On The Road To Systemic Innovation: Are you set up for it?

On The Road To Systemic Innovation: Are you set up for it?

On The Road To Systemic Innovation: Are you set up for it? 5760 3840 Diana Sonis

This is Part 1 in the On The Road To Systemic Innovation series. Part 2 discusses Practical Steps, and Part 3 touches on What Not To Do.


Starting something new is always an exciting adventure. There is anticipation of exploration, mixed in with the hope that you’ll stumble on something truly unique. When people get on the path to innovation at work, they almost always jump into it too quickly. People get excited about new initiatives, thinking human-centered processes and tools will somehow magically bring about groundbreaking products & services. But, in all honesty, none of it matters if the organization is not set up to nurture & grow innovation from within.

Let’s try to unpack that a little.

Almost all companies are divided into departments. People have different skills/backgrounds, and it’s easier to explain this structure to outsiders; investors, partners, and future employees.

One unpleasant side-effect of today’s typical corporate structure is that it inevitably creates siloed thinking, or an environment where people are so focused on the going ons of their specific silo (i.e. department) they can’t conceptualize and internalize the bigger picture of the company as a whole. Clearly, not an ideal environment for innovation.

So if we can’t easily do away with the current structure, what practical steps can we take to jumpstart innovation?

It all starts with assessing the current environment within the organization.

Take a holistic look at the organization: How does innovation happen today? Who is involved in the process and how many people does innovation matter to? Are the leaders committed to innovation through tangible initiatives or is it all talk? Do they reward people for innovation or thinking in different ways, or is consistency preferred? And so on.

Today, in a typical corporation, employees spend a lot of time on tasks that are not directly tied to why customers buy/use the product or service, while spending minimal time exploring the key reasons why their customers are customers in the first place. Your goal is to take inventory of what is actually happening in the organization today, and determine whether processes, reward structures, metrics match top management behavior and rhetoric.

If – for example – you find that management is talking about innovation, but their behavior tells a different story or current structure couldn’t be further from tracking and rewarding innovation, then your strategy will coalesce around changing internal structures and/or educating management on human-centered innovation. On the other hand, if you find that both management and internal structure are in line with human-centered innovation, then you can focus on incremental improvements and new ideas to keep growing in human-centered ways.

In doing this exercise, what you’re looking for is a substantial degree of consistency between the current structure and management behavior. Once you assess what’s happening today in detail, only then can you build the strategy & take tactical steps to create your future state as a human-centered organization.

So the question is: Are you set up for systemic innovation to take root? What has your experience been with this in your organization? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below.


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Diana Sonis

Diana is a passionate believer in holistic, 360 strategy and design, with extensive expertise in UX Design, CX Design, Service Design, and the Design Thinking methodology.

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