Technology driven change is an inescapable force in our modern lives. In a previous blog, “Innovation velocity,” I discussed how quickly new organizational knowledge can be derived from ideas validated outside the organization. For those still familiar with their high school physics, velocity is a vector that contains both a magnitude and a direction. The Innovation velocity blog covered the magnitude of change, whereas this blog will investigate direction.
I love auto-racing. In my mind, the ultimate racing machine is the winner of a 24-hour endurance race. It is not the vehicle with the most power, best handling, best driver(s), best pit crew, or greatest reliability, but the best combination of all these traits suited for the track and conditions during race day. The “winning” business model is not the one that can produce the greatest magnitude of innovation, but the organization that is highly capable of efficiently changing its direction of focus.
For instance, an organization suffers from poor innovation agility when it gets stuck on a sunk cost project or idea. Another example is the calcification of business processes, where changes are gated through unnecessary approvals, reviews, and meetings. I am not advocating for chaos; structure is important, so how do we benchmark an organization’s innovation agility? How long does a change of a particular magnitude take? Does a particular change when implemented create actual or perceived chaos? Does your organization miscategorise changes, as “easy change”, is actually moderate or difficult to implement? Ever get the feeling “why does this need to be so difficult?”
Ideally, an organization capable of demonstrating effective innovation agility should be able to navigate most complex changes without generating organizational chaos, much like keeping the car on the track while driving at the limit of the vehicle’s performance. What are the elements within an organization that can influence how well it can stay on track? The strongest determinants for innovation agility are team autonomy, trust, and cohesion. Trust and cohesion are linked between individuals, teams, and the organization. Does management trust employees? Does your organization identify as a meritocracy? Are there intra-team dynamics where employees seek praise and try to deflect blame? Do employees trust the organization enough to take risks or freely speak their opinions? The greater the degree of trust and cohesion, the better teams can operate with autonomy, and then by extension allow the organization to innovate with greater agility.
The idea of antifragility is one concept that can help with your organization’s innovation agility. An idea presented in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile, is that some things benefit from shocks, thriving and growing when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, risk, and uncertainty. A concept explored in a previous blog was the idea of using disaster days to enhance organizational resiliency. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that within every organization is an untapped capacity to innovate when faced with adversity. Instead of waiting for the next shock, use structures like disaster days and the concept of antifragile to develop internal competencies to better handle change. Now race your organization to a podium finish!