Architecture is a fine balance of creativity and reality. That is, Architects must be creative within the constraints which they live. Applying that concept to building an innovation framework within your organisation is no different. Understanding your environment and resources is crucial when determining what will work well and how far you can push the boundaries. Going too “weird” may clash with your organisational culture, too big and you won’t have the resources to support it. On the other hand, being too conservative may not emphasise the importance or new direction your innovation initiative is trying to take. Working from the blueprint through to execution in a logical manner, considering all key elements along the way, will help you avoid the pitfalls many others have made in the past.
Taking an analogy of traditional building architecture, there is always a goal in what is trying to be achieved by its creation. Going “green” to reduce global footprint, or over the top technology to showcase a city’s technological intentions – these are just a few examples of two radically different objectives being achieved through the construction of a building. Similarly, an architect also looks at their environment to determine what is appropriate and possible. You wouldn’t design an open-air stadium in a blizzardy city or build a skyscraper on a cliffside. These concepts apply to your innovation architecture as well. Determine your innovation goal (e.g. To drive staff engagement), look at the organisations’ environment and identify the scale at which you can begin. Take note of how you want to present your innovation initiative to your organisation by not playing too safe but equally not breaking current culture.
Continuing with the analogy of traditional architecture, practicality must always be considered when making decisions about the day-to-day operations of the completed product. You wouldn’t build a driveway that isn’t connected to the garage just because it is cheaper/easier or you wouldn’t put chandeliers in the children’s bedroom just because it looks nicer. Too often organisations prioritise flashy bells and whistles when creating their innovation architecture rather than what is required to practically process the innovation initiatives as business as usual. Take every action involved in your innovation architecture and ask yourself, is this practical on a day-to-day basis? Ensure that everyone in the process has the skills required and that the workflow is designed with your organisation’s capabilities in mind.
As important as creating a well-defined process is, ensuring that it is designed in a scalable manner is just as important. Your innovation architecture must be able to be implemented, tested quickly and scaled up as demand naturally presents itself. The design of a High School is a good example of this. As discussed, strategy and process are very important in the initial design of a High School, however it is at the beginning stage that you need to identify the opportunity for scale that your design has. You want to design something that is modular and can be replicated with ease. Inevitably the school will require additional classrooms, staff area, locker rooms etc.
During the design of the school, these elements are kept as simple and replicable as possible to ensure reduced cost and disruption when it needs to be expanded. This demonstrates the requirement for scalability to be considered when deriving your innovation architecture. If someone in your organisation wanted to be part of your innovation initiative or its strategy changed to another part of the business, good architecture will have a template in place for them to follow minimising disruption, maximising adoptability and driving the required implementation resources down. It is not uncommon for organisations to get too caught up in creating a unique workflow for their innovation initiative in order to hit success quickly under the immediate pressures they face. This may lead to superficial early success, however, the inability to scale or adapt to external changes means that often significant rework needs to take place at costs and timeframes not acceptable by most.
Taken literally a facade is a front which hides the real workings of underneath. Just as the great pyramids were only covered in solid marble, your innovation architecture will require a grand front presentation to gain attention but have the practicality and stability behind it. Innovation can be ugly and require work, and while a well-designed architecture helps to reduce this, the reality is that there must be well oiled cogs spinning in the background to make it all come together. How you present your innovation initiative is incredibly important as it sets the tone of your intentions. Perception is everything and therefore people need to understand what you are trying to achieve and the level of importance at which the organisation is placing on it. Determining how the users of your innovation initiative will engage at each level is critical during the design phase as it will allow you to choose appropriate tools and communications methods which drive your desired objectives. Don’t devise a convoluted end user process if you are trying to give off the impression that innovation is easy and for everyone, and similarly don’t have an uninspiring, basic user experience if your intention is to state how important innovation is to the organisation.
As with all types of traditional architecture, the critical elements are determined during the initial design phase. This is no different when looking at your organisation’s innovation architecture. A fine combination of creativity and reality needs to be achieved by looking at your organisations’ environment and determining what will practically work while being attractive and inspirational at the same time. By laying out your objectives in the beginning and determining how your innovation framework can scale, you will avoid the pitfalls of an overengineered, inflexible and unattractive initiative which crumbles under the weight of an organisation.
Here are my top five takeaways for building an innovation architecture in your organisation:
- Understanding your environment and resources is crucial when determining what will work well and how far you can push the boundaries.
- Determine your innovation goal (e.g. to drive staff engagement), look at the organisations’ environment and identify the scale at which you can begin.
- Take every action involved in your innovation architecture and ask yourself, is this practical on a day-to-day basis?
- Consider scalability when deriving your innovation architecture to avoid significant rework with high costs and delayed timeframes.
- Your innovation architecture requires a grand facade or upfront presentation to gain attention but must have the practicality and stability behind it.
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