August 6

The 2nd Operating System; Innovation

What is life? Is it (a) a product of movement, respiration, sensitivity, homeostasis, excretion, respiration, nutrition and growth; (b) a time to stand and stare; (c)a minestrone served up with parmesan cheese.

Whatever it is, life is never dull; particularly it seems if you are unlucky enough to live in soap-opera land. But whatever we think of life, however we experience the world around us, we are all doing so on a split level. So whilst we are absorbing and consciously reacting to the stimuli pouring into our senses, we are relying on other bodily functions to carry on regardless.

This ability to react to and influence the world around us whilst relying on an underpinning of basic functions and instincts is particularly highly developed in some athletes. With Wimbledon in play at the time of writing I wonder how many of the competitors have followed Malcolm Gladwell’s rule that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything, sporting or otherwise. Certainly endless hours of practice mean that when a particular shot is called for the player knows that their muscles and tendons will respond. So whilst the conscious mind of the player is reacting to the opponent, the conditions and the court, the sub-conscious gets on with making the shots which are required.

Business leaders could learn a lot from this conscious/unconscious division of duties, particularly when moving to an innovation culture. When the behaviours needed to drive innovation such as chaos, creativity, transformation, agility and adaptability are so at variance with the more traditional core business management models of risk mitigation, efficiency and so on the fear is that innovation permeation could cause the business to suffer.

The solution is for businesses to create an ecosystem where the core of the business is protected and can maintain momentum whilst a separate operating system allows innovation focused efforts and behaviours to be driven forward. John Kotter has recently described this as what he calls the dual operating system. That mirrors my latest thinking on how to drive innovation (the future) whilst managing current business (today), graphically represented by a box inside a box. In the middle box sits the core business processes which carry on regardless while outside them sits the innovation box in which rules are played with, people are free to challenge and try new stuff in pursuit of excellence and where exceptional customer experiences are developed. The idea being that hopefully, over time, new ‘stuff’ then filters down into the central box. Becoming ‘the way we do things around here’.

Just as a tennis player relies on their inner core to deliver the shots and movement called for by their creative playing mind, so an innovative business can rely on their core strengths to deliver the innovative solutions called for by their second operating system. These factors will vary from business to business but in general the core strengths could be seen as hard factors such as growth, strategy, differentiation, ROI, sustainability etc whilst the second system softer factors may encompass creativity, fun, intrapreneurship, collaboration and learning.

At any given time an organisation’s innovation strategy will need to change, to adapt to the operating environment as well as the changing demands of customers and the positioning of competitors in the marketplace. If significant change is needed then more of a radical innovation strategy may be needed; but where reinforcing the core is a more suitable strategy it may be prudent to take more of an incremental innovation approach. The impetus for innovation is different for each organisation and will change depending on external influences at any given time.

Innovation should also be focused in as specific a way as possible. Innovation should be used in the most part to consistently answer the question “what will make us unique?” With that in mind it’s ok to be just ok at some stuff. The trick is to truly understand where you need to be exceptional and focus innovation efforts in that direction, as that is where it will have greatest impact.

Finally, it is important to recognise that even though innovation is often spoken of in terms such as chaos and creativity that is a long way from anarchy. Innovation is not a void of process; it is a by-product of being exceptional. Organisations need an innovation process to manage opportunities through to implementable outcomes. The trick is to understand the core hard factors within the business and to surround them with the innovation operating system so that the organisation is transformed.

If driving innovation and building it into your organisations culture is a current strategic challenge, get in touch and see how we can help.

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Innovation, Innovation Culture, Innovation strategy, Leadership, Strategy

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