Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 24 – bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there 7

Posted in book recommendations, HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 17, 2016

This is my 24th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-23.)

I began a discussion of business process and business systems innovation and its challenges in Part 23, examining the challenges faced when attempting to bring a need for change into agreed-to focus and when actively seeking to implement that. And as a part of that, I at least briefly discussed an in-principle pathway that can be followed in shifting from only making such change reactively after serious problems have already emerged, into making them proactively to in fact actively keep the business agile and competitive.

And as a point of argument and as a basis for possible reader disagreement, and with a goal of provoking more detailed thought about these issues if nothing else, I also briefly outlined a case for how:

• Significant remediative business process change and innovation would in most cases require outside consultant support,
• Where an insider would be too tied to their specific area in the table of organization and its lines of authority, and to the business systems already in place there
• To be allowed the freedom needed to bring meaningful widespread challenge and change to the organization.

And with that sometimes very realistic but sometimes more cartoonish line of reasoning in place, I note that:

• If a business had the innovative staff that could carry out this type of business process change in-house, and even far reaching change of this type,
• And if the people who would do this work were afforded sufficient permission and support in the organization so as to be able to carry it out,
• Then that business would most likely never find itself in a position where bringing in an outside business process consultant would be needed, or even seriously considered. Problems of a type and severity that would at least potentially call for that type of outside help would never arise.
• So the very fact that a business might find itself in that level of predicament is probably proof that they cannot determine or enact such corrective change on their own.

I offered this scenario with the cumulative impact of small change-demanding issues and their cumulative adverse effects on overall business capability in mind. But I have to add that businesses can and do at least occasionally face more sudden and unpredictable disruptive change too, and this can arise internally ( e.g. from the sudden eruption of a significant single point of failure) or externally (e.g. from the emergence of a new disruptively innovative breakthrough at a competing business, or as a consequence of new regulatory law.) A business can also come to see value in bringing in an objective outside perspective in addressing the challenges of such sudden outside disruptive change and challenge too.

• Setting aside the distinction between cumulative small changes and shifts, and their impact on a business when they are not adjusted for – until their cumulative unacknowledged impact brings the business to a tipping point in its overall effectiveness,
• And the impact of a perhaps single sudden large change,
• I ended Part 23 by raising the issues of who would think through and hands-on take responsibility for organizing and carrying out a corrective response there as a business comes face to face with its perhaps sudden-seeming new realities.

And with that noted in clarification of and expansion of Part 23 and its narrative, I come to the specific points that I said I would at least begin addressing here. I left for this posting, the issue of how to find the right people for carrying out this type of work – assuming that it would be carried out in-house in spite of challenges faced from that. And I ended that posting by noting that I would:

• “Turn to the issues of actually finding and onboarding the right people for this, there focusing on bringing them in-house as full employees.”
• And I added that I would “at least start with resumes and cover letters, and social media and other, related information channels there. Then, I will open this discussion up again to consider bringing in the right innovators in general again – there focusing on interviews, and on opening up the range of areas that would be addressed, beyond the more routine and even cookie-cutter limitations of more standard jobs and careers issues. What else could you add into these conversations to more fully identify real innovative potential and what is the best way to do this without getting these meetings side-tracked?”

I will in fact address that second bullet’s issues, but before doing so and to set the stage for that, I will at least briefly delve into the issues of what precisely, to look for in such a job candidate search, and the related issues of developing a workplace environment and a work performance context where they can have a legitimate chance of succeeding.

Effective inventors need to be creative and far-seeing as innovators, but if they are to succeed they need the support that would be required for their innovative new ideas and approaches to have a chance – and from a business process innovation perspective, even when their work might be seen as challenging an ongoing status quo and the momentum of “this is how things have always been done here.”

So I begin addressing the issues of who to look for in bringing innovation into a business and how to do that, one step further back and with preparing your business to accept and support these new hires. This, I add in anticipation of discussion to come, is crucial to addressing the Who and How issues that I will be delving into here in this series, too.

I am going to begin this first-step discussion by citing two reference resources – one from this blog itself and another from a book that I highly recommend for how it discusses real, specific innovators and how they fit into and worked together in a specific business enterprise: the Bell Labs.

• My series: Keeping Innovation Fresh (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 241 and following for its Parts 1-16.) And see in particular, that series’ Part 7 and following, where I outline and discuss a transition committee approach for fostering creative innovation and moving the fruits of research and development out of the laboratory and proof of principle testing, and into active use and production.

And the book:

• Gertner, J. (2012) The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. Penguin Books.

I primarily focused on product innovation in the above noted series, and on building an organization to be ready for innovation, and accepting of its sometimes disruptive nature as it creates new sources of value for the business. But the basic principle of building organizational structures and systems that can foster and protect innovation and champion its being able to bring new realizable value, applies to business process innovation too. There:

• Instead of bringing a marketable product oriented, Manufacturing or Production department on board in actively validating and supporting the New and change, and in bringing it into productive use,
• A business process oriented Risk Management or Quality Assurance service or department would serve that connecting role,
• Working with senior and executive management on this
• And both to keep everything that their in-house business innovators do effectively connected into the organization as a whole,
• And to secure and maintain necessary support for carrying through on this work.

Gertner’s book focuses on innovation in one business. And it focuses in particular on the history of innovation in the research facility that this business set up and funded, that created its ongoing next-step forward by next-step forward future. My series, to briefly return to that reference resource, began with a brief discussion of two in-principle very successful research and development facilities – and both in fact invented incredibly valuable and even history shaping innovative new technologies and even built the foundations for entire new industries. But one of these storied research labs was owned by and run for a supporting parent businesses that was able to capitalize on its flow of innovative excellence. And the other parent business was never actually able to capture any value from their research facility, leaving that to others to carry through upon and gain from. So I recommend both reference resources here as fitting together in telling a fuller story that is relevant to this discussion. Simply supporting innovative effort can only be one half of an overall successful innovation paradigm; capacity and willingness to bring the innovation achieved into the business and its day to day realities is essential too.

Up to here, and with my reference resource series as just noted above included in this, I have raised the specter of direct hands-on innovators and a cast of supporting characters who would help them and support the diffusion of their success into the business as a whole. I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment, by adding a new participant type to what I am now offering here as what amounts to a veritable innovative and innovation supporting taxonomy: the instigator (as discussed in Jon Gertner’s book in his account of John R. Pierce and his role at Bell Labs.) You need to know precisely what you are looking for in a new employee – or new-to-you type of employee, before you can know what to look for in specific potential candidates for those positions, and whether you are looking for hands-on innovators themselves or for people who would effectively support and enable their efforts. And you need to know that, before you can meaningfully conduct a search for best possible candidates for these various roles too, and either by more traditional means or through new and still emerging channels such as social media.

And in anticipation of further discussion to come after that, I will address the issue of bringing current employees and managers on-board with change, as a business pivots towards being more innovative – and even in its basic business processes where that would create greater business flexibility and competitive strength.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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