In October of 2011 I decided that it was time I’d spent more time at the gym. All of a sudden, I wanted to take care of my appearance. I’ve always been this skinny guy with a high metabolism. And on a cold October night in Columbus, Ohio I decided that I wanted to change that. Armed with a quick workout from bodybuilding.com, I was set to start building my dream body. Or so I thought.
In November of 2011, I saw no progress. Worse yet, I started feeling something weird in my right shoulder. A couple of weeks later, the weather got colder in Ohio, and the pain got worse. So I decided to see a doctor. As it turned out, I had impinged my right shoulder. Basically I had severely inflamed my rotator cuff, and was scheduled for rehabilitation.
So much for a muscular version of me.
That injury stuck with me. And for the people that know me personally, they’d know that I suffered a couple of other injuries afterwards (torn ligaments in my ankle, herniated disc in my lower back). But that shoulder injury was different. That shoulder injury happened because I wasn’t prepared to weightlift. I injured myself not because the equipment was defected. Nor because there weren’t proper gyms on Ohio State’s campus. I injured myself because I wasn’t prepared.
Several years later, I still find myself skinny as I’ve ever been. However, my interests have changed since then. I used to be interested in bulking up. Now I’m interested in innovation. And what’s ironic is that the same logic that made me injure my shoulder is the logic enterprises are using to become more innovative.
Ohio State has at least seven recreation centers/ gyms on campus. And yet I still injured myself. So what justifies the logic of building incubators and accelerators that are equipped with every single tool out there when the employees aren’t prepared to use them?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You see, you’d still need resources to be a more innovative company just like you do a gym to be fit. But there are sequential maturity phases that an organization needs to go through in order to become more innovative. Just like I shouldn’t be working out to Arnold’s level when I’m just starting out, your company shouldn’t be pulling business moves like General Electric when your employees aren’t even prepared and taught how to find problems worth solving.
Your company is likely going to go through maturity phases as it builds its capability to innovate, and it all starts with people. No matter how many bells and whistles you provide to your employees, their chances at success will be dwarfed if they’re not given the proper training and education.
Arnold can justify being on a program that has him deadlift and squat (two very complex exercises that could put your body at risk if not performed properly). But I’m no Arnold, and your company isn’t Procter and Gamble if you’re just starting out. So don’t get hyped and start engaging your employees in open innovation because you’re not going to like the outcome. Just like I can seriously hurt myself deadlifting, you can hurt your company’s reputation and diminish its resources if you’re following the likes of Google and Apple in how they approach innovation.
Companies like Google and Amazon engage themselves in a lot of acquisitions. They keep an eye on upstarts and new companies, and occasionally buy them out. Why? Because they do business in a sector that undergoes rapid change. As a result, their approach to innovation is tailored to that environment. So if you’re a manufacturing company, perhaps it’s not a good idea to innovate like Google. Think of it this way: Usain Bolt is a master at sprinting. He trains to become better at it. Put him in a marathon, and he will likely not be a favorite. He doesn’t train to be a marathon runner because he doesn’t compete in that environment.
The point I’m trying to make is this: don’t just imitate what other innovative organizations are doing and expect similar results. That’s a very weak innovation strategy. It’s even weaker if you’re copying the strategy of a company that competes in a different sector. By all means, you must learn from the habits of successful companies and how they’ve tailored innovation as a practice to fit their ambitions. However, you should set to find what works for you. What that means, is that you should understand your organization’s current level of maturity and make business moves accordingly. Open innovation, for example, is a path to innovating that you’d aspire to create for your company, but it will only work for you once you’ve developed the right capacity and capability to engage in it. Developing an innovation portfolio to manage your ongoing initiatives is useless if you’re just starting out. A diagnosis of your current state, as a result, becomes a necessary first step in your quest to manage chaos and deliberately build innovative enterprises.