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Submission #108

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Submission information
Submitted by Mark Karkenny
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 7:43pm

Innovation Strategies for the Practitioner:  A ‘Paper Workshop’

Have a pen and paper (or a computer screen) handy. Take a moment to consider a great idea you have for constructive change – an idea that would make things better, improve morale, increase productivity, result in better customer service, or higher quality products or services. What problem could be solved, challenge overcome, process improved, or opportunity seized?  Now write down your idea, initiative or innovation. Seriously, right now, write or type it.

Now imagine what success would look like – what would change or be improved? What would the benefits be and are there any potential negative aspects? Write your responses now, being as specific as possible, in a few sentences.

Now I want you to think BIG ….no even BIGGER!  What would “Wild Success” look like? What if your initiative ‘went viral’? Instead of improving one process, solving one vexing problem, or overcoming one significant challenge, could your initiative be applied across your entire division, other regional offices, your entire organization, your industry? Are there other industries that might benefit? Write down now what ‘wild success’ might look like in a few sentences. Hold these thoughts!

By leading ‘from the middle’ I mean anyone, at any level, initiating or influencing constructive action when you do not have direct authority or control of the resources, policies, or staff necessary to accomplish a desired outcome. You need the help and cooperation of others to collaborate for success. “Unauthorized Progress” does not refer to ‘conspirators’ working around the bureaucracy, but rather ‘pro-spirators’ who take proactive initiative to achieve the mission, and don’t wait to be told what to do. I’ve identified six criteria decision makers use to determine if they will support new initiatives. The criteria, and statements to evaluate the initiative you‘ve just written, follow. Rate your initiative for each statement from 1 to 5 (1-Strongly Disagree to 5-Strongly Agree). If you honestly assess your initiative, it will not likely achieve a ‘5’ in all categories and this exercise will identify areas where you can improve your idea. Rate your initiative.

  • Relevance:  My initiative is closely aligned with, contributes to, or achieves organizational goals.
  • Value:  My initiative, if implemented successfully, will have a high return on investment.
  • Risk:  My initiative has a high probability of technical success and isn’t overly complex.
  • Support:  My initiative is likely to gain broad support among stakeholders and leaders.
  • Downside:  My initiative has relatively minor negative aspects that can be easily mitigated.
  • Resources:  My initiative can be implemented and sustained through available funding/staffing resources.

When you innovate and challenge the status quo, not taking action is not an option! Eight steps for leading change from wherever you are follow. What steps have you already taken with your initiative and what is the next step?

  1. Decide which challenges to work on first.
  2. Identify, evaluate and evolve ideas/solutions.
  3. Gain early buy-in of stakeholders and mitigate/eliminate concerns of ‘challengers’.
  4. Take reasonable risks and seek opportunities – address criteria decision makers consider.
  5. Develop an implementation plan – consider the most effective strategies to use.
  6. Implement/Pilot-test your idea/solution.
  7. Learn from failure/setbacks – try again!
  8. Measure and prove your progress and impact.

Often, despite our best efforts, our innovation initiatives fall short of expectations or even fail. In my experience observing hundreds of innovators, the most common reasons for failure fall into six areas. Prior to implementation, if you anticipate the possibility of any of these issues impacting your initiative, you can mitigate or eliminate many of the causes of failure. Which of these could impact your initiative? 

  • Insufficient qualified staff/resources
  • Insufficient time/Results take too long
  • Insufficient stakeholder engagement
  • Ineffective feedback system
  • Unanticipated derailing event occurs
  • Anticipated results not achieved

I have identified 12 implementation strategies successfully used by innovators to enact their initiatives. Some are listed here and are often used in combinations optimized for the specific initiative and workplace. Consider if one or more of these strategies might be helpful to implement your idea.

  • Demonstrate a “Bias for Action”
  • Become “The Expert” on your specific challenge and initiative
  • Find a Champion who supports your efforts
  • Use a Third Part to “Market” your idea
  • Build the Business Case
  • Network/Team/Partner for success
  • Prototype or Pilot-Test the change

In the foreword to Unauthorized Progress, former Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Thad Allen, quotes Arthur Ashe in his guidance for those working for constructive change. This quote is particularly relevant to innovation practitioners.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”  Arthur Ashe

I wish you the best of luck in your innovation journey. If you are interested in receiving a short summary and description of the 12 implementation strategies (and when to best use them) email me at [email protected]. Also, if interested, you can learn more about leading from the middle and inspiring stories of people leading from wherever they are to achieve meaningful and often extraordinary results, check out Unauthorized Progress here.


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