There are so many innovators who give birth to a breakthrough idea only to realize that the hardest part is yet to come. It is one thing to have an eureka moment (or develop, for example, an innovative business model in a systematic FEI process), and another to make your organization find your innovation as striking as you do – let alone to implement it and make it work for your company. In the following, we want to spark a discussion about how we can provide innovative minds with best-practice methods and instruments that help them put their ideas through. By Dr Friedhelm Böttcher and Michael Riedemann
Struggling against invisible walls as a corporate innovator …
Given that innovation is indissolubly intertwined with change, part of innovation failure can be understood as lack of preparedness for change. As John P. Kotter, a well-known leader in the fields of business, change, and leaderships has stated it, the success rate of change processes and initiatives is at merely 10 percent. Experience shows, that specially those concepts fail that go beyond traditional business – and are beyond the minds of many decision-makers and coworkers. Too often, it seems to be almost impossible for innovators to penetrate the invisible walls of silo thinking and well-established routines. One the one hand, these routines and thinking habits facilitate management (and tearing down the walls can mean tearing down profit). On the other hand, silo thinking can lead to a serious loss of agility, capability to adapt change, and ability to generate future growth. Weighing the immediate risks for business through change against possible risks that lay ahead in the (seemingly) distant future, decision makers often tend to rather avoid current risks and threads than future ones. Which is quite understandable, but not very wise, given the ever-increasing speed of transformative change. The future becomes now, and future risks are immediate risks. Considering the “what-if” too long can put the entire company at stake in almost no time at all.
… or an M&A-start-up
Another important, and very concrete, reason for innovation failure is that – especially SMEs – simply lack the resources to successfully conduct innovation and change processes. Understanding their limitations, these companies often seek to close the innovation gap and compensate their lack of agility through acquiring promising start-ups that seem to fit their business model. But M&As of start-ups are far from being a no-brainers. After all, companies must consider many things in order to make the acquisition a success with regard to increased agility and innovation capability. They must always keep in mind that not all start-ups are able to develop their business model by their own efforts. Very often, they need to be supported by the core organization as well as to be provided with access to vital resources, business know how, or business networks. Furthermore, they need help in developing organizational structures. But this only one side of the coin. The other side is that the core organization must be willing and able to adopt innovation, accept change, and exchange with the start-up to transform novel ideas into successful innovations. Like internal innovators of an established company, incorporated start-ups must be enabled to overcome hurdles to innovation through exchange and communication.
Re-inventing communication? Easier said than done
Today, it has almost become a commonplace that communication is key to innovation success. The trouble with the term ‘communication’ is, as Dehm and Bormann have pointed out, that it allows a nearly endless number of different interpretations. The most common misconception about communication is based on the classic sender-receiver model, thus mixing it up with information. Experience shows that is not enough to provide internal target groups with comprehensive information about change processes and innovation initiatives to motivate them to think outside the box, become involved, and collaborate in an unbiased manner.  It is, on the contrary, much more likely for them to develop resistance against any innovation project if you came up with page-strong (doubtlessly highly informative) instruction manuals or guidelines telling them what to do or to change next. In the worst case, such a manual would share the fate of many works of J.P. Kotter, who exclaimed in desperation: “They won’t read the book!“ If we agree that communication should be more than information, how shall we understand it in the age of continuous change driven by new technologies? One possible answer to how we can re-define communication is: Let’s start and keep asking the right questions – before coming up with turnkey solutions. Let’s ignite a dialog about how to reinvent communication that has all the makings of a solution for overcoming the hurdles to innovation and bridging the communication gaps between innovators, decision makers, and company sectors.
Some questions as an invitation to dialog
The complexity of our world with its highly complex tasks requires new forms of cross-sector, cross-industry, cross-border collaboration. No company, no organization, no industry is an island. We all depend, and will increasingly be depending, on dialog-based communication, one of the most important instrument of which is asking questions to trigger exchange. Here are some questions about communication we consider useful. Each of them is an invitation to dialog.
- Do we need to develop an innovative, re-defined, more emotional and empathetic understanding of communication that is able to build bridges between specialists, sectors, and industries?
- What would this redefined communication have to be like, in order to enable unbiased and fruitful collaboration models across all sectors and industries?
- What tools, means, and channels can organizations use to overcome hurdles to target-oriented collaboration and innovation?
- What role could play innovation platforms in the company’s intranet in overcoming internal obstacles to change and innovation?
- Do we need completely new communication tools, processes, and means beyond the existing ones?
- How can we involve and engage people in processes that address important future challenges and issues?
- How can we trigger commitment and participation?
- How can we foster change readiness and agility in organizations?
- How can communication help initiate and support the development of new business models through target-oriented collaboration between innovators and decision makers in organizations?
- How can communication sustain change processes in a dialog-based manner?
- What role do time, cultural aspects, and individual characteristics play in decision-making processes?
- Is it time to skip traditional target-group models and borders between b2b and b2c communication?
- What are the limits of communication, and to what extend should we respect them (see the example of current developments in Social Media)?
Did the authors of this article forget something? Do you agree or disagree in some points regarding innovation and change issues as described? What are your or your company’s experience in the field of innovation and collaboration between innovators and managers? We look forward to exchanging with you and collaborate with you in finding answers on most pressing questions.
Please feel free to join our discussion on futurebizz.de. You will also get the opportunity to take part in our next Think Tank on the topic of “How to implement innovation in business?” More information will follow soon.
 Cf. Wolfgang Dehm, Bert Bormann, „Wandel zum Anfassen“, in: OrganisationsEntwicklung Nr, 2, 2007, p 31
 Cf. W. Dehm, B. Bormann, see fn 2
 Cf. Dehm, Bormann, p. 31 et sqq.
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