Thursday, May 22, 2014

Live from FEI 2014: David Jensen on Agile Innovation

Agile innovation is the art of making hard things easy and leveraging digital to enable new viable business offerings faster!

One of the toughest aspects of innovation is that it needs to move at the speed of business. Companies need to create quickly to get first-mover advantages, fast ROI's, and sufficient prototyping to perfect the new product/service. Shareholders will not wait, and neither will competing startups, which means that firms need to engage in agile innovation. As explained by Ernst & Young's David Jensen, agile innovation is about finding problems worth solving and finding ways to catalyze the innovation process through high flexibility and fast iteration cycles.

Many of the principles of agile innovation are aligned with some of the recent scholarship about creativity and innovation. For instance, agile innovation requires high tolerance for failure and the ability to use it to change course, which effectively means taking little bets whose outcomes can be realized quickly in order to guide the innovation process. Moreover, while many companies are inclined to keep innovation processes internal, Jensen points out that agile innovation actually requires companies to think outside the firm. Whether this is working alongside customers[1] or creating innovation challenges, the aim is to interact with a wide range of stakeholders. Another hallmark of agile innovation is the freewheeling communication and self-organization that is common in the most synergistic teams[2]. Each of these principles requires acceptance of ambiguity[3] and the ability to refrain from closing off ideational avenues prematurely[4].

On the operations side, Jensen reviewed some of the primary ways to set up high-impact teams. First and foremost, there must be sufficient trust and psychological safety for people to contribute their best and most creative material. Second, there needs to be shared responsibility and accountability, so that every member of the team understands the importance and value of his/her contribution. Third, the team needs to be comprised of people whose skill sets fit the innovation goals under which the team was formed. Finally, the freewheeling communication also needs to have transparency, such that there is shared language and everyone knows how to contribute[5].

There is a wealth of advice out there for any company that wants to learn to innovate, but where Jensen's talk really shined was showing how firms can be agile enough to make innovation happen quickly. As Teresa Amabile points out, the key is for everyone to be innovators on a mission!

Orin's Asides
1) See Adrian Slywotzky's Demand for discussion.
2) See research by Keith Sawyer (example).
3) See work by Eric Abrahamson (example).
4) See Arie Kruglanski's research for more (example).
5) There is an extensive amount of research on this topic.  For overviews, see work by Hackman & Oldham and Katzenbach & Smith. For more detailed analysis, see work by Eduardo Salas.

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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