Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 35 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 26, 2017

This is my 35th 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 1-34.)

I have, since Part 33 of this, been discussing two fundamentally distinct and consequential patterns that business communications flows can follow:

• Structured and even formally structured communications, as arise for example in the context of annual performance reviews with their pre-vetted review forms and protocols (to couch this in a specific case in point example of possible Personnel and Human Resources terms.) This represents the basic system of planned out and formally designated and allowed-for communications channels that would specify who can communicate specific types of sensitive or confidential information with whom in a business, and according to their titles and positions there, and on the basis of specific need to know determinations.
• And unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it, that by their very nature cut across the system of communications that more structured systems would formally allow and expect.

And I have at least briefly made note of how both of these approaches arise, and how they can create both combinations of positive value, and of cost and challenge for the businesses that they arise in depending on circumstance and context. And then at the end of Part 34, and in anticipation of this next series installment, I said that I would further discuss the issues and ramifications of unstructured communications here. I will focus in this on how these communications flows fit into and shape and even fundamentally enable innovation in a business, and particularly disruptive innovation. And I begin doing so by repeating a crucial point of detail from Part 34, in order to orient this topic for all that will follow here:

• Innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, call for creative and novel communications patterns, bringing together what for a business would be non-standard combinations of stakeholders with their particular areas of knowledge and expertise, and of authority to provide resources and approvals to use them in non-standard ways.
• This is because innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, arise from the emergence of new information and new types of it, that would of necessity be developed and used in new ways, and with that almost always requiring new and unplanned for sets of expertise and experience
• And certainly when the complete process flow from initial conceptualization through the production of completed new products is considered.

My basic goal for this posting is to discuss the possibilities of positive value-creating disruptive change from within a business, as a communications-driven process. And as a part of addressing that set of issues I will more fully consider the issues of risks and profitable benefits and how their evaluation, as variously considered, shapes both communications within a business and its capability to either innovate for itself, or respond to innovation taking place around it. And then I will step back from that narrative at least somewhat to reconsider innovation and the capacity to innovate, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business: and does or does not develop itself in ways that would make that readily possible. The issues of who is brought in and retained in a business, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come.

And I begin all of this with a more detailed discussion of innovation as a source of realized value for a business, and at least the communications side of how that can and does take place, and certainly if new sources of value are to be achieved quickly enough so that an innovative business would not see what should be its creativity arrived at and marketed first, by a competitor.

I begin this with the absolute fundamentals, and by citing an old and at-first trivial and unrelated seeming question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? (It makes a noise, which is an empirical physical phenomenon comprised of pressure waves traveling through the air from the site of the tree fall, and attenuating down to disappearance over distance and time, but it might arguably not make a sound where that is the product of a subjective experiencing of noise.) My perhaps more germane question for the context of this posting at least, that I found myself thinking through with that older question in mind, is:

• If an individual thinks through and arrives at a potential product or service innovation on their own, but they cannot develop this themselves and on their own into any realized product or service, and they never effectively communicate word of this to anyone else, has a true innovation actually taken place?

I would argue that something has happened, as a life experience and learning process step for the would-be innovator involved. But no true innovation will have taken place, and certainly insofar as innovation is societally facing and a new value and new type of value-creating endeavor. No actual value outside of the mind of the innovator actually comes from this.

• A successful and stably effective business and its collective pool of personnel and at all levels in its table of organization, comprises a community,
• And one that fits into and serves some value defining set of needs for at least one circumscribed outside demographic that belongs to a larger society (that includes that business within it too) and that serves as its marketplace and its at least potential customer base.
• And unless a possible innovation is realized in actualized product and/or service form, for use by others in that society, it is not an actual realized innovation. It can at most be a self-limited and ephemeral thought.

This is in fact crucially important here, and that is why I belabor it so much. Realized value-creating innovation may begin in the creative mind of one individual and it usually does, but if it just stays there, none of this matters. Realized innovation is essentially always a group effort and certainly in any business that would seek to develop innovative potential into new marketable and sellable products or services. This means people in a business that seeks to be innovative, working with and really listening to those who offer new and novel ideas among them, and even when those are ideas that at first seem to be contrarian and at variance to established tried-and-true with all of its ongoing momentum. (Remember the word “disruptive” in the term disruptive innovation there.)

I have written in this series and certainly in its most recent two installments of the need for more open and inclusive communications, and I add more open and inclusive collaborative effort that this would enable in any innovative effort. Resistance to that and to allowing it and ultimately, resistance to allowing and actually supporting innovation in a business can in effect be codified in officially designated form through insistence on following standard structured communications paths, and the structured table of organization-specified lines of authority and of work organization that generally shape them.

Let’s consider this in more detail. I have set this entire line of discussion up in terms of business planning and business model-supportive risk management, where allowing unauthorized use and distribution of what might be sensitive company-held information might offer innovative value, but it might primarily just create risk too. Think of that as taking a logically framed, prudent business-centric approach to this set of issues, and that in fact represents the officially stated justification for challenging any perceived unstructured communications and the information sharing that this might entail, and even when other more interpersonal, and personal-agenda based reasons might actually predominate for their levels of deciding value here.

I could have, alternatively, posited all of this discussion thread in terms of individual managers in the table of organization protecting their own teams and themselves, and I could have posited and presented it in terms of interpersonal and personal agenda-supportive pressures, and both to conform to official structured communications channels and to sidestep them in unstructured, or at least “less structured” ways. I conclude this posting and its line of discussion by simply noting that businesses are comprised of individuals: individuals who at the very least tend to adhere to and follow official systems and processes in place: in accordance with their own understandings of what those officially supported systems entail and certainly in specific instances faced and as they would have to be interpreted there. And they do so in terms of the filters of their own ongoing experience, and as shaped by the pressures and priorities that they individually face in meeting their own performance goals, and both for the business and with respect to their own needs and their own career paths.

Structured and unstructured communications and their information and insight sharing flows arise and are adhered to or not, and supported or not as consequences of more complex underlying decisions and processes: individual as well as business in nature. And it is those processes with all of their potential for alignment and conflict in how they play out that determine how structured and unstructured arise and how they do or do not succeed. And this brings me to the next in line set of issues to discuss here in this series, as briefly noted above:

• A reconsideration of innovation and the capacity to innovate, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business and does or does not develop itself in ways that would make that readily possible.
• And once again, the issue of who is brought in and retained in a business, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come. I will discuss a few other shaping considerations for all of this, there as well.

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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