Assessing your capability to innovate

Ed Bernacki - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Innovation self audits direct focus for your time and investments

By Ed Bernacki

Innovation is part of our management jargon today. The problem is that few understand that it is a strategy for business excellence, not just new technology or new products. It’s time for executives to see that innovation involves leveraging the skills and insights of the people, and the systems of the business or organization to maximize results. Innovation creates value regardless of what type of business you have.

What makes organizations or businesses innovative are such things as:

  1. Staff having the skills to manage their ideas in ways that solve the many challenges they will encounter.
  2. Systems for manufacturing or service delivery that allow people to be highly effective and efficient in the way they serve customers.
  3. The culture or climate encourages people to take initiative to look for improvements in any and all aspects of the business.

It is to this holistic perspective that we must shift our focus. The solution must be to go beyond inserting the word, “innovation” in the official mission statement and view it like a capability that your firm either nurtures or ignores. Having a capacity to innovate is a powerful strategy for survival and growth.

Singapore Innovation Scorecard

Singapore’s equivalent to Canada’s ISED launched an “Innovation Scorecard” program to help executives to improve their management insights for building a culture of innovation. Training and recognition programs prompted engagement.  The “I-Scorecard” is a self-audit to help executives make better decisions to build a culture of innovation.  This program dates to 2003 and is very relevant today.

 Download sample of Innovation Scorecard

When did improvement become innovation?

Ed Bernacki - Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I met creativity expert Edward de Bono in the 1990s and asked him, “When does an idea become innovation?”

He said it is a perspective of time; “It is only in retrospect when you can look back to the problem and then measure the value your solution created, we may consider if a solution is an innovation.”

He said when you work on ideas to solve a challenge you have no idea if your solution will create the degree of value that makes it an innovation. Adding, “Most solutions will be improvements, or worse, they failed to solve the problem.”

The Singapore Government provided a useful way to help public servants make sense of this distinction between innovation and improvement with this concept:

 “Innovation is more than Improvement. Improvements are important but innovations are like a quantum improvement that breaks new ground to create value in new ways.”

The notion of “creating value in new ways” is the value created when solutions go beyond basic improvements that solve a problem. This was once a common understanding of improvement and innovation. Yet, this distinction seems lost today.

I started working in this field with New Zealand Post in the 1990s. I just finished an MBA with a focus on service innovation.  I joined its new Total Quality Service team. We created the vision, strategies, and actions to improve internal staff and external customer services. We used continuous improvement as our tool kit. We then developed a capacity to innovate new service models but this was a small part of the work. In reality, most ideas improved services we already delivered. We never said these were innovation.

I first noticed this issue when academic literature talked about “degrees of innovation”. Instead of seeing ideas as improvement or innovations, I read of “incremental innovation”. What is the definition of increment innovation? It is an improvement. I once presented this definition to a group. One junior employee said something that stayed with me: “Calling an improvement “innovation” does not make it innovation.” I never presented it again.

No such thing as incremental innovation…or pregnancy

Incremental innovation makes as much sense of incremental pregnancy. In the real world, there is no such thing as incremental pregnancy. You are pregnant or you are not. Something is innovation or it is not. Most new concepts will be improvements, enhancements or extensions of current solutions, not innovation.

We would be better served if we focus on both change strategies. We can access 60 years of improvement tools, research and experience to do what people actually want to do; improve the way they work and improve the services and products we create and deliver. We can then use other tools to explore for potential innovations that strive to completely change a service or offer it in a completely new way.

This problem is particularly acute in the public sector. There is much talk about innovation. Innovation Labs are common. Design thinking is the rage. Behaviour Insights is used by many Governments yet academic research clearly shows that its results are improvements, not innovations. The OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation adds to this confusion. Its model of innovation includes:

 “Enhancement-oriented innovation: This focuses on upgrading practices, achieving efficiencies and better results, and building on existing structures, rather than challenging the status quo.”

In other words, this is an improvement. Again, when did improvement become innovation?

We should not fear to talk about improvements when this is the reality of much of this work.  As Edward de Bono said, we only know an idea is “innovation” in retrospect. We can see the problem we wanted to solve. We can see value being created in new ways. If we bring this opportunistic mindset to our work, we can improve our current systems and services and then act to reinvent our services as well. This may result in new innovations.

We should remember the honesty of a junior employee; calling an improvement is “innovation” does not make it innovation.

You can’t get there from here

Ed Bernacki - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Why public sector innovation efforts are falling short in Canada

The OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI)* reviewed Canada’s approach for public service innovation concluding it was “relatively immature”.  Most Departments set up innovation Labs. The OECD was not a criticism of Labs; it was critical of the lack of tactics to build the capacity of 250,000 staff across Government to innovate.  While individual departments are developing other initiatives, the innovation picture painted with comments from 100 staff working in innovation roles led OECD to conclude (quoted from its paper):

  •    “There is no overall picture of the innovation system, what it includes, what it involves, what is happening, nor how it is performing.
  •    “There is no overriding sense of what the intent driving the system is.
  •    “The expected roles to be played by individuals and organisations is not clear.
  •    “The behaviours and norms for supporting innovation are not well established or explicit
  •    “There is no shared sense across the system of what needs to happen next.”

Having worked on national innovation strategies in several countries, this result was sadly predictable.  There is a clear failure in Canada to make innovation meaningful to staff. If the goal is a highly innovative public sector, it is hard to see how these initiatives will reach this goal, In other words, you can’t get there from here.  

One OECD OPSI interviewee said, “The innovation hub is perhaps 10 people. All of the self-described innovators in the broadest sense of the word are less than 300 people. Three hundred people amongst 250,000. We are drop in the ocean.”

Recent news also questions the success of Labs.  The high profile ISED (Innovation, Science and Economic Development) Lab has closed.  The poster child for innovation Labs was Denmark’s MindLab. It too closed. Thomas Prehn, who headed MindLab said, “MindLab stood at the forefront, both in theory and practice, of efforts to make government cleverer, faster and more inventive.” Some say Labs build a culture of innovation. While a comforting idea, it’s wrong. Prehn added, “They don’t help usher in a sustainable change to how organisations work.”

In the late 1990s, I had a partner who ran the Polaroid Creativity Lab.  US research showed Labs create useful ideas, but, “Labs cannot, by themselves, significantly impact the bottom line culture of an organization.” 

My first job in the public sector was with New Zealand Post’s Total Quality Service group. While we created a type of Lab to design new service models, we knew a small team could never create the volume of ideas to solve hundreds of challenges across the organization to improve internal and external services. We had to create programs to engage managers and staff.

Innovation is a puzzle with many pieces

I find it useful to view innovation as a puzzle: a picture of an innovative organization is on the cover of the puzzle box. You open the box to discover how many pieces must be assembled to create this picture. As will any puzzle, when you step back to see the whole picture missing pieces seem obvious. This is what the OECD OPSI did. To explore different pieces of this puzzle, recognize that every team, Department, and Government faces two innovation challenges.  If you want more innovation, you must build capacity to innovate.

Former Clerk of Privy Council of Canada, Jocelyne Bourgon suggests, “Governments around the world are inventing solutions to society’s problems. Public innovation is both the goal and the process of generating innovative solutions. The difficulty is preparing government to improve its capacity to generate interventions.” This suggests we pursue two areas of expertise:

  1. Innovation in public services: creating innovative solutions to serve the public.
  2. Building capacity for public service innovation: the capacity of government to invent the systems, processes, and services to solve current and future challenges of the public sector.

Each requires a systems solution. The first focuses on where the public sector must innovate. The second focuses on questions like…what do we want staff to do differently? What individual and team skills and expertise are needed to do this? These factors are the pieces of the puzzle. The least developed is the second: building capacity to innovate across an organization.

In November 2017, the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick hosted 100 executives to launch the “Federal, Provincial and Territorial Declaration on Public Sector Innovation.This statement was intended to prompt a wave of new initiatives across Canada.

While it provided a vibrant vision, “We need to rely on the diversity, ingenuity and creativity of Canadians to solve real problems”, it did not address the urgency to build skills and capacity to innovate across all levels of government. This declaration came close:

“Seeking out and applying new insights, ideas, tools and technologies to complex problems by working within and across governments to continuously improve policies, programs and services.”

What is in place to develop the skills for people to create new insights and ideas, and to understand how to use a diversity of tools and technologies?  Which tools? From experience in training about 4000 staff over ten years of presentations, this must be based on foundation skills for solving simple and complex problems effectively.

Shaping a systems approach to innovation

For the first innovation challenge, it is worth reflecting on the “products” public servants must invent, manage, and deliver. Each could have a unique strategy to shape more innovative results.

  1. Innovating services – the product is new or improved public services. Current strategies focus on digital change to improve the customer experience with public services.
  2. Innovating policy development – the product is a robust policy that reflects challenges facing society.
  3. Innovating technical solutions – Canada has 16,000 sophisticated problem solvers: scientists, engineers, architects, and researchers. How can their work be more effective? We could consider how this expertise could help with the first two “products”.
  4. Innovating people management systems – the core product is culture. We also need innovation in people management programs to improve productivity and results.    

In Canada, there is a buzz about new management ideas such as Free Agents and the GC Entrepreneur program. About 80 people are involved with the first and 18 with the second. Both are potential management innovations but not sufficient to engage 250,000 public servants.

The urgency to focus on (4) is reflected by the current conflict between Canada’s Auditor General and the Clerk of the Privy Council. They are having a public debate about the quality of the current culture of the public service. It is clear that the best minds must focus on innovating internal systems and make recommendations for the overall public sector.

Many governments around the world know shaping culture requires a common and consistent understanding of innovation.  I collaborated with the Singapore Government to write an innovation guide for 20,000 staff. We decided that the actions of all staff and managers would be crucial to shape this culture. This guide started with these words: “The Public Service is building a culture of innovation.  By doing so, we create new strengths and capabilities for the future – but it means changing the way we think in some ways.”

 To give meaning to this notion of “changing the way we think” I used these prompts.

“What it means to be  “innovative”? 

“Creativity is about finding new and original ideas that solve problems and or create opportunities. But to bridge the gap between creative ideas and results takes action. That’s when innovative thinking is needed most – acting on our ideas and making them happen. That’s innovation! This may mean…

  • Taking new perspectives to our daily work.
  • Doing things differently; doing different things.
  • Focusing on finding ideas and acting on them.
  • Striving to create value in new ways.

“The Public Service is known for its efficiency and effectiveness. Going forward by building a culture of innovation ensures we will find new ways to create greater value for the organisation, its people and those we serve.”

This approach is common with Governments to help staff understand that being innovative is part of everyone’s job. These words were carefully chosen to prompt the behaviour we wanted public servants to demonstrate on a daily basis.

To develop more pieces of the innovation puzzle, consider these core programs:

1. Executive programs

Leaders must lead. Leaders need a sophisticated understanding of core innovation concepts to lead the innovation talk.  Their decisions must build this capacity and then ensure senior managers cascade this understanding to managers and staff. I remember speaking at an innovation conference in Singapore where the Government Minister sat in the front row of the room.  He was signalling that learning to innovate is important.

While the “Declaration on Public Sector Innovation” offers useful perspectives, one idea needs to be challenged: “In times of considerable change and uncertainty, the greatest risk is refusing to take chances and try new things.”

I have often written how confusing it is to equate innovation with taking chances. Gambling is about taking chances. Innovation is not about taking chances. It’s is about using the skills we develop to define problems in new ways and generating and developing solutions to solve these challenges.  When people use robust problem-solving disciplines, our solutions offer obvious benefits. Telling staff to take chances can have an unintended consequence to stop people from creating better solutions.

You can argue that it is a just a word, but true innovators rarely take chances. Their options are well conceived to solve old problems in new ways.

Executives need a common language for innovation, beginning with a clear understanding of what innovation means to staff in their Department. This should lead to common tactics used in all Departments. While Labs have been adopted by most, there should be an equal use of common innovation tactics (some listed below).  This is harder than it seems. The Australian Public Sector Commission’s 2015 staff research found, despite Departments having innovation programs, most had not defined the core “knowledge and skills all staff should have”.

2. Management programs

Managers need to be facilitators and catalysts to prompt staff to have an ‘opportunity mindset’. Management programs create a foundation of skills and knowledge, and more importantly, a source of confidence for staff to solve their challenges in new ways. Trust is crucial. Staff must feel safe to come forward with new ideas. Managers are crucial as they shape the climate for their staff and teams.  Some Departments use a ‘rule of thumb’ to train 1 in 50 staff to have specialized training to lead efforts in their area of responsibility.

 Recommendations for all Departments

The OECD research suggests there is a great need to translate this vision of innovation into quality innovation programs. There are many examples internationally of support programs that build knowledge and a culture for innovation.  Most common are:

3. Innovation skills programs

Many Governments deliver innovation skills training. These skills create a platform for co-creation and collaboration. Skills underpin problem solving processes such as design thinking.  The Singapore innovation guide introduced the opportunity for public servants the idea of skills this way:

“To build our innovation capacity we must focus on creating a culture that supports new thinking. For the individual public officers, we can provide essential training to enhance their capability to innovate.

“Our fundamental belief is that everyone is creative. Our challenge is to unleash the creative spirit inside each of us. More importantly, we have to pay attention to an officer’s training needs across the entire innovation process.”

Training should include skills for generating, developing, judging, communicating, and turning ideas into actions, and collaboration.  At the time of the launch, staff could take two to three days of courses in each of these skills. These analogue skills are crucial for those designing digital services.   Link: an overview of innovation skillsInnovation skills can also be defined to match the needs of staff. Lab staff must have specialized skills for problem-solving. Design thinking and Behavioral Insights are very common today in Labs. The challenging issue is to design training programs for all levels of staffs, not just the specialists.

4. Innovation communication programs

Most governments have communication strategies to make innovation meaningful to staff. This is important as most ideas flow from everyday staff working on everyday challenges.  As staff grow in confidence, their ideas also grow in scope. Tactics to make innovation meaningful can include idea journals, team briefs, innovation guides, toolkits, blogs, and staff websites. For examples of innovation guides, link to innovation communication case studies. Australia created blogs and an innovation community of practice   Also link to South African Centre for Public Sector Innovation

The public sector has a long history of innovating solutions.  Key decision makers must expand their knowledge of the strategies and tactics that can make this happen. The latest OECD paper on “Embracing Innovation in Government: Global Trends 2018” offered this conclusion:

“Around the world, the majority of government innovation agendas are built on loosely defined concepts and inconsistent implementation strategies. Most governments do not incorporate innovation into competency frameworks that prepare civil servants to meet challenges, and close to half have not allocated dedicated funding for innovation.

Perhaps, most importantly, innovation too often occurs in pockets and silos – an age-old challenge of government – such as hubs and Labs. As long as this is the case, innovation may at best burn like a series of bright matches, but will never ignite a fire across government.”

Innovation always involves change. Change must become a natural element of our daily work.  Canada started the process of building this capacity later than other countries. There seems little excuse for its strategy to be labelled by the OECD as “relatively immature”. Today’s public servants and the public who need public services deserve a better approach. It will take a major rethink of strategies and tactics to bring the picture of an innovative public sector to life.  

*The final OECD OPSI report on Canada will be published shortly.

Ed Bernacki has had a long international career working in and with Governments in various countries. His particular interest in shaping processes, tools and idea journals to build skills to innovate.

Turning Ideas into Actions: Personal Idea management

Ed Bernacki - Friday, June 22, 2018

You will see many interesting ideas at conferences and workshops. Some will be worth acting on after the conference. You may see great personal value in some ideas while others could reinvent an organization. How will you turn these ideas into actions?

All great innovations begin with ideas, often small ideas, perhaps little more than an inkling of a potential opportunity. Perhaps, an insight prompts you to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”

As the conference or workshop nears its end, it is time to distil the presentations into ideas, actions, and personal challenges to act on after the event.

Will you be an idea factory?

What I have learned in the process of developing ideas like an idea factory is this, while formal innovation processes are important, we also need a personal approach for managing our ideas. This concept of idea management can be as simple as turning a notebook into an idea journal and developing a personal idea management process. This concept of an idea management process is also necessary for organizations.

Research on corporate innovation by Henley Management College and PriceWaterhouseCoopers looked at 314 British corporations and ranked them on a single factor: revenue from products and services less than five years old compared to total revenue. This was seen as indicative of seeing an opportunity, shaping a solution, and then profiting from the effort.  It ranked these companies and then focused on the top 20 per cent in the survey. They found the high performers develop “critical underlying capabilities” to underpin their success. The first is that they turn their ideas into action via well defined ‘idea management processes’. These processes:

  1. Seek ideas and knowledge widely from customers, suppliers, employees, other industries and competitors.
  2. Allow ideas and knowledge captured to be shared, stored in a user-friendly form, and made freely accessible.
  3. Actively encourage diversity of viewpoint, talent and expertise.
  4. Delay the premature evaluation of new ideas by giving managers considerable discretion to pursue ideas without subjecting them to a formal appraisal.

Idea management processes create a foundation for organizational change and innovation.  The reality is that too few organizations have such systems.  While they have well-defined cash management and HR management processes, the notion of idea management processes is still too rare.

The Singapore Ministry of Defense / Air Force (MinDef) has strategies that focus on both ends of innovation – breakthrough technologies and the small ideas that lead to improvements or savings. Each year it hosts a celebration of ideas and innovation called ‘PRIDE’ (PRoductivity, Innovation in Daily Effort).  In 2002, I wrote an innovation guide that was distributed throughout the annual event. The tradeshow is a showcase of technologies and solutions. It is also an opportunity to reward the small ideas.

Each year MinDef harnesses over 200,000 ideas from military and non-military staff. These are processed and some are selected for more development. In 2017, 128 awards were presented to individuals, groups and units to recognize outstanding and innovative projects. Their innovations and work improvement ideas saved $197 million.

As part of its innovation strategy, MinDef included a focus on the personal small ideas with two priorities:

“Personal Space for Creative Thinking  Space is required in the workplace for the minds to work creatively. An enforced time-break from routine work and a change of environment provide such a space. It gives physical space for people to break out from the physical and mental constraints imposed by the environment.

“Creating the Sparks of Innovation  We need to generate enough number of “sparks” (activists with the inclination towards change and innovation) in the organization to start the “fire” of innovation burning. The critical mass of “sparks” needed to start the fire is dependent on the timeframe within which we want to build the bonfire. The shorter the timeframe, the larger the necessary critical mass. “Sparks” have to be identified, enthused and trained.”

You are an idea factory

To create your idea factory to manage your ideas, you need to create a space for your personal creative thinking on the challenges that you face. At a personal level, most people still find a traditional notebook as a productive tool to manage the process.

Notebooks were once an analogue innovation (about 1800). At some point, someone added elements of structure and calendars to innovate a new type of journal for managing time. Most people use some type of time management system.

Yet time management fails to nurture creativity and innovation.

It is time for more analogue innovation in the form of new types of notebooks that prompt us to make notes and manage ideas more effectively. This notion of making notes and managing ideas as if you are an idea factory is the next evolution in our personal approaches to solve the challenges we face.

This article was originally published at

Innovation would be easy if people thought alike: understanding cognitive diversity and its application to solving the challenges facing defence forces

Ed Bernacki - Friday, June 22, 2018

In Australia, there is a festival that focuses on ‘dangerous’ ideas. The organizers of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas says these types of ideas question assumptions about the way we live and demand that we recognise the potential for social change, and challenge us to act.

Here is a dangerous idea. It starts with a question: Do people think alike? We have 40 years of research to show a measurable diversity in the way people think, solve problems, and deal with change. If so, why is it hard to find examples of how this knowledge shapes our policies and programs? I believe we design our solutions, tools, policies (and pretty much everything else) as if all people think alike.

So what’s the dangerous idea? 

What if we design our organisations, policies, rules, and strategies on the fact that people do not think alike? What if we use the research on these cognitive differences to create new models to recognise and leverage these differences?

– We would stop making people wrong for thinking in the style most comfortable to them.

– We would design systems that actually work for all people, not just some people.

– We would recognise these differences and use as an expertise.

– We would match people to the challenges best suited to their style of thinking; cognitive ‘discrimination’ would seem normal and ideal.

Cognitive style has been explored by many academics.

Dr Michael Kirton studied the problems facing senior executive teams and how they made decisions for a major change.  While he found many weaknesses in processes, he also noticed people seemed unaware of how their style of thinking impacted (or biased) their options for solving major challenges.  This led to an extensive study of cognitive differences and what became a well-tested and used theory of adaption-innovation.

Dr M Kirton created the Adaption-Innovation Theory as a continuum between two extremes in thinking style based on the need people have for structure. This is a normal distribution, with two-thirds of people falling between these extremes. (Kirton was very careful to provide full proofs of all assumptions. These are widely published in academic journals). The following are some characteristics of these styles at the extremes.

Adaptive style of thinkers

  • Adaptive thinkers tend to accept the problems as defined.
  • Early resolution of problems, limiting disruption, and immediate increased efficiency are important to them.
  • They challenge rules rarely and cautiously when assured of strong support and problem solving within consensus.
  • They are sensitive to people, maintain group cohesion and cooperation.
  • Adaptors prefer to generate a few relevant and acceptable solutions aimed at doing things better. These solutions are relatively easier to implement.

Innovative style of thinkers

  • Innovators tend to reject the generally accepted perception of problems and redefine them. Their view of the problem may be hard to get across.
  • They seem less concerned with immediate efficiency, looking to possible long-term gains.
  • They often challenge rules. They may have little respect for past approaches.
  • They may appear insensitive to people when solving problems, so they often threaten group cohesion and cooperation.
  • Innovators generally produce many ideas; some may not appear relevant to others. Such ideas often result in doing things differently.

Knowing that people can be differentiated by their preferences for thinking, solving problems and dealing with change, how can this insight be used?

An interesting experiment was raised in a workshop on cognitive diversity. A participant from the US Army questioned…would a team of highly adaptive thinkers or a team of highly innovative thinkers see a terrorist threat faster? Would these predictable differences in how people use data, link observations, and create insights to solve problems, make a difference in finding threats?

It is a fascinating question.  Experiments have considered much less important challenges. It is an experiment that is well worth doing.

Why is this a dangerous idea?  

Look around society. Look at our policies, rules, and laws. The implicit assumption underpinning virtually everything is that all people think alike. Kirton wrote of the importance of recognizing this difference.

“Our problems have become so complex, and the penalty for not solving them so high, that we need to study the problem solver and the problems we need to solve.”

Most innovation tools practice focuses on the problems we want to solve. We cannot ignore the problem solvers.

The diversity in the way people think is demonstrated by the obvious differences in the way people solve problems, make decisions and deal with change. These differences are predictable and measurable based on the degree of structure needed by individuals to comfortably solve the challenges they face.

Ed Bernacki, the Idea Factory, used the Kirton Adaption-Innovation assessment with 4000 public servants in Canada, including groups at Communication Security Establishment. He also presented on this theme at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Washington. 

This article was originally published at

Dr Kirton main book is ‘Adaption-Innovation in the Context of Diversity & Change’. 

Using Creativity and Innovation tools to improve the process of managing new ideas

Ed Bernacki - Friday, June 22, 2018

This post relates to a request for ideas made regarding this situation:

“I like your post & see how it relates to how we approach problem-solving & the benefits of cognitive diversity. Imagine if a cognitively diverse team designed & tested a potential solution in an iterative way in a lab-like setting. They are moving to a small-scale pilot. Let's say they've attracted interest, including from stakeholders who have different perceptions, interests & motivations. Some perceive the offering as disruptive in negative &/or uncertain ways. Others are ecstatic & see a ton of potential value. Others are sceptical. I'm curious about ways to communicate innovation initiatives & offerings given different attitudes & perceptions. E.g. some might be more receptive to, say, the use of new tech applied to a challenge while others may be more attuned to social impact. How might the team communicate what they're doing & be savvy with their messaging given the different attitudes & leanings people might have in response to the changes & learning they are attempting to advance?”

To explore this issue of communication, I will reflect on five core issues:

1. What is the problem you are solving?

My experience suggests that we present our ideas to solve problems to people who do not necessarily understand the problem as we do. As such, start with a clear and compelling definition of the problem that makes your idea an ideal solution. 

For example, I invented a new type of idea journal for conference participants. To introduce the Conference Navigator Guide to help people see its value, I created this process. At the beginning of a conference, a speaker talks about the need to get as much value from the conference as possible.  They then ask, “Who comes to a conference like this, takes notes, and never looks at them again?” Most people laugh and put up their hand. This defines the “problem” which the idea journal helps them solve. This nudges people to pay more attention to the speakers and make notes that lead to new ideas they can use after the event. 

2. Careful of the words we use

You used the expression, “innovation initiatives”. I suggest you find a better term. The term ‘innovation’ is loaded with jargon and misunderstanding. In reality, it is a solution which you hope becomes an innovation. Otherwise, you discredit a solution that is simply a useful improvement.  Research by AXA Insurance found the 90 per cent of its ideas were improvements. Very few ideas were true innovations. In the service sector, most ideas for change will be improvements to current processes or systems.

3. Innovation skills framework

From the work I did in Singapore, Skill Four of a framework of five innovation skills is communicating or promoting ideas. People could take 2 to 3 days of courses in each skill. When I deliver training on innovation skills in the public sector, I include a range of perspective using my Navigator Notebook - download two pages.  My comments below reflect some of this training.

4. Cognitive diversity strategies  

While it is difficult to summarize a 300-page book on the full theory of adaption-innovation, I will provide some insights.  If we used the Kirton Adaption-Innovation (KAI) indicator of cognitive style, team members would understand the value of their style of thinking and their potential cognitive bias. (See this article for more detail on adaption-innovation).

  • Adaptive style of thinking: Some people will see their strength of being adaptive when solving a problem that needs more structure. They tend to conclude with ideas to make a solution ‘better’. They tend to be good at improving the current situation.
  • Innovative style of thinking: Others will be more innovative. They are good at solving problems with no set process or solution in place. In fact, this can be fun for high innovators who tend to find ideas to do things in ‘different ways’.

We also learn that all people are some combination of these two styles. The model of adaption-innovation is a continuum with Adaption at one end and Innovation at the other end.  Very few people are at the extreme ends. The secret is to notice the style of the people we are presenting to and try to shape words and descriptions to make it acceptable to them.  Shape the presentation to resonate with them.  This can be very frustrating. I think there are too many people involved in innovation who are too adaptive to allow much “innovation” in how we innovate. (This is a great topic for another paper).

Understanding style also helps people see that we can use two idea strategies:  We can….

  1. Focus on creating adaptive ideas to improve the situation: these are “better” ideas.   
  2. Focus on creating innovative ideas to change the situation: these are “different” ideas.

As such, when you are working on ideas, use two idea strategies:

  1. How can we do this better? Come up with ideas to improve the situation or process.
  2. How can we do this differently? Come up with ideas that change the situation or process.

You can then step back to see which offers the best options.

Adaptive thinkers are very capable of finding innovative ideas but it may challenge them. They may be quite adaptive or structured in how they shape innovative solutions. The same applies to innovators: they are capable of creating ‘better’ adaptive ideas. The value of this work is to help people see this distinction, their preference for their style of ideas, and situations when this is useful and when it may not be useful.

You mentioned the notion of “cognitively diverse teams”. Is this a good thing? It may not be.  The adaption-innovation theory suggests we can “discriminate” in team selection by matching the thinking style of individuals to problems best suited to their style of thinking.  

  • If you look at the problem and want to improve the current the situation, you can argue that a team biased with adaptive thinkers would be ideal. 
  • If you look at the problem and want to invent a new solution, you can argue that a team bias of innovative thinkers would be ideal.

Case Studies

I used the Kirton Adaption-Innovation indicator with these groups:

A City of Ottawa customer service team used the KAI. Most staff were highly adaptive. When we looked at their ‘customers’, we realized that many were more innovative. We did some role-playing with adaptive service teams presenting recommendations to high innovators to help them have a better customer experience.

In NZ, I worked with a Regional Health Board. The KAI showed…

  • The Executive team (8 people) was considerably innovative.
  • The Management team (45 people) was considerably adaptive.

There was a measurable gap between the two groups. As executives were excited about the innovative changes in health care management in a period of massive change in the region, what the managers heard was an endless series of changes and challenges.  Many were frustrated by the constant change. When I highlighted this, executives realized they had to communicate these many changes in more adaptive language.  No more talk about revolutionary change.  The language was changed to use words that are more suited to adaptive thinkers (improvements, better solutions, building on our successes, and so on).

I worked with the Innovation team at ZESPRI, the Kiwi Fruit Marketing Board of NZ.  The KAI showed that the team was very high on the innovation side of the continuum. This is natural for innovation teams. The team then explored the idea of being innovative and adaptive in their work. People came to a conclusion that they were being too innovative.  To reinvent strategies was fun and easy to do. The problem is that they often replaced strategies when the old strategies were very effective.  They decided to focus on being adaptive to revive current strategies rather than replace them. This was a huge change for the team. The need to do so was also understood by team members. 

5. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hat is designed for people to think in ‘parallel’, meaning all participants use the same thinking prompt (or metaphorical ‘hat’) at the same time for a couple of minutes. Their comments, ideas and insights are recorded. In use, this takes 10-minutes with participants spending two minutes on each Hat. You can download a one page summary of the Six Thinking Hats.  These ‘hats’ are useful for your example (two minutes with each hat):

  1. What are the facts about this solution? No judgement. (Statistics or research. The need for research may come up.) White hat.
  2. What is good about the idea? It is good because… Yellow hat
  3. If this idea was put into action, what else is possible? More ideas and options. Green hat
  4. Why is this not a good idea? Logical reasons. This is a poor idea because… Black hat
  5. What is ‘my’ opinion of the idea? No need to justify opinions. This helps a team define their interest in this idea. Red hat

Linking this to your idea management process

Six Thinking Hats is ideal for three elements of idea management:

  1. To develop the initial solution or idea: exploring the idea from the different hats can lead to improvements, enhancements or options.
  2. To judge an idea, these insights, which are generated in ‘parallel’ (by team members at the same time), leads to a more robust decision to accept the idea or improve it.
  3. If you use the notes from Six Thinking Hats, you now have the raw materials for several presentation options.

(I used Six Thinking Hats at a Bank of Canada Ideas Expo. Participants proved very successful in developing ideas that they had not heard of at the start of the event.  We did three rounds of Six Thinking Hats. The first was rough as people had to learn the process. By the third round, we had experts in using the hats.)

Linking back to innovation Skill Four: communicating or promoting ideas

The simple approach that seems to work is to make some assertions about the type of people you are presenting your idea. Regardless of your style of thinking, you must present to ‘their’ style. How do people hear your ideas?

Look at the people who you are presenting to…

Big picture visionary innovative thinkers?  

These people are more of the “innovator” style of thinker. Big picture innovative thinkers want the vision of the idea in action.  Help them see the problem you solved, the solution, and what results are possible. Focus on the opportunity you are creating.  Then add some details to show you are thorough in your problem-solving.  This means using insights from the Yellow and Green hats, then followed with the Black and White hats.  Offer some black hat “weaknesses’ to show that you have not ‘sugar coated’ the solution.

Detailed analytic adaptive thinkers?

These are the more adaptive thinkers. Analytical thinkers prefer the prudent approach: start with the details and build to a conclusion.  This means showing a clear definition of the problem, the research you did, why it must be solved, and how your idea is the logical solution. Highlight some Black Hat insights that need to be managed to show you see the risk of a poor solution.  Conclude with the positive aspects of the Yellow and Green hats.

You can design your presentation to the style of the audience.

Note, you mentioned your idea was “designed & tested a potential solution”. The Six Thinking Hats can be very useful to help with this by identifying enhancements to the ideas that participants can identify.

If you learn to teach the technique, it can be very useful to use with users of the solution to get them to see what is good about the solution and some of the weaknesses. This offers you insights for shaping a better solution. A secondary benefit is that all people will know their concerns and opinions have been heard.

I trust these insights will help your quest to launch new ideas.

Ed Bernacki 

The best book on innovation you never read and why you should read it

Ed Bernacki - Tuesday, August 02, 2016

I have read creativity and innovation books for 20 years to explore the ideas and insights they offer.  After a while, many started to sound alike. Each book offers the latest formula for innovation success. Some talk of leadership. Others focus on culture or a special tool. Yet what seems missing is a philosophy to guide our efforts that help to answer some deeper questions. This rush to innovation creates some interesting contradictions.  

  • Problem-solving processes are now called innovation
  • Continuous improvement is now considered incremental
  • Innovation needed a new label, ‘disruption,’ yet, true innovation always was disruptive; that’s why we called it innovation, not an improvement.
  • Design thinking, with a focus on ideation, diverging and converging simply extends the original work on brainstorming (read Applied Imagination – I suggest the 1963 version).

I believe that all of this work can be summarized by two truths;

  1. Talking about innovation and expecting that this makes you innovative is as effective as talking about physical fitness and expecting this makes you fit.
  2. Organizations do not innovate: the people inside organizations innovate – and this is why it is never simple.

It’s a bit of nonsense to talk about how Apple or 3M innovate.  They are legal entities. If you want to understand how organizations create original ideas and turn them into innovation, focus on people who solve the problems by creating ideas which may or may not become innovations. A book worth reading is, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation by Robert Grudin in 1990.

This is a book about innovation but not about tools or processes. It’s a personal philosophy for innovation.  One reviewer suggests, “Remarkable in its understanding of the creative process, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation is unique in being both a witty, practical handbook to freer thinking and a philosophical meditation on the place of the creative individual in a modern democracy.” He approaches leadership and innovation from a rarely-discussed perspective; “Innovation is a lonely art as the leader who looks out to the frontier must face away from the people who follow.”  

The book has sections on the Creative Mind, the Ethics of Creativity, and the Politics of Innovation.

A chapter on the Pains of creativity prompts us to consciously endure the pain as this has resulted in some of the greatest expansions in technology and human progress. People must be open to all experiences—including those that are painful—to fully harness creativity. However, we often shrink away from pain and try to avoid hurtful situations to maintain a certain level of comfort. We learn to value security over achievement and eventually settle at a level far from the top rung of the ladder. Grudin contends that people simply seek to avoid the risk of failure as the stakes increase. For the development of our own careers as well as for the betterment of society, he calls for a shift from harm avoidance to embracing painful moments He defines four pains everyone who creates will recognize:

Pain of Perception – Our senses can alert us to the comforts and pains around us. Do we close our minds to troubles around us as it is too hard to confront them? If we raise objectives, we also expose something of ourselves, and a pain of being unable to deal with what we observe.

Pain of Expression – Sitting in front of a keyboard, turning something over in our minds leads to paralysis. We face the big moment and can’t move forward.  This pain and fear also offer a great hope; when we manage to act, it leads to great joy.

Pain of Closure – We work hard on a project and stop short of a result. We feel that working on a creative project is enriching, yet completing the project could result in seeing that the result is poor. It is bolder to say you are writing a book than admitting you wrote a bad book. Yet this act creates the satisfaction in what is gained or understood.

Pain of Self-Suppression – This pain can occur at any time in the process. It is the pain of discovering that our thinking is seriously flawed. We may choose to rework a project or throw the whole project in the garbage.  The cost of this pain can be the loss of boldness to initiative new projects. He then provides a chapter on courage.

He reminds us of what is important: The recalling of beautiful things, whether they are your own experiences or the achievements of others, is a creative act. Simple ideas can be restated by rote, but profound ideas must be recreated by will and imagination.

Grudin also wrote a book that caught my attention, Design and Truth’ which is described as a ‘path-breaking book on aesthetics and authority’. He said, “If good design tells the truth, poor design tells a lie, a lie usually related . . . to the getting or abusing of power.”

This is my next book to read. You will not find profound insight by reading tips or ‘how to’ articles. You must study insights to find the truths that work for you. Simply calling an improvement an ‘innovation’ is nothing short of a lie.  While we need to develop skills to improve what we do, we also need to focus on true innovation.  This is what defines the grace of great things.

Ed Bernacki has been writing on innovation and creativity for 20 years. His new book is about to be published. 30 Great Ideas: Building Innovation Skills and Capacity for the Public Sector Professional. www.PSIdeaFactory. He also published on conference design and the need for innovation in our events.

Did someone say be more innovative?

Ed Bernacki - Monday, March 14, 2016

Ed Bernacki is a highly published international author and writer on innovation themes. He provides new and original insights in a jargon- and cliché-free way. Some of the articles come from his upcoming new book.

Changing the way we think

I wrote an innovation guide for the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office to help launch a national innovation skills development programme called, ‘Changing the way we think’ reflects an attitude expressed by Albert Einstein. To paraphrase his words, you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.

“The Public Service is building a culture of innovation. By doing so, we create new strengths and capabilities for the future – but it means changing the way we think in some ways. This handbook starts your journey.”

These words from the Singapore Guide are true for anyone working at any level of public service. This book also starts your journey. This collection of articles and case studies gives you a practical understanding of what it means to be innovative.

Trying to make sense of innovation is like reading George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty Four. He introduced the word, ‘doublethink’ to describe a term which has two contrary meanings at the same time. Doublethink is a good way to describe this confusion. Some say innovation is the successful implementation of new ideas in any aspect of an organisation. This is useful. It is necessary but not sufficient to say that implementing an idea is innovation. You need to see results as well. Now consider the definitions used by academics and consultants. They have us to focus on:

Incremental innovation: minor improvements to existing services or processes

Radical innovation: fundamentally new ways of doing things

Yet if you look to the work on continuous improvement you will see that the definition used for continuous improvement is the same as incremental innovation:

Continuous improvement: minor improvements to existing services or processes.

So why do we call improvement a form of innovation? That is a good question. Calling something innovation does not make it innovation. It creates the illusion of innovation when the truth is that we improved something. Do not underestimate the value of improving the way we work. Most ideas in the public service will be improvements of two types:

  1. Improvements that make processes and services more effective.
  2. Improvements that make processes and services more efficient.

There are more doublespeak variations of innovation. A recent publication introduced 11 different flavours; Radical, Incremental, Breakthrough, Open, Closed, Proactive, Active, Reactive, Passive, Eco and Social innovation.

I suggest you ignore the intellectual debates and focus on what really counts. We need new ideas in all aspects of the public sector to deliver high quality services. We also need new ideas to shape organisations that engage people who work in them. Section one is a no-jargon and no-cliché presentation of innovation concepts from my work in Singapore. Here is the definition that I believe captures the vision for innovation.

“Innovation is more than improvement. Continual improvement and innovation work hand in hand. Improvements are important but innovations are like a quantum improvement that breaks new ground to create value in new ways.”

Focus your efforts on two types of ideas:

1. Ideas to make ‘my work’ more innovative
You are the ideal person to make your work more innovative. Research highlights that most ideas are created by people working on their own to solve their challenges. In other words, you need to create your own idea factory. Andrew Demetriou, the retired CEO of Australian Football League expressed this well; “Just because something is not broken does not mean it can’t be improved.” The first step is to ask, “Where do I need new ideas to make my work more innovative?”

2. Ideas to make ‘my team’ and organization more innovative
Many organisations have an idea suggestion programme (often called an idea management system). These are ideal for harnessing the ideas of staff. Some ideas can solve a problem that no one has even noticed. Others can share an idea that can apply the team or organisation. Start with understanding how to brain storm effectively.

You are an idea factory

Creativity and innovation offer many tools and processes. The broader your tool kit for solving problems, the more innovative you will be. This takes new skills. Solving problems in new ways with original ideas also takes practice and confidence.

It will mean changing the way we think.

We need people who can solve problems and shape new initiatives to improve and innovate. We need people who can champion new ideas. We need innovationalists.

Now, it’s up to you.