Innovation begets the evolution of an organization delivering profit and brand visibility. However, innovation is possible only if people are engaged enough to keep their eyes open to spot it.
When Rowan Gibson writes and speaks about the Four Lenses of Innovation, he actually aims four loaded bazookas at the people of any organization! Rowan is bang-on (pun unintended), because radical innovation implies radical change – not just in plant, machinery and processes, but also people.
Gibson rightly believes that innovation comes from looking at the unfamiliar, to spot the unseen – discovering opportunities that are ‘hidden in plain sight’. He has observed that most successful innovation stories are dominated by four ‘lenses’:
Challenging existing orthodoxies: Encouraging people to look at existing – even deeply entrenched – organizational practices, only to turn them on their head. This requires an energizing organizational climate – and a whole lot of guts! The custodians of corporate orthodoxies are usually tenured hands, with set ideas – often sitting in powerful places.
Harnessing Trends: Observing which way the wind is blowing and unfurling the Company’s sails in that direction. Leaders are not soothsayers and this ‘lens’ requires more than sniffing the breeze. It requires a unique partnership of the eyes, the mind and heart. Ratan Tata’s Nano idea was born when he saw a large family precariously perched on a hot-selling motorbike. It was so obvious, yet no one else ‘saw’ it!
Leveraging Resources: Radical innovators view their organizations as a pool of competencies and strategic assets. By ‘de-coupling’ a few specific skills from existing models, they leverage them into growth opportunities. This ‘remixing’ of skills creates new and more effective capabilities that bring the innovations to market. It’s okay to look outside, but the answer may well lie within.
Understand Needs: Empathizing with, and feeling the ‘unvoiced’ needs of customers. Giving customers what they don’t even know they need! Radical? Think about online shopping. We didn’t know we needed it before the likes of Amazon. When Domino’s made its 30-minutes-or-free delivery promise, the ‘quick-bite’ concept turned on its head. Innovations like these have made a radical difference to our lives today!
Gibson’s Four Lenses model has seen enough success to make him one of the busiest consultants and speakers in the field of innovation. Fair enough!
But let’s face it. The majority of the employee population considers innovation to be a bitter pill. One that ejects them from their comfort zone and into that purgatory called retooling! Basically, any change is first considered a nuisance.
Even so, for any innovation to succeed, it has to begin with people. At every level, people must start the innovation process from within themselves first.
Mindset: Anything new must begin with a change in mindset – this is where all the negativity and baggage is piled up. So once the idea has been approved, and the key stakeholders are convinced that it is indeed innovative, the dusting of the cobwebs in people’s minds must begin. Mindsets can be changed through communications, social media, road shows and person-to-person contact programs, conducted by evangelists who passionately go about converting their flock. It is not enough making changes in the production line, or processes, people themselves must change.
Competencies: While Gibson propagates decoupling and leveraging existing competencies, innovation often requires sourcing externally available talent. Sometimes a large part of the ‘innovation’ is about re-engineering existing processes – and the people who run them. Stress, uncertainty and tears notwithstanding, if the results are tangible – significant savings, efficiencies, and/or profits – the management may consider it worth it! It would need some sensitive handling, though.
Climate: Innovation can only happen when the organizational climate is conducive to new thoughts, and fresh perspectives are respected. And we all know that Organizational Climate is directly related to prevailing leadership styles. Only High Performance and Energizing climates are conducive to, and benefit from, radical innovation. That’s because people are engaged enough to see things with all four of Gibson’s lenses! More to the point, their leaders encourage them to do so and build vehicles, repositories and incubation units to gather and nurture good ideas till they grow into good businesses!
The archives of organizations are loaded with bright, workable innovations that have never seen, and may never see, the light of day. Worse, some even move over to competition. From light bulbs to lasers, many great innovations have been laughed out of one boardroom, only to become wildly successful in another! Simply because people, even top brass, were not engaged enough – or maybe lacked the ability – to ‘see’ opportunity, only to regret later. Regret usually precedes losses.
Nevertheless, the world’s most innovative companies are also some of best places to work. What’s their secret? Their people are intently peering through their own four lenses – consistently!