Innovation activity is proliferating in government. The Federal Government has innovation fellows, labs, goals, grants, solicitations, and competitions. State and especially local governments are energetically bringing new thinking to old problems in law enforcement, health, housing, citizen environment and many areas of responsibility. Innovation is flourishing in a 'let a thousand flowers bloom' government green house.
But what is government doing with all this innovation? Is there a strategy or plan? Is it helping government do its job better? If so, how do we know? This is the first blog in a five-part series that answers these questions.
What Is Innovation?
Innovation is doing something different to add value for a customer . Government innovation enables or better enables customers to do or know things they didn’t do or know, before. This is true for every customer an organization exists to serve – citizens, businesses, mission offices, buyers, other agencies or governments, and so on. See my paper, What Is Innovation, for distinctions between innovation and invention, improvement and technology.
What Is Strategy?
We commonly think of strategy as a plan for attaining a desired outcome, perhaps a challenging outcome or one also sought by competitors. Serviceable though that might be, isn’t very inspiring and it begs tedious questions about the difference between strategy and plan. Let’s unthink this and run at it from a different angle.
Peter Drucker is famously quoted as saying the best way to predict the future is to invent it. By this he meant not merely anticipating the future but actively shaping it as you wish it to be. This opens up interesting possibilities for innovation strategy and avoids the strategy-plan trap.
There is no doubt that to develop an innovation strategy is to write something down. Documents are great for capturing ideas, commitments, constraints and many other things. Important aspects of your organization’s innovation thinking will find its way into a document you can talk to others about, reach agreement over, allocate resources to, and obtain approval for. But documents capture things at a point in time. Plans freeze planning if you let them. Strategies stop strategy if it’s something you periodically do. This leads us back to Drucker’s point.
Strategy can be a mindset or orientation to the world. It can be a way you see the world with your future in it. Strategy can be the way you deal with the environment not only by responding to changes in it, but by creating changes to it. Strategy can be the way an agency operates in all its environments – organizational, customer, stakeholder, political, technology and more – impacting, being impacted, tracking impacts, and incorporating information into strategic thinking and activity to accomplish a strategic intent.
This is the classic military use of the term in which strategy is what one does before, during, and after engaging the enemy to create conditions which increase the odds of accomplishing an objective. And this is the use of the term – as the way an organization thinks and acts to set and accomplish strategic intent – most suitable to innovation.
What’s An Innovation Strategy?
Innovation is doing something different to add value for a customer. And strategy is the way an organization thinks and acts to set and accomplish strategic intent. Your organization’s innovation strategy, then, is the way it thinks and acts in its world to innovate. An effective strategy enables the organization to accomplish the following, continuously:
- Think about the customer, what they value, and what you can do different to add value for them
- Act to do something different to add value for the customer and your organization
- Scan the environment to understand how you impact it and it impacts you as you innovate
- Adjust thinking and activity to create and recreate conditions for successful innovation
Organizations run on conversations, decisions, and actions. When it comes to innovation, an important set of strategy questions to answer is how your organization will talk about, decide, and act on these items.
The next blog in this series, Getting Oriented, explains how to establish strategy objectives and align activities to which your organization can orient.
Read my complete paper on Creating an Innovation Strategy at http://govinnovators.com/resources/. There you’ll also find papers on What Is Innovation and Standing Up An Innovation Center. Look for all my innovation blogs at http://govinnovators.com/blog/.