People who commit to pursuing collaborative innovation express powerful, compelling leadership as they introduce the practice to their organization. Often, they seek to effect authentic, productive change before the forces of disruption unleashed by the Digital Age reach their door.
Success rests on the evangelism, creativity, and credibility of the practitioner. The work taxes you. You sense that people view you as being only as good as the last campaign. Some colleagues resist change. They hope the Digital Age will pass their house if they do not open the door. Other colleagues foresee loss: loss of power, loss of control, and loss of discretion. The crowd that sources ideas seems an unruly alternative to a few words quietly exchanged in the hall.
You need not shoulder the burden on your own.
Every challenge has a sponsor, of course: someone who sees the possibility of engaging a community on a critical question facing the business. This individual tends to be senior. They can shepherd the community’s idea to concept. Shepherding can cost a lot. Consider the cost of trialing an idea in your organization. The designation of authority that comes along with the sponsor role tends to be high.
The practitioner, too, may find that they can find other influential allies beyond the sponsor of a particular challenge. I identify two candidates in this article: human resources and finance.
The head of human resources for your organization could, for their own purposes, sponsor a compelling collaborative innovation challenge. They may, for example, welcome the chance to engage a community of employees on the critical questions of associate engagement, opportunities for development, and benefit plan design. Your experience tells you that the community would receive these enquiries enthusiastically.
Business increasingly values people who can solve problems and who can work collaboratively with others in finding a way forward.
People who run the organization’s human resources function entertain larger concerns, as well. Their internal clients—the business unit or line of business leaders—look to them to help them identify the right people for the right roles at a time when roles have become increasingly specialized and amorphous. Automation has decimated rote work. The square peg lacks the square hole. Business increasingly values people who can solve problems and who can work collaboratively with others in finding a way forward.
What’s that you say? Collaborative problem solving?
As someone who practices collaborative innovation, you spend your days helping people realize their potential for leadership by solving problems—challenges—in powerful ways. The work is inherently collaborative.
What if you partnered with the leader of your human resources organization to identify associates across all the challenges who have expressed the greatest leadership in their ideation and collaboration?
What if you partnered with human resources to create jobs—roles—in which people who contribute ideas could pursue their innovations to concept?
The latter scenario offers the possibility for authentic transformation: people who express leadership would create, or make, their own jobs as a natural outcome from having contributed compelling ideas in the challenge that resonated with them.
Imagine a world in which all the tedious, petty bureaucracy surrounding creating, approving, and filling a job requisition disappears.
Your practice enables your human resources leader to send a powerful message: the Digital Age, while opening the door to accelerating and at times ruthless efficiency, can also help people pursue their true interests through their vocation.
Organizations that fail to summon the leadership to embrace this change fade.
People who work in finance and who, in particular, help the organization define operating budgets may, over time and over beers, confess to you that the annual planning cycle has a disconcertingly farcical thread running through it.
Nobody wants to delve too deeply into the implications of making omnipotence a pre-requisite to continued, gainful employment in the number-crunching club.
A number of reasons exist for this fantastical state of affairs. First and foremost, annual budgeting demands omnipotence on the part of its participants. The 2013 plan, for example, demands that people have realistic insight to share in September 2012 on what the world will look like in December 2013. One enlightening exercise which companies never perform is to review the set of assumptions that formed the 2013 budget in the first quarter of 2014, after the period has passed. No wonder. Nobody wants to delve too deeply into the implications of making omnipotence a pre-requisite to continued, gainful employment in the number-crunching club.
At the same time, there you as a practitioner stand. The challenges that you support on behalf of your organization deliver a stream of compelling ideas. As I discussed in an article on idea resolution, these ideas may support the core business, an emerging business, or a new venture. Successful organizations navigate all three horizons in tandem, applying the right metrics and the right financial model to each outlook, near, mid, and long.
Imagine, then, partnering with your CFO to develop the equivalent of just-in-time budgeting, in which ideas contributed to each challenge become the basis for budgeting. Funding ideas to concept has always proved challenging to your sponsors. Why? The annual planning process, in demanding omnipotence on the part of its participants, could not foresee that a certain challenge would yield certain ideas that the sponsor and the community would see as compelling: worth pursuing.
The Digital Age replaces unrealistic notions of omnipotence with the possibility of transparency, immediacy, and speed. Stop treating shuffling funds as an exotic, painful event. Embrace reality.
As someone who helps their organization in their practice of collaborative innovation, you have a gift to share: you could, by connecting the practice with how the organization allocates resources, recast the budgeting process along more stable, sustainable lines: lines that parallel the uncompromisingly shiny, steel tracks upon which the Digital Age train glides.
Every challenge has at least three sponsors: the individual whose business benefits from the challenge, proper; the head of human resources; and, the chief financial officer.
The latter two have the tougher problem to solve: they must evolve the organization’s core practices—and, thus, beliefs—before the Digital Age does so in less forgiving, predictable ways. Culture eats process’s lunch every time.
You bring the gift of the practice of collaborative innovation to the table. The practice gives these two functional leaders a powerful means of effecting transformation.
Have you considered inviting the people in these roles to join your advisory or governance board? If not, why not? You provide them great service, whether they recognize the benefit or not (figure 1).
Figure 1: opening the conversation with your allies
By Doug Collins
Doug Collins is an Innovation Architect who has specialized in the fuzzy front end of innovation for over 15 years. He has served a variety of roles in helping organizations navigate the fuzzy front end by creating forums, venues, and approaches where the group can convene to explore the critical question. As an author, Doug explores the critical questions relating to innovation in his book Innovation Architecture, Practical Approaches to Theory, Collaboration and Implementation. The book offers a blueprint for collaborative innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management.