Authenticity and innovation are two of today’s biggest corporate buzzwords. They are often considered as separate values, but in reality they have much in common and in this article we will examine the areas of overlap and potential leverage benefits.
Neither of these terms have the same definition from company to company, or even amongst individuals. For the purpose of this article we will use the following definitions:
- Innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. (reference BusinessDictionary.com).
- Authenticity is the quality of being real or true, and is best understood as a social construction that has been put into place to achieve a particular aim. (Cambridge Dictionary online and Library Trends (Vol.56, No. 1)
With that out of the way, let’s examine ways in which authenticity leverages and supports innovation, and vice-versa. Some examples include:
1. Authenticity and Design Thinking
These days’ innovation within a corporate setting is synonymous with Design Thinking (DT) approaches. The fact is that DT requires a genuine understanding and appreciation of not only what is possible, but what is most beneficial from a client/end user perspective. Without an authentic approach it is difficult to identify those key pain points that drive the development of truly innovative ideas. And while you are at it, flip the DT approach and use it on yourselves. Work with your management team, using a DT process, to appropriately define what authenticity and innovation look like, specific to your organization. In another view, flip the DT approach to say that your innovation people/workers are your first customer. Meeting their needs and helping them define their authentic selves will drive innovation and additional benefits to the end user.
2. Roles in innovation
People often think that being innovative is a singular focus on coming up with the lightbulb idea that will change everything. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The reality is that innovation requires a range of skills and abilities, and few people possess all aspects (Suzan Briganti at Totem writes about this). Accordingly, it is important for innovators to recognize their true, specific skills in the context of identifying, selecting and executing new ideas. Often times, when we think of our 'authentic selves,' we see the person we want to be – not what’s actually there. Realistic awareness of your abilities, skills and preferences is key to identifying your true role in innovation. In doing this, don’t just focus on a self-perspective of skills – there is a wealth of information from assessments, team members, managers and direct reports that can provide valuable insight into your best strengths. A self-assessment is rarely easy, but is essential to the success of positioning yourself as an effective innovator.
3. Cognitive Diversity is what enhances innovation
Innovation is organic – it’s the sprout of an idea that can be generated from need and a desire for improvement and change. Countless studies have shown how team diversity impacts success. Most people think of diversity in the perspective of race, gender, functional perspective, but when it comes to innovation, Cognitive Diversity can be most beneficial. In addition to highly cognitive, 'what’s possible' - type thinkers, there are others who have a pre-disposition toward pragmatic, realistic, and 'how do we get things done' thinking. How often have you worked with someone who just doesn’t think in the way that you do? This is the type of diversity that leads to conflict, both positive and negative. Within positive, productive conflict, innovation germinates and is created. Recognizing differing individual cognitive preference (the way a person processes and thinks), in the context of a greater team, positions ideas within a sound cultural foundation that will lead to new, productive ideas, systems and processes.
4. Focus of Efforts
Given that authenticity and innovation efforts are often driven by small program teams working across complex, globally-dispersed organizations, the direction of efforts and actions need to be carefully calibrated to generate the biggest impact. For this reason an approach can be to first focus support on those individuals who exhibit a natural inclination towards innovative and authentic behavior, and then communicate their success to others as positive, aspirational role models. The latest neuroscience research shows that certain types of people are pre-disposed to highly cognitive, 'idea-based' thinking. These are the individuals that typically ask, 'What’s possible?' and have the ideas that many others haven’t thought of yet.
5. Transitioning Internal Competencies to External Differentiators
Increasingly, innovation and behavior change experts are shifting their focus from internal efforts, to align with more external customer marketing, investor positioning and recruitment goals. Both innovation and authentic competencies are positively perceived by clients, investors and talent, so by combining efforts with a well positioned communications effort, these internal efforts can generate additional external impacts .
6. Authenticity in innovation leadership
Authenticity, as it’s defined, is a social construction that has been put in place to achieve a particular aim and is typically an ongoing effort to demonstrate. This means that simple actions aren’t enough – those actions need to be perceived as consistent and authentic to reach that goal. Those leading corporate Innovation Programs need to authentically exhibit the belief in their actions and direction at all times, as they are to be seen as champions of this thinking in often evasive corporate settings.
7. Cultural leadership is key
Principles of authenticity and innovation don’t work well when done in piecemeal fashion. Leaders of these efforts often fail to recognize that they need to address underlying cultural drivers of an organization to ensure the success of their efforts. For this reason, leadership should consider both competencies together and seek to build a strategic plan to support supporting activities that lead to longer-term cultural change. In addition, corporate and business unit leadership need to support and bridge top/down and bottom/up efforts.
These are just some thoughts on the leverage and benefits that can be generated by combining innovation and authentic competencies. Let us know if you can come up with more, or even if you disagree with our stated points.