Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The CIO as “Chief Innovation Officer”: How to Build a Highly Innovative Team

Select for empowerment, select for curiosity, select for progress, and select for low ego.

The Digital Era upon us is the age of innovation. Innovation involves new ways of bringing together ideas and resources to create something novel and then transform those novel ideas to achieve the business value. Identification of the novel is only the beginning, the heavy lifting starts as the company starts leveraging talented people, aligns resources and executes these novel ideas effectively. From innovation management perspective, how to build highly innovative teams, inspire creativity and improve the success rate of innovation?

Select for the diversity of thought, background, perspective, and personality: Today’s working environment is multigenerational, multicultural, and multi-devicing, or to put simply, hyperdiverse. In fact, diversity is the engine for creativity and a facilitator for merging building blocks of new ideas or fresh insights. Creative tension comes from the diversity of thoughts. In the traditional command & control setting industrial era, when conformity to expectations is very highly valued, independent thinkers or innovators are seen, by default, as troublemakers. However, the “VUCA” digital era now expands the lens to understand this hyper-connected and interdependent world. “Thought candor” is offering a different way of thinking about a situation or problem that fills the blind spots and moves the innovation conversation forward. The diverse mind is more successful and always going to be more creative as it has more to draw on. The digital transformation has to go a few inches deeper for cultivating the culture of inclusiveness which focuses on the cognitive difference, abilities, skills, and the wealth of ideas. It’s critical to develop a culture of creativity, orient people and make them aware of the diversity in their team or organization, help them understand the value of harnessing the difference, be comfortable to be who they are, and practice creative thinking and critical thinking all the time.

Encourage intellectual curiosity and appreciative inquiry: A friendly digital working environment like the melting pot to inspire creativity, encourage free thinking & experimenting, stimulate intellectual curiosity and appreciative inquiries. Because asking the right questions can spot blind spots, and great open questions will spark creativity and let imagination soar. In many traditional organizations, silo mentalities create numerous blindspot in the resource, process, capacity, and talent management. The highly innovative organizations have less blind spots because people do not fear to make inquiries and provide invaluable feedback. The cognitive difference expands the lenses to comprehend the business thoroughly and manage the business seamlessly. These friendly workplace uses the diversity of ideas as a rich source of connectivity and relationship, to harness all the spontaneity of interaction the team is capable of and provide the breakthrough thinking to arrive at creative outcomes that would be otherwise very unlikely. The productivity is high in those digital organizations because they have built the culture to challenge, debate, and facilitate the dynamic and respectful dialogues to bridge cognitive gaps, share new ideas, and spark creativity.

Facilitate coaching up, sideways and all around: Managing innovation requires leaders, either formal or informal to facilitate and shepherd an idea through several phases of development, knowing when to move forward and when to return to an earlier phase. Innovation is change, change is a challenge. If you try to turn it into an obligation, you will cause an equal and opposite reaction. From an innovation management perspective, you have to give up some control, focus on coaching, persuasion, and making a tradeoff. Innovation leadership is critical, otherwise, creativity is sporadic rather than integrated into the thinking and activities of the organization. Defining an innovation leader is a way to coordinate the innovation effort by leading the innovation process him/herself. Facilitating digital innovation management is about how to strike the right balance between increasing productivity and encouraging innovation; between setting the standard and letting “out-of-the-box” thinking flow; between risk management and risk tolerance; between discovering the new way to do things and the industry best practices. Innovation managers also act as the “voice of the business,” and become the conduit into the business to help with communication, process, and organizational changes.

Empower Change Agents to abolish hierarchy: Although in certain circumstances, hierarchy performs well, often the symptoms such as silo thinking or bureaucracy caused by overly rigid hierarchy stifle innovation and decelerate business speed. In the emerging digital age with the nature of hyperconnectivity, nonlinearity, and interdependence, overly rigid hierarchy becomes the very obstacle to stop the digital flow. To be a highly functional system, hierarchy must balance the welfare, freedoms, and responsibilities of the subsystems and the total system. Thus, Change Agents are in demand to harness talent, skills, drive, passion, and enthusiasm of the whole organization and direct that to shared goals by abolishing hierarchy and reconciling all different factors for fostering innovation. A change agent is not a tile, but the game-changing mindset and a set of fine-tuned skills; creating positive change is a joint effort and responsibility, it needs to involve the entire team at all levels working toward the common goals. People have to be given the opportunity to be creative, they have to become empowered. It is important to provide the intellectual challenge, stimulate multidimensional thinking, encourage creative problem-solving, tolerate calculated risks, and discourage negative emotions or unhealthy competitions for improving innovation management effectiveness.

Inspire innovative leaders to break numerous barriers on the way: In the rapidly evolving businesses and economic systems, the creation of new innovations is very complex but critical for firms' survival and thriving. There is innovation friction, and there are so many big roadblocks and hidden pitfalls on the way, such as cloudy vision, poor strategy, ineffective process, the low maturity of business capability, or disengaged employees. Solely focus on quantifiable benefits or short-term result stifles innovation. Digitalization is all about change, innovation, and exploring! Many disruptive opportunities are brought to life with new thinking on how to monetize them. It’s important to inspire innovative leaders to break down barriers, provide a clear vision, set good principles, and develop the next innovation practices. Dynamic and changing digital organizations cannot thrive with static or negative culture, silo or over-complicated processes and systems, or complacent, unchanging people. In practice, if you are creative, you will challenge the status quo as you break through the conventional wisdom and push toward the path few people take. Innovation is the thorny journey, innovative leaders are like the light to guide the way.

Developing a highly innovative team is both the art and science. Select people who love the clash of ideas, love listening, love being wrong, and love learning. Select for empowerment, select for curiosity, select for progress, and select for low ego. Employees should be encouraged to think out of the box, take reasonable risks, go beyond their defined roles and demonstrate their intellectual capabilities to bring positive changes. It takes time and generations of changes within a company to practice and build innovation as the differential business competency.


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