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Innovation is the buzzword everywhere in the media, in daily conversations and at work it is repeated so often that it has lost its ability to excite.
Innovation is the buzzword everywhere in the media, in daily conversations and at work it is repeated so often that it has lost its ability to excite. In business circles some people refrain from using it as it has become a cliché and words such as genesis are favoured! However, it does not matter what you may call it, the essence of the thing remains very much the same, namely from whatever there is, the process of innovation or genesis creates something new, fascinating, and most importantly it disrupts the status quo.
What I said above is nothing new, the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase “creative destruction” in his theory of economic innovation and business cycles in his 1942 book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. Today the idea of creative destruction is well accepted. Not only businesses but also whole industries are undergoing radical changes to cope with the destruction, or excel and commercialise the opportunities that are the result of many waves and cycles of creative destruction.
What about us as individuals who are part of, and in the midst of the creative destruction of not only the economic system, but also the global, environmental, social and cultural structures. In some ways we are the creators of this tsunami, and we suffer or transform through the destructions while we create the new and the incredible. However, not all of us cope with the pressure, excitement and resulting changes that pervade and transform every aspect of our lives. What makes the difference?
In the same way as in business and society, the process of creative destruction happens at the level of the individual too. Most lives are touched by periods of upheaval often initiated by change in one or more aspects of life such as issues with work or relationships or loss of loved ones. Upheaval does not always starts with a negative trigger, it can be a promotion or an unexpected large sum won in the lottery, suddenly unleashing the wave of creative destruction. What ever it may be, same as in businesses and industries different people react differently and embrace the wave with different levels of enthusiasm or resistance.
What makes the difference in the ability of individuals to handle the wave of creative destruction is their difference in awareness of the impact that external changes have on their internal state, and their internal reaction to these changes. William Bridges, in his book “Transitions” describes a threephase process connecting external change with internal transition, identifying the different pace of external change and internal transition as the main difficulty in coping with change, particularly when events of external change happen faster than inner transition.
Understanding that interconnectedness of external and internal events is a key point for individuals today. Change resulting from technological innovation is not only transforming industries but is transforming the very nature of work, relationships and community. As exciting as our new gadgets at home and work may be they are heralding an era of radical change in ways we work, find our sense of belonging and identity, and the way we relate to other people and the world. Surprisingly we can learn a considerable amount from the transformation of the industries and businesses we work for or run to adapt to our personal transition and change.
Innovation starts with uncertainty and the aim is to reduce the uncertainty at each stage and make decisions and investments that will lead to creation of the desired, product, service or state/structure in the organisation. The term “fuzzy front end of innovation” describes the high level of uncertainty at this stage in the process. In a business setting, usually before embarking on the process of innovation and delving in the fuzzy front end, there is a collective acknowledgement that the way things are done in the business today will not continue to support growth and even sometimes the survival of the business is at stake. New innovation projects ideally will not start before there has been enough time spent in the fog of the fuzzy front end to make sense of what it is that the business wants to create. The process resembles descriptions of the process of transition by Bridges, where he identifies three phases, namely, ending, the neutral stage, and the new beginning. The ending can be seen as the equivalent of the recognition that the way things are done does not work in the business anymore, the neutral phase is the equivalent of the fuzzy front end and the innovation project resulting from dealing with the fuzzy front end is the equivalent of the new beginning in our personal lives. A new beginning is a continuous project, containing already the future cycles of maturation, ending and neutral phases in it, very similar to the innovation pipeline of a modern organisation.
Businesses that embrace the process of creative destruction today, either willingly or due to market forces, have a higher chance to transform and remain competitive in an increasingly complex and uncertain future. At an individual level too, it is increasingly a necessity to proactively be innovative and engage with the creative destruction of the workplace. There are three steps that are necessary to capitalize on the creative side of the process:
Explore: there has never been a better chance and easier access to information and knowledge, capitalise on it.
Anticipate: A mind that explores the world learns to anticipate the next wave as it identifies patterns and trends, learns to give meaning to information, and therefore is less overwhelmed by unknowns.
Take action: the proverb goes that “knowledge is power” however, if we don’t act upon it we will still be the prisoner of the status quo.
Opportunity is the twin sibling of change; it depends on how we decide to react to change. When we force ourselves through it, it becomes a grind. If we give ourselves the time and permission to go through the process, change becomes opportunity.
Pantea Lotfian is an innovation management coach who has worked with innovation teams and executives in various industries over the past decade helping create the insights required for decision making with foresight.
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