing the disease. [See Stephen R. Bown, SCURVY: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003).]
Physicians on land and at sea would later provide evidence in the mid-1700s that citrus or other fresh fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of scurvy, but this knowledge was not only ignored or resisted by those in the Navy, it was resisted by the mainstream European medical community who perpetrated a form of “strategy fatigue” by making a general understanding of the nature of disease their primary quest, being uninterested in “merely empirical” work aimed at curing a given disease. For example, the work in the 1730s of physician John Bachstrom in Holland pointing to fresh fruits and vegetables as the decisive cure for scurvy was dismissed by the medical community of his day, for he was “a mere empirick” in the eyes of his elite peers. [Kenneth J. Carpenter, The History of Scurvy and Vitamin C (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 44-45.]
The adoption of the innovation of citrus fruit in treating scurvy took more than compelling evidence. It took someone with powerful connections to champion the innovation. This man was the prominent Scottish physician, Sir Gilbert Blane, who was only 4 years old when a detailed study on the cure for scurvy was published by James Lind in 1753 – only to be ignored for decades. (To be accurate, the information from Lind and others was obscured by terrible confusion about physiology and disease, and continued to point to the dangers of various “airs” and climatic factors as key contributors to scurvy, obscuring the fact that it was a nutritional deficiency.) [See James Lind, A Treatise of the Scurvy. in Three Parts. Containing an Inquiry Into the Nature, Causes and Cure, of that Disease. Together with a Critical and Chronological View of What Has Been Published on the Subject, Edinburgh: Printed by Sands, Murray and Cochran for A Kincaid and A Donaldson. Portions of the original reproduced online by the James Lind Library. Also see Carpenter, op. cit., pp. 51-52.]
In London, Blane became the private physician to Lord Rodney and sailed with him to the West Indies in 1779. Blane’s efforts to keep sailors healthy were increasingly successful, and through his connections to Rodney and others naval leaders, Blane was able to give lectures to senior leaders and gain support for improved practices across the entire navy. Drawing upon past work and a further demonstration of his own, he would introduce compelling evidence to naval leaders that lime juice prevented scurvy, leading the Navy to adopt lime juice in its global operations beginning in 1795. [David Nash Ford, “Biographies: Sir Gilbert Blane (1749-1834),” Royal Berkshire History (Finchampstead, UK: Nash Ford Publishing, 2005).] For nearly two centuries, the British Navy had been closed to a safe, inexpensive innovation from outsiders that solved what may have been its most vexing and costly problem. The citrus “sales pitch” fell on deaf ears until someone with the right connections to senior management could deliver it. It’s a tragic lesson of the dangers of closed innovation, of organizational rigidity, of devaluing the work of innovators, of listening to the wrong voices, of “not invented here,” and the importance of delivering the story of an innovation to the right people, through those who have the right contacts. It doesn’t need to be this way, but it often is. Thousands of needless deaths over centuries: welcome to the fruits of innovation fatigue.
Incidentally, innovation-related lessons from scurvy continued long after 1795. Though citrus juice was adopted in the British Navy, the nature of the disease and the reason for the cure were still unknowns. Without careful efforts to preserve knowledge and best practices, erosion can quickly occur. Thus when the Royal Navy undertook arctic expeditions in the 19th century, the leaders took with them a belief that good hygiene, good morale, and regular exercise prevented scurvy. Not surprisingly, scurvy was a recurring problem in these voyages. In the 20th century, when Robert Scott trekked into the Antarctic, tainted canned food was believed to be a cause of scurvy. The connection between vitamin C and scurvy was not discovered until 1932. Likewise, we have seen many organizations lose best practices, healthy processes, and even technical capabilities and knowledge when efforts weren’t taken to preserve and pass on what they had.
(The above is based on an section of Conquering Innovation Fatigue, Chapter 10.)
In many large corporations, there’s a painful and frequently repeated scenario of invention theft that we treat in several ways in the book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. The invention theft I’m thinking of today is not from foreign spies or evil competitors. It is internal theft, wherein a powerful employee or team within a corporation takes credit for another individual’s or team’s innovation. Sometimes the theft is so blatant that a powerful person files a patent in his or her own name, leaving off the name of the real inventor. Sometimes the real inventors are told to drop the project completely and hand over the keys of the new vehicle they have created so that someone else can ride it across the finish line and take all the glory.
When this happened to a truly brilliant man in a large company where I was providing some guidance in the past, I warned him that his kind of behavior was deadly for the future of their company. When people lose trust for their company and fear that their innovations will be stolen, they clam up, shut down their innovation engines, and save their best thinking for someone else, such as their own business one day or a future employer. When people don’t get any credit for what they do, they quit doing. If a company tolerates or even rewards internal invention theft and doesn’t zealously seek to reward true inventors, real inventors move toward secrecy or inactivity and the light of innovation goes dark. This is the fast and easy way to bring your company to your own version of the Dark Ages.
Yes, time travel is easy. You can go back in time by decades or centuries when you crush innovation by allowing it to be stolen from within. Going backwards is surprisingly fast. Once you feel the pain of your mistake, clawing your way back to the modern world might take a little longer than your think. Actual, most companies shrouded in the mists of the Dark Ages never realize what they’ve been doing wrong because they are out of touch with the voice of the innovators within. They can spend a lot on consultants solving the wrong problems and talking to the wrong people and never rebuild the trust they have shattered. When it comes to long-term corporate innovation success, trust between employees and the company is everything.
The problem in large organizations, and the US federal government is pretty much the world’s largest, is that numerous entities have their own turf and their own advancement in mind, and without special efforts being taken will naturally work in ways that cause conflict and delay. Leaders must carefully work to align these interests and incentives toward organizational objectives, but this can be almost impossible when an organization gets out of control. Adding a new committee or bureaucracy in addition to everything else will rarely be the most effective path forward. Meanwhile, those who may have the answer and want to bring their expertise to the table find themselves discouraged, worn down, ignored, and ultimately punished for their passion to innovate and help. Welcome to organizational innovation fatigue, and welcome to the Gulf Coast disaster.
Several voices have discussed the need for innovation in dealing with the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf Coast. There are so many intriguing opportunities for technology–oil absorbent materials, new chemistries for dispersing or attacking the oil, controlled burnoffs, skimming and oil collection systems, barrier technologies to keep the oil away, materials that coagulate oil, and a host of proposed technical solutions for addressing the root cause and stopping the leak. Many of the proposals should be considered and tried. This is not the time for bureaucracy. This is not the time for the government to be shutting down efforts with its bureaucracy. If the Coast Guard is worried about inadequate fire extinguishers, round up a batch and take them over to the relief effort to help, not hinder the State of Louisiana as it tries to protect itself. But what the Coast Guard did in this case is akin to what happens thousands of times each day in companies and government around the world, contributing to the innovation fatigue that stymies much needed efforts at innovation and progress.There are some bright spots of innovation amidst all this mess. Kevin Costner of Hollywood fame has been developing a company with patented technologies for cleaning oil-contaminated water. Ocean Therapy Solutions (http://ots.org) represents a case of successful technology transfer that began in the US Dept. of Energy and some national labs. The technology has now emerged as clever centrifugal separators that split a contaminated stream into highly separated water and oil-rich streams. Portable units mounted on boats can go into contaminated waters and process large quantities of ocean water, recovering oil and returning much cleaner water to the ocean. Their website includes a couple of interesting videos, including one of Kevin testifying before Congress. The system has received relatively little interest for the past decade and the factory has been dormant, but now awareness is rapidly increasing and BP is deploying some of these units for use in the Gulf. A single unit can process 200 gallons per minute or more.
Kudos to Kevin and his team! He certainly has an advantage with his name recognition and extensive networks–without that, he may have been viewed as just another voice in the wind claiming to have something. There are others with technologies and potential solutions. May they also find their way to make a difference. May all the innovation fatigue factors remain far from Kevin Costner and all others seeking to bring something new to help us fix the Gulf Coast disaster.
It’s that way in the business world. too. Companies can create tidy org charts and draft neat process maps to describe how they work, but the unseen reality outside the visible systems may be what really dominates operations. Increasingly, experts in knowledge management are learning that easily overlooked and often invisible intangibles can dominate corporate value and performance. Numerous intangible transactions may be essential to the success of a company, including casual information sharing between trusted friends, helpful exchanges of tips and best practices between employees or between external partners and internal employees, or loyalty that is gained when people are included in decision making. The invisible linkages and hard-to-observe exchanges in a company’s internal an external ecosystems may be the real engines of value creation, regardless of what is on a process map or workstream. By not understanding the value of such intangibles, corporations can easily break key linkages and crush subtle engines of value creation.
Many companies focus on their “value chains” – a term popularized by Michael Porter in his seminal 1985 work, Competitive Advantage. The value chain describes the linear chain of events as materials and products move from sourcing through manufacturing and out to the market. It is a highly useful paradigm for manufacturing and was highly applicable to much of the economy in the era when Porter was doing his research. But since that time, the explosion of the knowledge economy has changed the way we work and create value. One of my favorite authors, Verna Allee, a revolutionary expert in knowledge management, has detailed the move from the value chain to modern ecosystems and Value Networks in her book, The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks (Burlington, MA: Elsevier Science, 2003). Verna Allee and Associates have introduced a clever, methodical tool called Value Network Analysis for analyzing and visualizing the transactions of intangibles and tangibles that affect a business.
After my training in Value Network Analysis by Verna and her associate, Oliver Schwabe, an exciting new perspective on business and human behavior opened up. I have been highly impressed with the power of Value Network Analysis and the insights that it can rapidly deliver for a company. The Value Network Analysis work that Innovationedge has done as part of larger projects for some of our clients has been a very exciting part of my work since joining Cheryl Perkins’ exciting company. We value the tool enough that we had Verna Allee speak at the 2008 CoDev conference to introduce other business leaders to the basic concepts behind Value Network Analysis. I’m very pleased to see a community emerging of people using Value Network Analysis and developing exciting tools for it.
Here are some resources that you may find helpful in further exploring this area:
- Hosted Value Network Tools
- A Value Network Approach (PDF) – 2002 Whitepaper by Verna Allee
- ValueNet Works™ Analysis for Boeing (PDF)
Part of the initial output in Value Network Analysis are maps, called “holomaps,” showing human entities as nodes and transactions of tangible or intangible items between them. There is much that can be learned from such holomaps – a topic for later discussion. For now I’ll show you two sample holomaps I created to illustrate simple ecosystems. One shows several external nodes around a manufacturer and the other shows some structure within part of a corporation. For simplicity, the maps lack all the labels explaining the transactions.
One interesting approach is to use the “holomaps” you get in Value Network Analysis as tools for “what if” scenarios to explore what new partners might do for your business model, or what new business models might do for your ecosystem. Using holomaps to explore innovation ecosystems is a particularly fruitful approach for those doing open innovation and wondering who should be in their external ecosystem.
We have further information on this topic that we’d be happy to share with you. It’s certainly something you should look at to understand how business really works.
Recently I spoke to a group of engineers, scientists and managers about the challenges of innovation fatigue within corporate R&D. I condensed that presentation down to just 14 minutes and have made it available using Pixetell.com, a nice system for recording a presentation.A short URL for the presentation is http://tinyurl.com/jlpres1.
Engineers and scientists are often puzzled by the decision-making processes in corporations, and sometimes get frustrated over the apparent blindness of others to see the potential of an invention or new product or process. Others, however, may see the opportunity through the “Lens of Risk” and find compelling reasons to be concerned. Understanding those other perspectives is one of the topics of this presentation.
Those managing R&D also need to understand the personal aspects of innovation and appreciate the tenuous “will to share” that keeps employees tied to the objectives of the corporation. When the will to share is broken, innovation can dry up quickly and silently, in spite of large budgets and enthusiastic efforts.
Is your innovation organization running on empty? Crushed, lacking creative juices? Time to add some fizz again with principles from the book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. As part of the series on Magic and Innovation, today I’m using a simple effect to illustrate what can be achieved with an innovation organization.
Available on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JVr017KZBw.
Innovation has often been killed by poor metrics, part of the innovation fatigue factor of flaws in judgment and vision. Poor metrics can include financial analysis that emphasizes short-term gains but overlooks the future. One way of illustrating the problem is with the “Apple Tree Analogy.” Imagine a fruit production company that is concerned with the rising costs of apple production and the poor efficiency of manpower at harvest time. A hot-shot expert steps in to shake things up and turn things around. Suddenly, executives in their distant offices see reports showing dramatic gains in the efficiency of harvesting (perhaps a measure of the time required to pick the fruit from a tree) and a sharp drop in harvesting costs such as expenses for ladders and labor. Wonderful news!
But what is the cause of the gains? If management is remote and not in tune with what is happening on the ground, they might rely on the metrics or key performance indicators to conclude that the business is healthier than ever and issue huge bonuses to the geniuses who transformed the apple business. In reality, the short-term gains might have come at a surprisingly high cost, namely, the future of the business, as shown below.
Sometimes dramatic cost-cutting efforts can lead to great short-term metrics and make a business seem healthy, when in fact, it is doomed by the very actions that gave it the short-term boost. Cutting down every apple tree in the orchard will greatly simplifying harvesting. No need for ladders at all! But the crops of the future have been wiped out.
Innovators in your company are the source of your future crops. Cutting innovation staff will always look attractive for the short-term, but can your future afford it?
Make sure you are using wise metrics in making decisions about innovation, research, and new product development. It’s a topic we address in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, and one of the important reasons why you and your team need to be familiar with this book.
In dealing with many innovators and companies in our work at Innovationedge, we sometimes hear complaints about leaders who seem to be anti-innovation. You know, the kind who supposedly “wouldn’t touch innovation with a 10-foot pole.” Sometimes these leaders aren’t really anti-innovation, but anti-waste and especially pro-results. That’s not a bad thing!
Maybe their past experience with innovation showed little return and little direction. Maybe they were once talked into supporting misguided innovation adventures without the right strategy, controls and metrics. Maybe innovation waste came out of their pocket. These leaders sometimes can be reached and shown a better way such as the “Horn of Innovation” paradigm described in Conquering Innovation Fatigue for more productive, targeted innovation.
Once they understand what innovation can do when guided by the right strategy once they see what metrics make sense to gauge progress, they can become more comfortable with meaningful, targeted innovation. In fact, they can become some of the best champions of real innovation. Don’t give up on them. Reach out with our “ten-foot pole of innovation” and help them become converts to innovation that matters.
From YouTube.com/magicinnovation (Jeff Lindsay’s Magic Innovation channel): “Reaching Executives Who Wouldn’t Touch Innovation with a Ten-Foot Pole.” Recorded in Appleton, Wisconsin. All rights reserved.
This is video #5 in my series of “magic innovation” video lectures. OK, they’re a bit lame, and it’s not secret that I’m an amateur, but I hope you’ll learn something useful from some of them. Or have a bit of fun. And don’t forget, of course, to buy the book.
A heavy-handed or micromanaging approach to handling a community of innovators in a corporation often has an unintended chilling effect that can put the freeze on innovation. Avoid this innovation fatigue factor by respecting your innovators, listening to them, and giving them the freedom to apply their talents within the constraints required for the project.
As we emphasize in our book, innovation takes place in the minds of individuals. Bonds of trust and mutual respect are essential to maintain the tenuous “will to share” that leads members of your innovation community to share their best thinking and their creative energy for the good of the corporation. Treating them with disrespect, as mere handymen or even children, in some cases, or imposing capricious or unfair changes upon them, or attempting to micromanage them, can break those bonds and leave them unengaged. If you don’t have their hearts, you don’t have their minds.
To increase your success with your innovation community, it’s time for you to tune in to the “Voice of the Innovator” and understand their issues, their thinking, and their needs. Success often begins with listening and healthy two-way communication. But just reaching in to stir things up and squeeze them with high-pressure tactics might create an ice-block in your innovation pipeline.
In this 4-minute video clip, I illustrate some of the principles from our book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue, using one of my favorite magic tricks, a version of the cut and restored paper trick. It speaks to the need for the innovation community in a corporation and other elements to be aligned with the true objectives and goals of the corporation. I performed this effect for the audience of the CoDev conference on open innovation in 2009, where I came up with this line: “If you’re not aligned, you’re skewed.” See if it fits.
From YouTube.com/magicinnovation (the Magic Innovation channel): “Analogy of the Cut and Restored Paper Strip: Alignment and Connectivity for Innovation Success,” August 13, 2009. Recorded in Appleton, Wisconsin. All rights reserved.