Category Archives: Organizational Innovation

The Way of Innovation


The word “innovation” conjures up positive imagery. We see it as something we want to be known for. It’s creative, desirable, inspiring, and we sense that if we can do it, if we can achieve it, we will lift ourselves up above the status quo, not to mention those who are quite comfortable in the box of convention.

cavefiguresHow to be innovative is of course the question and that is what this little article is about: the way of innovation and a call for the kind of leadership that fosters innovation throughout the organization.

Anticipate Tomorrow
This is both a mindset and a discipline and require that a leader accept that anticipation is rife with uncertainty. In other words, at the same time as a leader must try to plot the future course of the organization, he or she must also understand it is impossible to do so with certainty. Continue reading The Way of Innovation

Thinking about How I Think

A prospective client asked me to come talk with a few board members about how I think about transformative change and how I might help their organization work through some significant short-term and long-term challenges and aspirations.

There was a time – when I was oh so young — when I might have gone and talked about various models that could help them with change management or strategy development, but in these chaotic times I have no prescriptions or magic bullets to offer.

So I prepared a brief document that focused first on my perspective, attitudes, and mindset about transformational change. I thought these were more important to talk about to the client because they didn’t really expect a one size fits all model; I figured they wanted to engage a consultant who offers a way of seeing and being that fit their aspirations and culture.

Here are some highlights of what I spoke with them about: Continue reading Thinking about How I Think

Thoughts about the Imagine Canada Forum

Got home a bit ago after taking in the Imagine Canada Forum here in Edmonton. I estimate 80, maybe a hundred folks attended, so a pretty good turnout. This was the first of the provincial forums Imagine Canada will be doing over the next several months.

I extend KUDOS to the organization for embarking on a journey with others in order to create some pan-Canadian strategies to both strengthen the nonprofit/voluntary sector AND ensure that the public (including business and government folk) truly understand the value of the work and results delivered by nonprofits and volunteers that make a difference in the lives of Canadians.

A few thoughts on the day.

Information on the size of the sector was presented and discussed, and it is impressive. The sector as a whole, for example, represents 7.6% of the GDP – that’s about $110 billion. Not chicken scratch. I have written before on the big numbers and I won’t repeat them here. But I do want to stress again how important it is to not to let the big numbers impress us to the point of not looking deeper into the data.

Simply put, we need to know more about the sub sectors of the BIG SECTOR. Not because they don’t share some of the same trends and issues (like the changing nature of volunteerism and its lack of growth overall OR the dissipation of government funding)., but rather we need to understand them better within the context of re-shaping (some say reinventing) the entire sector.

I agree with the Imagine Canada crew that we need to identify those big “drivers of change” that impact the sector across Canada. And I agree, we will never reach consensus on what to do about them or how to use them. But to try to move forward as a sector without understanding the profile and specific challenges of the sub sectors would be like, at least for me, trying to change one’s community without sufficient understanding of what community members are facing, their capacity to change, and how their priorities fit with the overall priorities of the community.

Each sub sector has a distinct revenue profile. Some get lots of government funding. Some don’t. Some rely heavily on membership revenues; other don’t. Many (over half) have no paid staff. Some are much more dependent on volunteers than others. Some have the capacity to engage in big new ventures (social enterprise, social media, social innovation), but others (likely most) do not.

In its draft “framework for action” Imagine Canada identifies 7 drivers of change, which are:

Driver 1: The increasing importance and influence of social innovation in Canada
Driver 2: Structural shifts in the revenue base which supports the work of charitable and nonprofit organizations
Driver 3: Shortage of talent to strengthen and lead charitable and nonprofit organizations
Driver 4: Lack of growth in the number of volunteers to govern, support and promote civic and community organizations
Driver 5: Heightened demand for transparency, accountability and communication of impact
Driver 6: Growing need for transformative partnerships among charities and nonprofits and with other sectors
Driver 7: Increased use of social media and new technologies for community engagement, outreach to youth and networking

I agree that all of these are drivers of change and Imagine Canada’s identification of these has come from many conversations across the country with others. It’s an excellent list and I applaud IC for wanting more eyes to look at them and more voices to dialog about them. At the forum we were asked to prioritize them, and all but one of the tables did so (except mine – we were labelled renagades… in good fun of course).

It’s too early to prioritize them I think. And I am not sure if having each compete with one another is the way to go. Actually sounds like the “old way” of figuring out priorities. In fact, I would suggest all seven are priorities because they are interdependent. Drivers three and four are about people (staff and volunteers) and to tackle the challenges will involve being innovative (Driver 1), generating resources (Driver 2) and reaching out to youth (Driver 7) and could very well call for new kinds of partnerships (Driver 6).

As well when pitted against each other, we run the risk of not addressing things that must be addressed like social media (Driver 7) which frankly would not make the top three or four in my opinion and yet I propose is a huge strategy that enables progress in the other drivers. Anyway. Food for thought (I hope).

Also at the forum we talked about the need for a cultural shift because the changes that need to be made cannot be made by maintaining the norms of today. I do think there is a need for a cultural shift that goes way beyond cultural changes in our organizations. We need citizens to shift their understanding of, and attitudes about, the sector.

Imagine Canada’s example is the private members bill that would cap the salaries of non profit executives. Huh? No bill to cap the salaries of oil execs or bankers or…? As noted at the forum such a bill speaks volumes about the value placed on the sector by at least one member of parliament.

There are other cultural shifts as well. One is that younger people are not engaging in formal volunteerism, but that does not mean they are not active citizens. We have professionalized volunteerism – and much of that work is great work — but for some reason formal volunteerism does not resonate with GenYers like it does with Boomers. How come? We need to understand more about that.

Then there is the new language we use: social innovation, social enterprise, SROI, social economy, social media, social networking, clusters, shared services, and so on. What do these words mean in our changing culture? What is the difference between “innovation” and “social innovation?” Is there a difference? Will we let SROI mean whatever each one of us decides it means (kind of like we did with “outcome measurement”) or will that acronym (means “social return on investment”) have common meaning for us?

I am excited to think about the rich ideas and connections Imagine Canada will make as it talks with our colleagues across the nation. I appreciate their leadership and openness to the leadership and ideas of others – even the renegades!

I do hope the transformative ideas that are generated help Imagine Canada and other leading organizations undertake changes in how they operate, too. Not because they are not doing a great job, but because they have a culture and passion to always get better.

Collaboration: convergence to create new value

Do a Google search on “collaboration” and the majority of hits you generate will actually be about collaboration tools or software, not the activity of collaboration. This is similar to the concept of customer relationship management. Search for that phrase and you end up with a litany of CRM software tools.  I would not suggest collaboration or CRM technologies are not good tools to have, but they are just that: tools.

Collaboration is about people. These people may represent organizations and do so well, but ultimately organizational action is all about people acting – acting individually, acting in cooperation with others, and collaborating, the latter being the highest expression of organzational and thus indivual action.

Ironically, a definition of collaboration I favor is offered up in a survey report by Cisco Systems (source link). The authors suggest that collaboration is an “open-ended series of interactions intended to go beyond individual strengths to create a new source of value.” 

The “open-ended series of interactions” component of the definition speaks to the fact that people who come together to leverage their talents, experience, and resources not only are unable to predict the outcome(s) of their interactions but know (or should know) such a convergence can create, new knowledge, new thinking, and new behaviors that cannot be restrained by policy, bureacracy, or other authoritarian filters and constraints.

This is why people want to collaborate and why people are afraid to collaborate. True collaboration cannot be controlled. It can be denied or blocked, but once  alive it is its own creature.