Innovation Leaders: New year – time to revisit your innovation eco-system! 10 things to think about

nurtureSimon Evans, InnovoFlow Ltd

Are you waiting for the next “innovation initiative “ before thinking about how you are going to approach innovation in 2014?  Could I make a suggestion?  Let’s start now!

In previous blogs (  we have explored the concept of the innovation eco-system (the collection of processes, people, strategies and architectures that define your innovation environment), and the role of the Agile Innovation Leader as the “gardener” that nurtures it.

Looking ahead to the end of winter, let’s look at 10 things you as an Agile  Innovation Leader could think about as part of a spring clean of your innovation environment!

1) Honestly appraise the status of your innovation approach.

  • Ask yourself if your innovation process is designed to exclude new ideas?
  • Consider when your organisation talks about risk, do they mean avoiding innovation that takes you into new areas and involves solving new problems?
  • If the answer to these questions is yes, you are probably locked into a Zombie Innovation Trap and need to develop your Agile Innovation Leadership – think about the following.

2)  Remind your key stakeholders of your role as an Agile Innovation Leader, and show them how you can help them be more successful.  What is your role title?  Chief Innovation Officer? Head of strategic innovation?  VP of disruptive Innovation?  Whatever it is, you are responsible for nurturing the innovation eco-system and ensuring its health.  You will need tons of cross-functional support to achieve this, so make sure your key stakeholders are supportive and understand how visualising the eco-system model can help them achieve success.

3) Re-examine the eco-system model you built last year (you did build a model last year right??).  Refresh your memory on what you said you would do.  What innovation processes have been successful?  What have not?  What processes were missing that you implemented anyway? Is the model still fit for purpose?

4)  Check your metrics. Assuming you have some measures for success in place, how much of the plan have you achieved?  What barriers prevented you from completing it?  What can you learn from this?  What successes can you wave in front of your management?

5) Carry out a barrier analysis – identify and mitigate the barriers that are blocking your progress.  Unleash the energy!

6)  Challenge yourself to move your organisation towards the embedding of innovation thinking in core business.  Identify 3 high impact target leaders who could assist in  driving this.  Spread the innovation culture – it will not happen by itself.  Be prepared to fight your corner!  Run some workshops and get people enthusiastic for the possibilities.

7)  Rework the eco-system model so it is fit for purpose this year.  Hold a facilitated workshop to brainstorm a new eco-system model fit for the next 12 months. Keep it fresh, keep it different, free your mind and maintain an agile approach.  Involve at least one new person in the discussion this time round.  Include the sceptics.  Successful innovation requires the input of a diverse range of thoughts and ideas.  Keep the mix of people moving

8)  Check Your Business Model. Is your business model in alignment with your innovation strategy or is it going to work at cross purposes and reduce the value of your new ideas?  Helping to innovate the business model is an important part of your role.  Without alignment you will throw away a lot of your ideas.

9) If you need some inspiration book an innovation leadership workshop and gain some external perspective and think about things from a different direction(e.g. a workshop from InnovoFlow Ltd.)

10)  Play “InnovoZone, the Innovation Game” with your stakeholders and clients.  Remind them of the eco-system model and the importance of driving the health of this to maximise the innovation velocity of your organisation.  Explore radical new ideas for innovation processes and see what difference they can make.  Have some fun and work out a way of improving our innovation capability.

Go and make a difference in 2014!


What is the role of collaboration in driving innovation?

Image1While talking to organisations about their innovation eco-systems (see previous blogs for details), we have made some interesting observations about the nature and challenges of collaborative innovation.

When Henry Chesborough investigated the success and failure of ideas at Xerox Park to become new technologies and services that delivered new value, he noted that those ideas that were successful within Xerox were those that fitted Xerox’s current business and innovation model. In other words, potentially up to 70% of ideas cannot be turned into value because the organization may be trapped in dead models of innovation. Who can afford this level of waste due to inflexibility and lack of innovation agility?

Collaboration is essential for building a culture within which innovation can be truly agile, and adaptive can-do behaviour is the norm. Effective collaboration depends on shared understanding of the current innovation eco-system that the business has designed to deliver new value.

Agile innovation leadership creates and leads the shared environment of the innovation eco-system, and collaborative behaviours and technologies accelerate the essential transactions within it.  This ensures the accuracy, timeliness, and absence of redundancy of the transactions by adapting the current approach in real time. This attention to the processes and links between them ensures that ideas can flow easily through the eco-system with no hold-ups.

In studying these linkages between innovation, collaboration and business models, we have started to think about this collaborative layer of interaction as the “dark matter” that glues the innovation environment together and makes it run smoothly and fast.  This is because frequently we find collaborative transactions are not explicit or visible in the innovation process, and this is a major risk to the seamless progress of ideas.  One of our primary objectives in business is to build and maintain innovation velocity – that is the rate at which an organisation develops new value, and it is precisely this that makes effective collaboration so critical to the innovation process.

So how do we ensure that the innovation eco-system delivers the agility that will maximise the number of innovations passing through it?  This is clearly the role of the Agile Innovation leader.  They must:

  • Oil the wheels of the innovation eco-system by ensuring the collaborative behaviours needed to keep ideas flowing are healthy, complete and effective
  • Shine a light on the “dark matter” to make it visible and explicitly part of the process so it can be managed.
  • Prepare the organization to be flexible and adaptive in their business model designs to minimise the waste of ideas.
  • Remember at the end of the day, it’s not about technology, it’s about people talking to each other that will make things happen

Attend one of our workshops to explore this further.

Turning Innovation Upside Down

It’s time to do things differently.  Strange as it may seem I am going to advocate reducing the emphasis on ideas when thinking about innovation.  “What?” I hear you ask.   “But ideas are at the core of Innovation”.  Well, so they are, but they are not the only game in town.

The time is right to spend some of your effort in considering the health of your “innovation eco-system”.  See previous posts on innvation ecosystems, but briefly you can consider this is the total collection of “Stuff” that forms the innovation environment.  The people, architectures, culture, skills, strategies, events etc that allow ideas to be created, developed and their value realised.

We at InnovoFlow believe that unless you are aware of and actively manage the health of your eco-system then you will be forever struggling, and you will find yourself always frustrated and constrained.

Rather than continually questing for the next big idea, try spending some time modelling your eco-system and asking yourself the hard questions.  Have we got the right people involved?  What processes are  missing?  Is there a shortage of resource?  Are you open to change?  Are you organised for success?  Are you lucky?  How can you change your luck?  Have you identified the rebels?  Do you consider the absurd?  Have you looked outside? etc etc etc

If you are honest with yourself and get this right the ideas will flow naturally as you will have a highly creative environment.  Get it wrong and you will continue to be stuck in treacle.  Be “Free to Innovate”.

If you would like some help in assessing the health of your innovation eco-system contact us at

Freedom to Innovate – What does it feel like?

At InnovoFlow, we often talk about developing the “Freedom to Innovate” in our innovation leaders, but what does this really mean?  What does it feel like if you actually achieve it?

Well, maybe we can start by looking at situations where you do not have this freedom.

  • You have 300 emails a day
  • Your boss is shouting at you to improve a strategic business process but then piles on the pressure to deliver something else with fewer people and less time
  • “We always do it *this* way
  • “This has always worked in the past”
  • “We are setting up an innovation team and it will have *these* nominated people in it”
  • “You must use *this* technology”
  • Your performance plan does not mention the word innovation
  • Pressure pressure pressure
  • You get valuable face time with collaborators but everyone is reading their email at the same time (see 1st bullet!)
  • “Don’t talk to the customer you may raise their expectations”
  • Days, weeks years, pass with nothing changing

We have all been there!  I for one do not like the feelings implied by this list.  So what does freedom feel like?  Just observe one of our innovation workshops and watch the joy on participants faces when we hit them with their first challenge allowing them to actually thinnk about something new and watch them find out that they are having a lot of fun.  Everyone is so excited.  Watch the ideas flow!  Characteristics of leaders who are free include:

Find your own freedom to innovate

Find your own freedom to innovate

  • They smile a lot
  • They take thinking time by going for a walk in the woods
  • They have permission to break the rules
  • They involve the mavericks and trouble makers
  • They talk to their customers
  • They can look outside their own organisations
  • They keep in touch with friends in other organisations
  • They seek out the unusual
  • They enjoy coming to work
  • They look for the win-win
  • They take risks and are allowed to fail
  • They will inform their thinking with play
  • They say “Let’s do something different tomorrow”
  • They have won the resources they need
  • They are successful!

Where do you fit?  Do something different today

New Year, New Approach to Innovation!

Book your oragnisation on our new



“Visualising Innovation Eco-Systems” workshop now! 

Special New Year’s prices available.

You will:

●    Experiment and learn with many hands on games and practical exercises
●    Practice creative thinking
●    Understand what innovation is in relation to your organisation
●    Look at Innovation Eco-Systems and how to populate them
●    Tell stories to learn from experience and diagnose problems with your innovation capability
●    Try building new eco-systems
●    Spot and overcome the barriers
●    Have Fun!

Included are take away copies of “InnovoZone, the Innovation Game tm” – normal price £400!

What our customers say:

  • “Excellent mix of interactive tasks”
  • “Great opportunity to take time out and think laterally”
  • “Excellent workshop”


No British Companies in the top 100 Innovative organisations?

Simon Evans, December 2012.

I almost fell off my chair eating breakfast this morning.  A report on the radio indicating thatthere was not one British company listed in the top 100 most innovative organisations! The Thompson Reuters list of 100 top global innovators makes for uncomfortable reading if you are British.

Can this really be true?  If so, we need to wake up and smell the highly innovative coffee beans!

For  the last couple of years, we at InnovoFlow have been asking companies, large and small, about how they view their innovation processes.  The outcome of these conversations has been very interesting.  Many, or maybe most, companies feel constrained in their approach to innovation, they are lacking the freedom to innovate.  This could be due to financial pressures – “we cannot afford to innovate until the recession is over” –  or lack of acknowledgment that times have changed and the approach to innovation needs to change too “we always do it this way, it’s always worked before”.


How do we break through this barrier and give innovaton leaders the freedom to innovate at increasing innovation velocities?

One way is to step back and view your innovation process as an eco-system.  This innovation eco-system provides an holistic view  and allows you to appreciate the breadth of options available, and to ensure that all parts of the process are nourished and working efficiently.

“InnovoZone, the Innovation Game TM” provides an environment which supports this analysis in both a diagnostic way, and also in a competitive dynamic simulation  (let’s call it a game!!) which forces you to confront real business decisions to develop your innovation capability.

We believe that this approach can give organisations some real momentum to drive innovative innovation and create real freedom for the innovation leaders to finally make a difference.

See detail at the innovoflow website or contact Simon Evans directly.

Visualising Innovation Eco-Systems

Alpine flowers

Fragile eco-systems (photo Simon Evans)

How do we look at the big picture of Innovation?

There are many different models of innovation out there, and they all have their respective merits and challenge our thinking in different ways.  In this (hopefully) post recession world however it is time that we take another look at how we are all looking at and thinking about our innovation capability.  There is a common perception that innovation is getting harder (see any of the recent Boston Consulting papers for example), and that our “freedoms to innovate” feel like they have been curtailed.  Our successful approaches in the past may no longer be good enough in this new world – unless we refresh out thinking there is a danger that we will end up stuck in the past trying to repeat those successes.

Innovation as we all know is not about a single magic formula, or a process that we can just implement and succeed.  It is instead a complex environment of subtle influences and capabilities which will vary wildly from place to place dependant on the emergent situation.  It is also very delicate– it takes little to upset it and prevent it from working well.

In this blog I would like to explore how we might describe innovation as an eco-system that supports and nurtures our ideas and extracts the maximum value from them.  Maybe we can gain some insights and regain our big picture understanding of what factors make innovation a success in today’s world.

Why an Eco-System?

The term has been used by a number of people in the past , but came into focus for us at InnovoFlow when it was suggested by a workshop client.  When asked, “what message will you take home from the workshop?” his answer was “I like the way there is a holistic overview of all the things that make innovation happen – it’s like an eco-system of inter-dependant habitats”.  This was spot on – we can imagine an effective innovation space as having different zones of activity – habitats if you like, filled with all the nutrients, symbiots,  life-forms and substrates (as well as a few predators), that are needed to make a healthy and successful eco-system.

By following this model we can start to help people know  what goes where and understand why it is needed and if anything is missing.  We can also help them understand when the eco-system needs to adapt or change, and give them the tools to construct an adaptive,  functional architecture that is a reflection of the current opportunity they face and the resources they can afford – we must remember there are no free lunches, only lunches that meet the needs and pockets of the diners.

Populating the Innovation Eco-system

Let’s imagine that our innovation eco-system has  4 habitats or zones as follows:

  • Creativity – those things that inspire and generate ideas and allow us  to identify those ideas with greatest potential.
  • Development – The activities which tend to add potential value to our idea and make it into something real.   Without this zone we would just have a pile of useless things that will soon be forgotten.
  • Value Realisation – once our ideas have been validated and built into a real offering, it is time to release that pent up value and make the idea do some work!  Some form of value generation is what it is all about of course and so this activity is critical to our ongoing success, without it we may as well not bother having and developing ideas.
  • Leadership – or perhaps we should term it Gardening?  Those activities that nurture the innovation eco-system and keep it healthy so that the other three zones can do their work of processing ideas quickly and with the greatest possible value add.

So what sort of activities could we place in these zones to populate them?  We must be realistic, scarcity of resources will not allow us to introduce everything we want to, but each habitat/zone must have sufficient processes and activities to ensure that ideas are created, developed and then value generated within the most efficient framework possible.  It is important to remember at this point that ideas cannot exist in a vacuum – as Alfred North Whitehead observed, “Ideas won’t keep.  Something must be done about them”.   In this model it means that at all times, your ideas must be supported by one process or another within the eco-system zone.   Without this the ideas will wither away in the breeze.  We can picture our ideas being born in the creative zone, and then moving through the various habitats while a variety of processes add value and solidity to them.  Maintaining the balance within and between the zones is the key to efficiency and innovation velocity (as measured by the rate of flow of good ideas through the system).

Some things are obvious.  In the Creative habitat we should not be surprised to see a selection of processes such as  idea management systems, crowdsourcing, open innovation, or unlearning, but what of “softer” things like courage, finding the non-conformists or allowing time to pursue personal projects?  Similarly considering our Development habitat, obvious things like development teams, joint ventures and open source developments may spring to mind, to which we can add less concrete things like diversity, rainmakers or maybe the value of taking a walk in the woods.  Leadership processes might include a management team willing to adopt new ideas, luck (self made), innovation strategies, the impact of working environments  or knowledge sharing.

The Importance of Visualisation

To stop the analysis simply becoming  shopping list of things that you want to do, it is important to physically populate the eco-system habitats on paper or a board so it becomes a very visual and you can start to map out the pathways your new ideas might take through the eco-system.  It also becomes painfully obvious where you are missing capability or resources and so you are less likely to have a nasty shock as your idea gets stuck somewhere unexpected.

At the very least, this approach makes it clear that a huge variety of different factors are at play here and that keeping your innovation eco-system healthy is not just a matter of training people to brainstorm, setting up an innovation initiative  and installing an idea management system (however valuable that tool might be!).

When using the model it is important that whole end-to-end life-cycle of the ideas is represented and clearly visible so that each step can be supported in a deliberate way, with sufficient resources so that the required activities actually work in the environment.  If this is done well, then not only will the innovation capability will be more coherent and efficient, but also there is a good chance you will find it much easier to argue the case for funding as the processes that drive the returns are considered with the same weight as those activities which generate the ideas in the first place!


The eco-system approach to innovation can be summarised as follows:

  • Visualise your innovation space as consisting of creative, development, value realisation and leadership zones
  • Ensure that each of these zones is populated with a variety of “things” (processes, people, skills, philosophies, events, architectures, strategies etc.) sufficient to meet your current challenge effectively and within any resource constraints.  Ensure that as much attention is applied to the value realisation zone as the creative zone (which of course is very sexy and is where a lot of the fun is).
  • Imagine your ideas appearing in the creative zone and moving across the the other zones.  Ask yourself what do you need to do at each stage to maximise the flow of ideas and the potential value that is added to them
  • Be prepared to have multiple eco-systems – one size approach does not fit all situations within your organisation.
  • Be adaptive – be an agile innovation leader!  Continuously remodel the eco-system as needed to keep up with emergent trends.  Be aware of the need to change approach, have the freedom to innovate – don’t be constrained by the way things have always been done.
  • Practice these skills routinely so your thinking is always being challenged.  Test your model and see what might happen if you introduced some new thinking.
  • Have fun – innovation should be fun, engaging and exciting and involve everyone in some way –  we are all sharing the same eco-system after all!

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”  Albert Einstein