Making innovation count

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From measurement to control

So innovation measurement is critical — and its absence shows up in pretty graphic fashion. Trying to run a start-up without keeping an eye on key variables like cash flow is a good recipe for quickly becoming an ‘end-up’. Project managers who don’t keep a sharp eye on key milestones and progress towards them may find themselves in trouble for overrunning budgets, falling behind timescales or missing key delivery dates or marketing windows. So far, so obvious; we need to monitor something as uncertain as innovation carefully.

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Image: Mike from Pexels
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Innovation accounting

Whether course correction or full system reboot innovation management is about creativity and control. Which puts the measurement system at the heart of things. From the operational improvement loops typified by the ‘plan-do-check-act’ (PDCA) cycles which underpin shop-floor process innovation through to project-level control, innovation measurement not only gives us better control but also offers an opportunity to learn. PDCA tools continue to drive the kaizen approach (little improvements from everyone) which make lean and six sigma such powerful approaches; companies like Toyota can point to half a century or more of successful growth on the back of this. And what we’ve learned about innovation management at system level (embedded now in the ISO standard) has come in large measure from careful analysis of success and failure at the project level and building operating routines out of that.

Double loop learning

Another way of looking at this challenge comes from the work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schon and their concept of double loop learning. They argue that organizations not only need a control loop but also the capacity to step back and review and reset that control system — what they term ‘double loop learning’. In a highly simplified analogy it’s like a central heating or air conditioning system; the thermostat is a single loop control which makes sure the room temperature is maintained at the level we set it to. But changes in the environment — a sudden cold snap or heatwave- might mean we need to rethink our needs and step in to reset the controller.

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john bessant

john bessant

Innovation teacher/coach/researcher and these days trying to write songs, sketches and other ways to tell stories