Unfreezing The Innovation Permafrost

Being inside The Game of Thrones - where you win or you die


At a recent innovation conference, one of the presenters stated that 'inertia leads to irrelevance', suggesting that organizations that are inactive, passive and even lazy about seeing innovation as a strategic lever for improving the bottom line, are actually in a state of resistance.

This made me wonder what really causes organizations to resist or disincline motion, action, or change, essentially to resist innovation as an accelerator of business change, competitiveness, growth, and value?

Another presenter called this a state of 'permafrost' suggesting that organizations are behaving as if they are permanently frozen, 'year, after year.'

Unfreezing the permafrost

So why might some organizations be 'staying at rest' when there are so many possibilities and opportunities available to them, in the current business environment, to grow, nurture and sustain their competitiveness and relevance to their customers and key stakeholders?

It’s quite simple really; all organizations only exist because they are successful at being relevant, in some way, to a customer, who is generally willing to exchange value (usually money) for a benefit (usually functional, purposeful or emotional) they receive from their experience, a product or a service. With globalization, data overload and digitization making so many more options and choices available to savvier, smarter and discerning customers, it seems quite bizarre that so many organizations have allowed the permafrost to set in. 

Not just because it causes stagnation, it also depletes capability, resources, and loss of motivation and minimization of efforts.

'Winter brings cold dry harsh weather and trees are without leaves.' - Lailah Gifty Akita, Game of Thrones

It all starts and ends with culture

Culture is easily described as 'the way things get done in an organization' what most people don’t understand is that it is formed and expressed by the 'messages' that get sent.

These are most often demonstrated by people's (especially leaders) behaviors, which in turn, are generated by their needs, values, beliefs, and mindsets about what’s important or valued mostly by the organization.

People often build affiliation and comply so they can fit in, get their jobs done, and will do whatever it takes to survive in an uncertain world by focusing on securing their jobs, even if they hate them.

Messages are also communicated by the organizations’ core focus (sales, customer, production, and/or profit), systems (especially communication and reward and recognition) and artifacts (what’s important to show others, often to illustrate how important you or they are).

The four key steps to unfreeze a permafrosted organizational culture

Rather than resist, and allow the permafrost and winter to really set in, what if brave organizations consider exploring and experimenting with the four key fundamentals that will accelerate innovation as a lever of business change competitiveness, growth, and value?

1. Articulate a really, really compelling and coherent reason to change; be-come passionately purposeful

To venture down the innovation path the first crucial step is to articulate a really compelling and coherent 'why' or necessity for innovation - because 'necessity is the mother of all invention'.

This ignites your 'passionate purpose' and it’s usually to solve a business or customer problem or to exploit an opportunity that may or may not yet exist in the marketplace.

Doing this makes innovation a 'necessity' which is demonstrated by the executive teams’ conviction that a solution to the problem or the opportunity exists, and is not yet known, because is exists as a 'hidden possibility' that has infinite potential to make a difference to the quality of peoples lives in ways they value and cherish. This requires entering a set of discovery mind states of being able to work 'both' with 'what is' (already in existence) and with 'what could be' (the solution that lies hidden).

'Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.' - George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones

2. Develop a common understanding of the impact and role of culture; be intentional to leverage culture strategically as a lever for innovation

To shift a culture, it’s important to have a common understanding, acknowledgment, and acceptance of;

- What is really going on to cause or create the existing organizational culture?

- What the desired or target future innovation culture might look like?

- What are the gaps between the current and desired cultural states?

- What are the key supporting and inhibiting factors and adaptive business problems?

- What are the key priorities and possibilities towards “both” closing the gaps “and” creating the desired future state.

'Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.'

- George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

An innovation culture can be contextualized, measured, diagnosed and bench-marked through applying human centered design processes and the OGI® quantitative tool and by qualitative research to identify both the explicit and implicit factors impacting innovation.

3. Develop a clear strategic intent to innovate; be willing to align and contextualize what innovation means, and what it doesn’t mean, in your own organization

To develop an innovation culture, it’s crucial to have a clear systemic perspective and strategic intent, supported, enacted and embodied by the board and executive team, and aligned to the Passionate Purpose and BHAG and;

- Define innovation in your unique organizational context

- Focus on the type of innovation to pursue; disruptive, breakthrough, differential or incremental

- Develop an explicit language around innovation that people can relate to and habitually use

- Develop an engaging communications plan about the intent, role, and nature of the innovation intervention/process to enroll people in it.

Organizations that see innovation systemically and strategically, and not as a 'tick the box' episodic and short term solution, program, training course, workshop or event, deliver sustainable outcomes. They see it as a long term strategy, to really reap the business benefits and results that innovation offers them.

4. Be prepared and risk mitigate the permafrost from really setting in; be curious, confident, courageous, compassionate and connected to the human factor-the people in your organization

Our research revealed five innovation killers that are alive and well in the majority of organizations.

'Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.' - George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones

Because innovation involves unlocking, igniting and harnessing people’s collective genius then knowing both how to acknowledge and work with the five innovation killers is critical;

1. Risk Adversity

2. Resistance to change

3. Fear of failure, unknown, uncertainty, loss of control, status, looking silly

4. Complacency

5. Competitiveness and not collaboration.

'When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.' - George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones

This can be done by investing in cultivating people’s innovation agility, to engage, enroll and empower them to execute a successful innovation culture development process. Creating a psychologically safe holding space and environment are critical for maximizing rather than minimizing the crucial human and people factors in innovation enables organizations to respond constructively and reduce the impact of the five killers on business performance.

So what to do about it?

Our combined years (too many perhaps) of experience at ImagineNation™ with some of the world’s best companies globally in the high performance culture, leadership, team and innovation arenas assures us that the root causes of organizational permafrost; resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change, essentially to resist innovation, can potentially be resolved by boldly committing to five key steps.

- Align the board and executive team to demonstrate conviction and commitment to embracing both a strategic and a systemic perspective to innovation.

- Flow with both 'what is' with 'what could be' with regards to clarifying a meaningful passionate purpose for innovation.

- Work with both 'what is' and 'what could be' in terms of your current and target cultures and building the internal capability to transform it, aligned to technology, systems and artifact innovations.

- Respond constructively by creating a psychologically safe holding space and environment where people have permission to experiment and fail, to challenge convention, and collaborate rather than compete with one another.

- Build peoples’ readiness and receptivity to innovation, cultivate their agility confidence, capacity and competence through customized agile education and blended learning programs and awaken them from complacency, arouse discomfort and resolve their fears, and ultimately accelerate change.

'A craven can be as brave as any man, when there is nothing to fear. And we all do our duty, when there is no cost to it. How easy it seems then, to walk the path of honor. Yet soon or late in every man's life comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose. (Maester Aemon)'

- George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones

So, make your first steps towards unfreezing your organizational permafrost!

Inno balls small

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