Customer/member centricity, Innovation, Leadership, New Ideas, Organizational Culture

What it Takes to Convert New Ideas into Action

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The Challenge

  

Most of us play it by ear when it comes to the execution of a new concept. Our focus is on acquiring ideas or informationplanning, reading, discussing, hearing or analyzing them. When it comes to execution, we rely on the same old tools we always used and settle for ad  hoc activities and initiatives.  

Yet one cannot achieve systems-wide change by understanding the concept or generating detailed plans. This is
especially true with the execution of the complex challenges we are grappling  with today
customer centricity, innovation, reinvention,  market positioning.  What these require  are fundamental changes in the way an organization thinks, behaves, does things  and conducts business.   

This means that we need to understand how to convert a new vision/direction into a different type of organization with a different DNA rather than new products and strategies.   

It is the execution of change rather than the ideas where the rubber meets the road. Yet there are no tools or systems
approaches for
executing innovation. 

  Hurdles to execution

´´Execution of change vs. implementation of plans. In the first place, execution is not the same as implementation. Per Dictionary.com, to implement is to put into effect according to, or by means of, a definite plan or procedure. To execute means to perform or accomplish something,  as an assigned task; to carry out.  In  other words, execution involves carrying an idea to action and getting results but allows more leeway in how you get there than simply following instructions. The big challenges organizations are grappling with today involve execution in the sense of conversions of  abstract concepts into action rather than the implementation of a specific plan.  Associations, like other mature businesses, still use linear tools such as planning  and implementation rather than conversion, re-configuration, re-orientation and culture change.

´Separation between planning and execution: In the book, Agents of Change: Crossing the Post-Industrial Divide leadership guru, Michael Maccoby, and three colleagues who studied 4 cases of transformative change in 4 different organizations, talk about the common assumption that there should be separation between thought and action, rooted in 19th
century thought: 

The classical view, carried  into modern sociology by Max Weber is that scientists should be detached and
objective, above the battle.
  

They conclude that this view is a fundamental flaw in the conventional strategic  planning practices. It is impossible to go directly from thought to action,  they say, mainly because the objects of the analysishuman beingsalso act.

´´Product and efficiency orientation:  Organizations of all types fail when they misjudge their customers and their needs. The problem is that conventional, top-down organizations are not set up  for the level of customer focus, understanding, flexibility and response needed  to meet the changing needs and expectations of today’s customers. They are set  up for production, sales and efficiency rather than constant learning and  innovation. Their actions are driven by tasks and deadlines vs. customer  problems and the pursuit of constant innovation. Cultures and practices driven  by risk avoidance and fear of failure vs. continuous experimentation and  adaptation. Such mental  habits, assumptions and practices are in dissonance with today’s markets and  block growth and innovation, yet are embedded in the DNA of most of our  organizations—business and non-profit alike.   This means that the foundational piece for executing innovation is
changing the way the organization thinks and behaves.

Strategies and tools for converting change concepts into action

 ´  Rethink your approach and tools: Two of the most effective approaches to the execution of innovation are Design Thinking and the Lean Start Up methodology.  

´ Rethink your planning processes: In the book, Beyond the Idea: How to Execute Innovation in Any Organization the
authors argue that conventional organizations are built for performance vs. innovation  and that the “planning process of a performance engine is not right for an  innovation engine.” They outline a strategy for converting new ideas into
action.
(See also their slide share summary). 

´ Integrate idea and action: learn by doing: Don’t rush to the  finish line. Opt for on-going development, instead. In Design Thinking there are no hard boundaries between the design  process and the finish line. Product development is “iterative”– prototypes are  developed in several stages, with each stage of customer feedback resulting in  improvements that, in turn elicit more feedback and more improvements. In a way,  no product or idea is ever “finished” in that conversations with customers,  adaptation and reconfiguration are constant. 

´ Use prototype development.  Instead of the linear, conventional  tools of planning, data gathering, best practices and lengthy deliberations, learn  to take ideas to market rapidly and inexpensively through structured processes  of prototyping and testing that involve continued for customer feedback.   In all these new, human-centered  approaches, there is a bias toward action over theory and planning.  Instead of waiting for the perfect product  before you launch, you test a concept through inexpensive prototypes. 

´  Focus  on people rather than data. In Design Thinking, the focus on the user  experience rather than data. The assumption of is that data-driven information  is misleading and inadequate as you primary tool for building. The only
information that counts is a customer-member’s reaction to his/her actual  experience of a product, idea or service. Prototyping is a quick and inexpensive way you can make your early idea usable, so you can go back to your users and
get their feedback. 

´ Become comfortable with ambiguity. Discomfort with the “grey” area, leads to risk aversion, hierarchical  organizations, lack of innovation etc. The goal in design thinking is not to  create the perfect plan and eliminate all risk before launching, but to quickly  set up a  learning process by allowing  potential users to experience and react to imperfect versions of a product or  idea. You mitigate risk, not by endless planning and data analysis, but by  getting closer to potential users and engaging them and your colleagues in a  process of learning and co-development. In Design Thinking, there is a culture of experimentation and trial and error and really understanding the pain points  of the human beings involved in  this process are really the critical dimensions. Generating  ideas and data is only a small part of the change process. A great deal of  effort has to go into re-thinking how you convert ideas into action and embed them  into your organization’s DNA. And this is by far the hardest type of change that  requires deliberate action, discipline and a long-term perspective. 

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