Posted on October 7, 2013 by

Taking new steps

As the world becomes more complex and interconnected we are told more and more, that we must become innovative.  We must try and break new boundaries and almost make the impossible, possible.

Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns

We need to think outside the box, create new offerings, new business models and continually grow.

Why is it that so many organisations fail, regardless of how good the idea is, and why do our teams struggle to deliver no matter how clever they are.

Is this because we don’t have right mix of people, is management failing us, or is it just that the wider business does not get it, and we should just accept it.

Before we delve in lets first look at what makes innovation work and how we make it part of the organisation.

Embracing failure

So at this point it is tempting to describe what Innovation means and how you do it, but that is not the reason innovation fails.  There are plenty of white papers that are available on the subject of innovation, and they all focus on the same things.

Most go through in detail what it takes to perform innovation and all the points raised are totally valid. However they all have one thing in common, they focus on the “doing” vs what it takes to make it part of the organisations DNA.

One of the key aspects of innovation is failure.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work

The only way to learn and create the impossible is to fail, and the key bit is to be empowered to fail.  People are often told they should be creative and embrace innovation, but are then punished by management for failures. No matter how creative your staff want to be, without management support, and a platform to fail (within reason) innovation is unlikely to succeed.

Pulling in the same direction

The next aspect of innovation is diverse teams.

We are told for innovation to work we need diverse teams of people, it is these different mind sets which brings out new and fresh ideas.  Totally agree.  However what we are not told is how to manage these groups of diverse personalities, and point them in the same direction.

No matter how many highly skilled individuals you have, they will only be successful if they pull together as a team. Like any good sports team, it is the manager that brings the team together and instills the sense of purpose.

The best managers know how to infuse the sense of mission.


It is this sense of purpose that pulls people together, a feeling that no individual is bigger than the team and we are all working together to a common goal.

The best also know how to reward their teams but also know each and every team member, and know what motivates each person, and how to get the best from them (each person will respond to different motivational methods).


In most cases people will leave an organisation due to bad management or lack of direction.

For innovation to be successful it requires a management team that  is able to craft a vision, but then motivate the team to pull in the same direction.

We all remember the managers and leaders that believed in us but were also able to get the best from us as employees.  We may love them, and in some cases we might hate them but we still deep down trust and respect them.

The essence of the team is to understand and trust each other and to trust the manager.

Even with a strong leadership team and an environment which empowers staff to fail, we still are unable to sell our ideas.  Even if we could sell the idea, how do we know we can deliver the idea, without impacting the existing business model?

It is at this point the fields of design and architecture can help us.  Lets first look at the idea, let me tell you a story.


Have you ever sat through a presentation and wondered what it was trying to say, and why some people understood it and others were left confused?

Then there is the bullet points and endless amounts of words on the slides, which leave us blurry eyed and even more confused.  In most cases it is because we spent so much time on the content and forget the message we wanted to put across, and importantly what outcome we wanted from the presentation.

reading_to_children_800_clr_6215As children we are told stories and are sucked into the plot and almost feel part of the very story being told.  The story is able to touch us and we are left wanting more.

As adults we seem to loose these concepts and get sucked into information and almost try to present the complexity.

In some cases we assume that people will understand our way of thinking and will immediately see the value of the idea.

Through a story we able to say the same things as the wordy version but we hide the complexity and bring the audience on a journey with us.

If a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit

However before we jump into creating the presentation we should understand what we are trying to say, and how diverse our audience is (which includes learning styles).

The key is what do you want to get out of your story i.e. what decision do you want people to make.

Like any good story it is made up of some key component parts:

  • A plot – Is this a tragedy, a quest etc
  • Introduction – This is the problem statement  i.e. don’t jump in, set the scene
  • Characters – Who is your cast i.e. people, resources etc
  • Heroes and Villains – The only rule is you cannot be the hero
  • The Setting – Where is the story set
  • Challenges – Every story has challenges which need to be overcome
  • Audience –  Who is our audience and how can we reach all of them

Once we have these items, we can then think about how we deliver the story and what format best fits our audience.  The key with format is to be consistent throughout and tie any images to your message.  Your goal should be simplicity and to craft a message which leaves your audience (regardless of diversity) wanting more and thinking ” well why wouldn’t we do this, this is obvious”

 The elephant in the room

If you look at anything which is written around innovation there is no mention of the current view of your business model. You could argue, well what if this is a start up.  Well I would still argue that you need a view of how you are going to deliver your idea and what things need to be in place to meet the needs of your customer.

Without a 360 integrated view of the business we are innovating in the dark

You also need to consider impacts to your existing customers ( if the idea impacts your day to day running).

Then there is the risk and compliance impacts to consider. Lastly there is the technology department, how are we impacting their existing systems and can we in fact implement the idea, technically.

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 18.42.47

Architecture and design helps us to focus on the wider impacts of our ideas.

We can also start to align the key business components we need in place to deliver our idea. Importantly we can start to understand the customer touch-points and what needs to be in place to meet these desired experiences.

The “so what” moment 

Innovation is going to play a greater part in our lives, historically this role was  taken by a figure head or someone we could all follow. In today’s complex and interconnected world we now all need to play our part, and work together to create the impossible.

Building the right culture and giving people a platform to learn ensures our staff have the confidence to try new things.  Strong leadership and an ability to sell new ideas to diverse groups, enables us to get our message across. Combined with a holistic view of our business, means we can deliver new ideas to people, in ways which they never thought possible, that just work.

This is a significant “so what” but there are some other key benefits worth mentioning:

  • Story based marketing: Stories can also be used to sell our brand and what we stand for.  Customers will start to feel part of our journey and want to be part of its evolution.
  • Brand awareness: Innovations tend to focus on the idea vs how it may impact your customers perceptions of your offerings.  A 360 view of the business keeps the customer at the heart of our designs and ensures we do not move to far away from our corporate values.
  • Full line of sight: An integrated view of the organisation provides full traceability but also highlights risks and impacts to existing customers and the various supporting internal resources.
  • Implementable designs: A view of the business model ensures that ideas not only meet the needs of the customer but can also be delivered.  Designs which are put together are easily understood by change agents and are aligned to the appropriate technology.
  • Staff performance: Staff will not only feel empowered but will start to trust management.  Management will also start to view their staff as individuals and learn what motivation techniques work to get the best from each diverse team member.
  • Culture: Empowering staff and building a creative environment enables innovation to become part of the fabric of the organisation.
  • Team ethos: Management can bring individuals together and mould them into a successful team, which all pulls in the same direction.
  • Compelling stories: Understanding our audience enables us to craft and deliver memorable presentations, which enable us to sell new innovative ideas.
  • Customer driven design: Through the use of a business model, we are able to align the needs of people with the business delivery.  This ensures innovations are not only ground breaking, but also relevant to our new, and existing customers.
  • Common message: Story telling enables us to craft a common message which cuts through diversity and is understood by all.

It is clear that innovation is going to play a bigger part in our lives.  The problems we face each day will become more complex and the needs of our customers will become more demanding. To meet these needs new thinking is required.

To be successful we must look beyond the doing and put the foundations in place to make innovation successful.

The best organisations are able to put these core building blocks in place and make it part of the DNA, and continually wow us with the endless innovative offerings they are able to bring to our lives, time and time again.


  1. Organisation Image, Milan Guenther / Intersection, published 2012 by Morgan Kaufmann
  2. Failure Quote: Thomas Edison