Innovation and Organizational Learning Pathways and Pitfalls
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
Read: Part 1 | Part 2
"In examining the history of the visionary companies, we were struck by how often they made some of their best moves not by detailed strategic planning, but rather by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and — quite literally — accident. What looks in hindsight like a brilliant strategy was often the residual result of opportunistic experimentation and purposeful accidents."
— James C. Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
- Make sure that you and people throughout your organization spend lots of
time in external benchmarking and "corporate tourism" mode, looking
for good ideas to swipe. Many of the opportunities or problems you're facing
now are old hat to somebody somewhere. Learning from other people's experiences
— both the successes and the failures — can take years and millions of
dollars off your learning curve.
- Build strong personal, team, and organization measurements and feedback
loops. If you don't know how you're doing, you can't improve. If you want
more innovation, set up measurements to chart your progress. Lack of feedback
is one of the biggest contributors to learning disorders.
- Develop strategic alliances and partnership with organizations providing
complimentary products and services in your target market. If the fit is
right, it can be a great way to extent your products and services, reduce
your own development risk, and learn.
- How do you deal with defeats, failures, and setbacks? In his work to understand
why "the smartest people find it the hardest to learn," Professor
Chris Argyris concludes, "because many professionals are almost always
successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because
they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure.
So whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become
defensive, screen out criticism, and put the 'blame' on anyone and everyone
but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at
the moment they need it most."
- Ensure that your reward and recognition processes encourage cooperation,
open learning, and innovation across boundaries and departmental lines.
If you're not sure, ask.
- The experimenting, piloting, and clumsy tries mind set must pervade all
parts and areas of your organization. The includes human resource systems,
training, administrative support services, management systems and processes,
product and development, customer service, purchasing, supplier management,
external partnerships, and so on.
- Consider setting targets for innovation. 3M measures management performance
and sets bonuses based upon the percentage of revenues that come from products
and services that didn't exist three years ago.
- Put an intense focus on shortening your product and service development
cycles. Radical improvement (aim for a ten times reduction) of these key
processes will make your organization a leading innovator that leaves your
competition choking on your dust. All your supporting management systems
will have to be realigned to sustain this change.
- Develop prototype and pilots in parallel. Avoid committing yourself to
any one as long as you can without spreading your support to thin so that
none can survive (a tricky paradox to manage). Once you've selected the
approach or product you're going to develop further into stages three and
four, you might keep your options open with a few quiet pilots still bubbling
in the background.
- Appointed champions and assigned skunk works rarely work. They haven't
got the passion and commitment to beat the odds of an innovation surviving
the bureaucracy, inertia, and threatened power bases. These people rise
to the surface in environments that welcome and support them. Successful
venture capitalists invest in people, not promising companies, products,
or markets. A key criterion in deciding whether to support an innovation
that is the passion of its champion.
- Use many small mistakes to avoid the deadly big one. Experiment early and
often on a small scale. You want a series of ten $50,000 learning experiences
that notch your learning forward rather than one big $5 million flop.
- If innovation is truly important to you, hire and promote unconventional
thinkers, "boat rockers", and passionate people who have a history
of successfully bucking the system.
- The flatter, more decentralized and team-based your organization is, the
higher your levels of innovation will be. Head office and management need
to serve the operational and improvement teams working to find better ways
to produce products and enhance service. The more people feel they're running
their own show; the more they'll act like entrepreneurial partners.
- Exploring, searching, creating, learning, and innovating are critical on-going activities in finding the best routes to higher performance. This calls for leadership that sees beyond what is to what could be.
© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group
Books by Jim Clemmer
(You are viewing the U.S. bookstore. Click here to view the Canadian store.)
The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.
Would you like us to consider your own articles for publication? Please review our submission and editorial guidelines by clicking here.