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Competitive advantage: Fueling an efficient system of innovation

Okay, let me state the obvious here—an organization's competitive advantage relies on it's ability to efficiently innovate. But not just at the product or service level. I'm talking about efficient innovation across the organization—with its people, its processes and its outputs—at every functional level.


The system of innovation

When you boil down an organization, you simply end up with a system of inputs, processes and outputs that are driven by its people. Fundamentally, this is the system of innovation.

And it's not static either. It's a system that is in constant change and adaptation that can be highly efficient or highly inefficient.

What fuels the system of innovation? High quality information

When we think of the inputs as fuel for this system, it's easy to identify information as the primary input. There are two types of information that fuel this system:

  1. Low quality – lack of context in relation to what you are trying to accomplish, low relevance and lacking actionable insight…basically, noise.
  2. High quality – precise context in relation to what you are trying to accomplish, highly relevant and loaded with actionable insight.

Depending on what information you pump into the system, determines how well you achieve action to spark efficient innovation.

Pumping in high quality information to spark efficient innovation

There's no shortage of information in an organization, this we all know. But to fuel an efficient system of innovation (vs. inefficient), high quality information becomes the critical catalyst.

So how do you pump in high quality information?

1) Connect the internal and external information sources

Information sources that are important to the individuals and teams in your organization. And bring that all into one place where individuals can access it no matter where they're located or what devices they're using. This includes paid information subscriptions, internal competitive intelligence documents, external news sources, email, social inputs…you get the idea.

It's important to have both internal and external information sources to create relevant context for what's happening outside the organization, in conjunction with what's happening inside the organization. The obvious result of not having internal and external context is blind decision making. That's another discussion for a later time…

To connect both internal and external sources of information, you'll need a system that is content agnostic and helps aggregate these sources in one place. It's also important to provide individual preference for how the information is consumed as it's not the same for any one individual.

2) Create a transparent information environment and harvest collective intelligence.

Most organizations have a lot of different information centers or information distribution channels, and these are often dispersed among various functional groups or teams. This creates a big disconnect with being aligned as an organization and creates significant roadblocks for efficient innovation.

Instead, create a single place that connects these disparate information centers. And make sure there's levels transparency to allow people in the organization to find, contribute or discuss information in context with the people they work with—regardless of functional team—and what they need to do.  For example, certain information that helps product research could certainly help marketing as well, or legal and sales, or human resources and facility management (just examples). Information leveraged between each of these functional teams can have implications that directly influence innovation with each other and for the organization.

The important aspect for creating transparency is to provide selectivity at the individual level. What I mean is, an individual should have the freedom to choose what information they pay attention to, so it helps them avoid the noise and get the information that yields the outcomes they need to achieve with the people they work with. In other words, context.

This shouldn't be left up to IT or other functional disciplines within the organization and it should be as easy as “turn-on or turn-off.”

3) Measure how information is used and provide relevance.

It's easy to determine if information is high quality or not by answering one simple question— is it being used? In more detail, is the information creating discussion or collaboration? Is it creating action? It's important to have a system in place that helps you measure how information is leveraged and determine if the information performing as a catalyst for creating action. Action leads to process and outputs that spark efficient innovation.

Measuring information use is just one part.

The system should also automatically leverage insights from the individual and their interactions to help improve information relevance. In other words, knowing who the individual works with, what information they pay attention to most, what discussions they are participating in, and what topics they are most interested in, creates relevance factors that help ensure that the information they receive is high quality—precise context, highly relevant and full of actionable insight. Focusing the attention on information that leads to action that spark innovation.

When we look at the system of innovation, it's certainly more complex than the boiled down version I have used in this discussion, but at the center of innovation is information. Depending on the quality of information that is pumped into the system, directly influences the ability to efficiently innovate. There are systems and tools available that help you pump high quality information into your own system.

And as I mentioned from the beginning, the ability to efficiently innovate is your organization's competitive advantage.

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