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Innovation&: Innofriction

Updated: Oct 11, 2023


Innofriction

In many organizations, the pre-screening and implementation of innovations (e.g., digital fitness check, digitization projects, transformation programs, "Fit for digital" training, introduction of agile working methods, proof of concepts, trials, pilot projects for technologies) can lead to significant resistance and friction. Every innovator is familiar with this from their own experience with innovation projects that either never get off the ground or don't reach completion (innovation zombies), and the resistance (innovation friction = innofriction) encountered despite good intentions. No one likes change, and routines are there to efficiently manage our resources. This resistance can be active or passive and manifests through holding onto what is known and established, as well as arguing against investing in changes and the perceived low benefits they bring. Additionally, negative emotions like fear, loss, shame, guilt, envy, greed, etc., individually contribute to this resistance.


The Illusion of Logic

In many cases, people mistakenly try to justify the implementation of innovations in organizations with logical and business arguments. Even worse, applying pressure can lead to even more friction, active resistance, and unintended staff turnover. Often, they forget that we are all human, and the "opposition" is often more emotional than rational, based on learned automatisms. This means we need to address the emotional side and the "limbic system" in the brain since the resistances for or against a possible future are often not rational and remain hidden like an iceberg beneath the surface.


Point of View

To reduce resistance to the implementation of innovations, it's crucial to first gain an overview of the project and the affected organization. This includes understanding and recognizing signs of resistance through analysis. Factors of potential resistance (e.g., holding on, effort, emotions, resistance) are identified, and their strength is assessed. Only then can solutions be sought. Here are some non-exhaustive ideas to reduce potential frictions:


Inclusion

Poor innovation often starts with the lack of involvement of the organization in the design, planning, and implementation of innovations and the resulting changes. People should be included as early as possible in the planning and implementation of innovations so that they feel involved in decision-making. This fosters mutual appreciation as everyone can contribute. It also creates a better understanding of the value of the innovation and its impact on the organization, promoting self-conviction and the drive for active participation. No one likes to be changed, but when it comes to contributing to the common good, everyone will respond with a "yes." It can also be helpful to involve experts in behavioral psychology/economics to support this process.


Communication

Recognizing and effectively communicating resistances can be challenging. It helps to consider not only the symptoms (what are you doing or not doing?) but also the underlying emotions (why are you doing it or why not?). This involves stepping out of one's perspective (empathy), neutrally observing, asking questions, allowing for different viewpoints and opinions to understand the big picture. Innovation should be presented as a possible option, with room for trial and error, and the ability to reverse bad decisions. Moreover, it's essential to build an open communication culture within the organization to understand and consider employees' attitudes and needs. This can be achieved through regular feedback conversations and an open dialogue between leaders and employees. Change is a task for leaders and affects every single employee.


Zeitgeist

Make the unknown familiar in small steps, and then success is achievable. Changes take time, often more than anticipated. Hence, it's crucial to equip employees with the necessary knowledge, start with small projects, repeat them frequently, and identify innovation champions and influencers within the affected organizations to familiarize others. Nothing is worse than when leaders dictate "be agile, innovative, and make mistakes" from the top down but do not lead by example. Therefore, those in the organization who embrace innovation with open arms and embark on the journey are the right people. New ideas, experiences, and knowledge are gradually integrated into the organization through them and allowed to adapt. Only when people in organizations understand the spirit of the times will it become their own idea and desire to change as well. Those who start late will have to work under pressure, and where that leads is hopefully known by now.


Value of Change

It is also essential to clearly define the task of change management and develop a shared understanding of the value that innovation brings to the organization. We all prefer low effort and high return, convenience, short pathways, and the long-term benefits of existing knowledge. Therefore, the fruits of innovation must be easily accessible, and the added value (innovation benefit > innovation effort) must be recognized and appreciated. Why are so many analog business models displaced by digital ones, and why do people repeatedly ask, "Is there an app for that?"? It's because it's more convenient, straightforward, closer, affordable, and accessible to customers. Retail becomes round-the-clock online shopping, dining in restaurants becomes round-the-clock online food delivery, visiting a video store becomes 24/7 streaming, banking becomes decentralized neo-banking around the clock, etc. It might be helpful to involve specialists in the user experience field to make changes more feasible. Demanding change without addressing the "how, when, where" conveys the message of significant effort and uncertainty for one's future, which no one likes. The effort must be reduced through learning initiatives and tools, and the changes must be clear to be perceived as a pleasant challenge, with individual progress recognized along the way. Less is more.


Conclusion - Innofriction

In conclusion, it is essential for organizations to be aware that no adaptation happens easily and without resistance, and there must be a healthy balance between active and passive resistance to enable effective innovation implementation. Involving and utilizing knowledge from resistance can contribute significantly to strengthening the innovation capacity of the organization and enabling sustainable changes that seamlessly build upon existing foundations.

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