The Role of Education and Learning for Innovation

In this series of three articles Paul Hobcraft explores the value of knowledge and education for innovation. In part one he opens the discussion by exploring some of the biggest challenges faced by organizations today and provides encouragement to explore emerging practices.

How do we advance the learning needed for innovation? In my last article I wrote about the need to prepare ourselves for some forthcoming standards for innovation. In a number of  earlier articles, I have also written on a range of contributing factors that will advance innovation in its learning and adoption. In this series I want to go deeper – an emerging treaty for innovation advancement.

I have to be clear here, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of advancement in our understanding of innovation. Today we have a real challenge, all of us, in boosting our capacity for innovation. We need to achieve this ‘boost’ as the outcomes we will gain are both economic and social in their potential value. We need to move beyond the existing and tackle the blockages to the preferred, when it comes to innovation achievements.

We face many challenges within a highly competitive world

As we seek out fresh opportunities, locally and globally, we are becoming increasingly challenged. The world is highly competitive. The key driver to meet these ‘twin’ challenges is innovation, not just for the short-term results businesses are so obsessed about, but the critically important need to find the pathway to sustainable development through re-occurring innovation activities.

Much of management within organizations is mortgaging the future for today’s immediate gains.

Sadly today we still marginalize innovation. We rely on incremental activities to pull us through the short-term and just keep putting off the long-term projects. Much of management within organizations is mortgaging the future for today’s immediate gains. I loved this thought, although it may not contain much original thinking but it does offer what I felt reflects on this point: “we are simply kicking the innovation can down the road.”  This desperately needs to change for the increasing economic and social reasons looming down the same road. Innovation needs to be better understood – in what it constitutes and all the different ways it can be applied. We do need to understand it better for its significant contribution potential to solve social and economic problems.

The role of people within innovation can never be overstated. They make it happen, everything else is their enablers. We do need to understand what makes innovation truly work through increasing the comprehension of “combining” its many myriad parts. Innovation skills need an innovation friendly environment and we need to reform much of our existing approaches to innovation as practiced today.

We need to speed up our reforms and achieve a clear consensus of better frameworks and activities. Of course I would offer a shameless plug of the Executive Innovation Work Mat to be part of this, why not? I do believe it is part of the emerging solution. In my opinion the work mat helps educate, frame and to learn from in it’s combining the critical aspects, so as to improve on our existing performance and build from this.

It is increasingly recognized that we all need to follow the lifelong learning track, as organizations increasingly insist on increasing human performance yet are constantly reducing the ‘bodies’ to assist in this. We need to keep relevant or we get caught up in this marginalization and have poorer potential in our future.

Technology can’t stand alone

Organizations today are mistaking the promise of technology alone and this will not work; it needs people, their knowledge and experiences to apply the technology. Far too often we are not finding the time as increasing complexity is layered onto dwindling human resources. We are adding more pressure into the system by taking out the very solution we need to keep in place and utilize far more, that is our people.

We are pushed to keep up and to stay relevant; we often have to bury our personal grievances because if we surface them, we might get singled out in the next round of often mindless people cuts. We do need to reverse this board room mentality and stop cutting out the diversity of opinion that should be valued, not thrown away. We need to make our performance potential stretch even more, encouraging and sustaining these different opinions. We must find ways to break into this ‘boom or bust’ mentality in board rooms by reducing the very friction that stimulates greater innovation thinking.

So how can we achieve this? Openness, trust, partnership and valuing diversity readily spring to mind. But more importantly, we need to build an innovation road-map to scope out the innovation landscape and dynamics.

Building real education into an innovation road-map

One place to start is to design a more comprehensive road-map of innovation made up of its integral parts. The more innovation is seen and the people who enact it are recognized, not buried in plain sight, the more it will be valued. The more we see ‘it’ and what it contributes the more people become essential to their place within this mutual value proposition needed between the organization and its employees. The overarching plank of offering education on innovation is the real ‘glue’ as this is where the value of knowledge is central, in my view, to the way forward.

Knowledge, innovation knowledge, is made up of an awful lot of different things and this is where the real education comes in, front and center in developing new practices, in training, in educating, in translating this knowledge into lasting value. The more people are valued, the more they become ‘sticky’ and the more they use their knowledge, then it becomes mutually re-enforcing as their organizations grow to appreciate their worth. We need a new social contract between organizations and the people they employ and that should be on mutual appreciation of the ability to translate knowledge into new value-generating outcomes together. The more we identify the educational parts, the more we appreciate innovation’s complexity, but we also see the rich potential in the rewards that become achievable in taking this new route. Education leads, it provides the appropriate focus and this we can derive the training and knowledge to be applied, so we can improve results and innovation outcomes.

Knowledge exchange is the way forward

Organizations need to move well beyond their lazy reliance on best practice comparison and explore emerging practices. But that takes many into the realm of increasing uncertainties, and most people and organizations are not trained for this. They anticipate risk by reducing all the variables within risk and play safe with just being incremental. Is that wrong? No, as long as we have our reward systems geared to short-term performance, while we measure leadership success the way we presently do, and the shareholder just expects consistent dividends as their part of the equation and is quickly mobilized to force change if it does not meet this immediate aim, we head down the wrong path. We are not sustaining, we are destroying. We need to focus on competence-enhancing not competence-destroying. To know the difference we need education on recognizing what makes up the difference.

I can’t change our prevailing system but I can point to alternatives and suggest we have other options, pursued by the few, which are more visionary and brave and often disrupting the accepted.

We need to start by reducing ambiguity

One real key for the few seems to be the ability to reduce ambiguity in concepts, visions and focus. This reduction of ambiguity improves the chances of a successful outcome because everyone involved can understand the challenges, relate to the possibilities and constantly track back to the vision to obtain and advance the evidence of its possibilities and potential with a meaningful contribution. They do this mostly through knowledge exchange.

I’ll discuss this and what it means in the next article, then we will delve deeper into how knowledge is ‘made up’ and can be delivered to achieve a greater openness, convergence and capacity for innovation to take hold and thrive through its mutual dependencies. I’ll cover the ‘coupling’ within the innovation system, convergence and the dangers lurking in innovation. I’ll delve even further into where absorptive capacity builds our knowledge capacity and a pathway to apply fresh learning so we can all innovate better. Finally I’ll explore further on how we need to recognize the layers within innovation that do need to shear against each other to generate positive innovation tension and ways to find the space to allow innovation to grow differently through an innovation learning process.

By Paul Hobcraft

About the author:

Paul HobcraftI simply enjoy researching innovation, applying this to provide novel solutions and advice, coaching and consulting to individuals, teams and organizations through my business, Agility Innovation Specialists. As an advisory business we aim to stimulate and deliver sound innovation practice, researching topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as align innovation specifically to organizations core capabilities.

I write and contribute different views on innovation and its management through my own blog, paul4innovating.com and contribute into the different and leading providers of innovation knowledge.

More in this series

Part One: The Role of Education and Learning for Innovation

Part two: The Real Value of Knowledge Exchange

Part three: Reducing Confusion, Promoting Diffusion

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