Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Understanding Innovation

I attended a meeting recently with a client to interview a company my client hoped to hire for a project. The meeting went well, the expert was on her game, and I received one of those little Aha!'s so necessary for continued personal and professional growth.

At the end of the second hour as the meeting was about to wrap, my client talked reflectively about the many projects we had initiated at his company in the last two years. It was in his reflection that my gift was hidden. He said, "See, Jamie keeps trying to fix us with all these things. I don't see us as broken." Boom! Without meaning to or even realizing what he had said, my client revealed a deep assumption and misunderstanding crucial to the sustainability, relevance, and continuation of our work together. In this casual remark, he told me that he believed that change was necessary when things are broken, that change was a fix. Therefore, it follows, unless something is broken, change is not necessary, bad. (If it ain't broke, don't fix it.) After two years of close collaboration, I was saddened yet thankful to be handed his root level belief.

Change is highly misunderstood. Change in itself is not a goal but a method. Change is the process by which things become other than they are currently. Things can change for the better or for the worse. Change can happen with intention - you initiate and manage change. Or, change can happen to you - the marketplace factors move and you don't react or change in response. This resulting gap is what I call the relevance gap and it is creating by a company maintaining the status quo, not staying in step with the environment.

Change should be undertaken not to fix things but to re-align. Change for change's sake is futile. Change in order to re-align, re-new, or re-situate is innovation, and innovation is a critical strategic skill. Innovation is not invention. Innovation is the chronic process of analyzing the critical market factors of your industry and the evolving needs of your customers and situating your company, its knowledge, and its people to meet the current demands.

Innovation, change, is what keeps you the same. Change is what allows you to maintain your valued market position. An organization does not change itself. Instead the leaders of a company or institution can initiate change which means to bring the knowledge and resources to the system so that people can re-consider their automatics beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors. New knowledge and understanding can help people in organizations challenge their limiting concept of what is necessary, their confining ideas of what is possible. New knowledge and understanding can enliven strategic imagination. New knowledge and understanding undermines the status quo so that the people can innovate and re-new the business they engage in together.

Change does not fix broken systems. Change innoculates systems from becoming broken.

Change is a lesser word. Let's come to understand innovation and alignment because they convey more meaning, intention, purpose.

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