Unfreezing the innovation permafrost

At a recent Australian innovation conference, one of the presenters stated that “inertia leads to irrelevance.” Suggesting that some organisations, and even some governments who are inactive, passive and even lazy about making changes that modernity demands are actually in a state of resistance. To succeed in a digital transformation process, or in implementing a competitive and systemic innovation strategy, organisations, and governments have to proactively deal with and resolve people’s inherent and natural, resistance to change.

This made me wonder what really causes people in organizations to resist or disincline motion, action, or change? What really makes them resist implementing innovation as an accelerator of business change, competitiveness, growth, and value?

Permafrost and resistance to change

Another presenter called this a state of “permafrost” suggesting that organizations are behaving as if they are permanently frozen, “year, after year.” In some ways, it’s a bit like being inside A Game of Thrones  – where you win or you die!

Why might some organizations be “staying at rest” when there are so many possibilities and opportunities available to them, in the current business environment? Which offers options to grow, nurture and sustain their competitiveness and relevance to customers and key stakeholders. Yet, they are still in a state of resistance to change, which essentially blinds them to what ‘could be’.

Staying relevant 

It may be quite simple; in that, all organizations only exist because they are successful at being relevant, in some way, to a customer. Who is generally willing to exchange value (usually money) for a benefit (usually functional, purposeful or emotional) they receive from their experience, a product or service.

With globalization, data overload and digitization making so more options and choices available to savvier, smarter and discerning customers, it seems quite bizarre that so many organizations have allowed the permafrost to set in. Not just because it causes stagnation, it also depletes capability, resources, and loss of motivation and minimization of efforts.

“Winter brings cold dry harsh weather and trees are without leaves.” – Lailah Gifty Akita, A Game of Thrones

It all starts and ends with culture

At ImagineNation™ we know that culture is easily described as “the way things get done in an organization”. What most people don’t understand is that it is expressed by the “messages” that get sent. These are most often demonstrated by peoples’ (especially leaders) behaviors, which in turn, are generated by their needs, values, beliefs, and mindsets about what’s important or valued mostly by the organization.

People often build affiliation and comply so they can fit in, get their jobs done. They will usually do whatever it takes to survive in an uncertain world by focusing on securing their jobs, even if they hate them. Messages are also communicated by the organizations’ core focus (sales, customer, production, and/or profit), systems (especially communication and reward and recognition) and artifacts (what’s important to show others, often to illustrate how important you or they are).

Unfreezing the permafrost – the four key steps

Rather than resist, and allow the permafrost and winter to really set in, what if brave organisations consider exploring and experimenting with working with and at the same time, reducing people’s resistance to change?

Our research proves that there are four key fundamentals that will facilitate this and accelerate innovation as a lever of business change competitiveness, growth, and increasing business value.

  1. Articulate a really, really compelling and coherent reason to change; become passionately purposeful

To venture down the innovation path the first crucial step is to articulate a really compelling and coherent “why” or necessity for innovation – because “necessity is the mother of all invention”.

At ImagineNation™ we describe this as igniting your “passionate purpose”. It’s usually to solve a business or customer problem or to exploit an opportunity that may or may not yet exist in the marketplace. Doing this makes innovation a “necessity” which is demonstrated by the executive teams’ conviction that a solution to the problem or the opportunity exists.  It is not yet known, because it exists as a “hidden possibility” that has infinite potential to make a difference to the quality of peoples’ lives in ways they value and cherish.  This requires being able to work “both” with “what is” (already in existence) and with “what could be” (the solution that lies hidden).

Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.” – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

It also involves stepping into a ‘not knowing’ mind state, which creates an empty space and allows something new to emerge. This is also very challenging for some leaders because it is not something you “do” as a task or as an activity, that you can “control” or willfully force into a preconceived solution. It involves “be-ing” willing to let go of old paradigms, judgements and assumptions, and of limiting beliefs. It also involves connecting and exploring the present to the whole system, to discover the potential and possibilities it offers.

  1. Develop a common understanding of the impact and role of culture; be intentional to leverage culture strategically as a lever for innovation

To shift a culture, it’s important to have a common understanding, acknowledgment, and acceptance of;

  • What is really going on? What is causing or creating the existing organizational culture?
  • What the desired or target or future innovation culture might look like?
  • What are the gaps between the current and desired cultural states?
  • What are the key supporting and inhibiting factors and adaptive business problems?
  • What are the key priorities and possibilities towards “both” closing the gaps “and” creating the desired future state?

“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

At ImagineNation™ we know that an innovation culture can be contextualized, measured, diagnosed and benchmarked through applying human-centered design processes and the OGI® quantitative tool. Supported by qualitative research that identifies both the explicit and implicit factors impacting change led innovation efforts.

Seeing innovation a lever for effecting changes that customers want and need, and don’t yet know they want and need, that adds value, in some emotional, purposeful or functional way, to the quality of their lives.

  1. Develop a clear strategic intent and plan to innovate; be willing to align and contextualize what innovation means, and what it doesn’t mean, in your own organisation

To develop an innovation culture, it’s crucial to have a clear systemic perspective and strategic intent for innovation.  This needs to be supported, enacted and embodied by the board and executive team, and aligned to the Passionate Purpose. It is important to:

  • Define innovation in your unique organizational context.
  • Focus on the type of innovation to pursue; disruptive, breakthrough, differential or incremental.
  • Develop an explicit language around innovation that people can relate to and habitually use.
  • Develop an engaging communications plan about the intent, role, and nature of the innovation intervention/process to enroll people in it.

At ImagineNation™ we know that organizations that see innovation systemically and strategically, and not as “tick the box” episodic and short term solution, program, training course, workshop or event, deliver sustainable outcomes. They see it as a long term strategy, to really reap the business benefits and results that innovation offers them and work on making innovation a habit.

  1. Be prepared to develop a culture plan to risk mitigate the permafrost from really setting in; whilst being curious, confident, courageous, compassionate and connected to the human factor, the people in your organization

At ImagineNation™ our research revealed five innovation killers that are alive and well in the majority of organizations, that are foundational to resistance to change.

“Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Because innovation involves unlocking, igniting and harnessing people’s collective genius then knowing “both” how acknowledge, “and” work with the five innovation killers outlined below, is critical;

  1. Risk Adversity
  2. Resistance to change
  3. Fear of failure, unknown, uncertainty, loss of control, status, looking silly
  4. Complacency
  5. Competitiveness and not collaboration.

“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

This can be done by investing in cultivating people’s innovation agility, to engage, enroll and empower them to execute a successful innovation culture development process.

Creating a psychologically safe environment are critical for maximizing rather than minimizing the crucial human and people factors in innovation enables organizations to respond constructively and reduce the impact of the five killers on business performance.

What to do about it?

Our combined years (too many perhaps) of experience at ImagineNation™ with some of the world’s best companies globally in the high performance culture, leadership, team and innovation arenas assures us that the root causes of organizational permafrost; resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change, essentially to resist innovation, can potentially be resolved.

To develop a culture where the spirit of innovation flourishes and reducing peoples resistance to change, by boldly committing to these five key steps;

  1. Align the board and executive team to demonstrate conviction and commitment to embracing “both” a strategic “and” a systemic perspective to innovation.
  2. Flow with “both” with “what is” “and” with “what could be” in regards to clarifying a meaningful passionate purpose for innovation.
  3. Work “both” with “what is” “and” with “what could be” in terms of your current and target cultures and building the internal capability to transform it, aligned to technology, systems, and artifact innovations.
  4. Respond constructively by creating a psychologically safe environment where people have permission to experiment and fail, to challenge convention, and collaborate rather than compete with one another.
  5. Build peoples’ readiness and receptivity to change led innovation, by cultivating their agility confidence, capacity, and competence. Through customised agile education and blended learning programs and awaken them from complacency, arouse discomfort and resolve their fears, and ultimately accelerate change.

“A craven can be as brave as any man, when there is nothing to fear. And we all do our duty, when there is no cost to it. How easy it seems then, to walk the path of honor. Yet soon or late in every man’s life comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose. (Maester Aemon)” George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

So might be your fundamental choice towards unfreezing your organizational permafrost!

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviours and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at janet@imaginenation.com.au to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.