HRM.de “In organizations, ideas need an innovation guide” Interview with Robert Rosenfeld

In times of financial and economic instability steady innovation seems to be the only way for companies to survive. But how can they make innovation happen and what may be the part of HR? We have talked with the innovation expert Robert Rosenfeld, President and CEO of Idea Connection Systems Inc. and keynote speaker at the HRM Expo 2011 in Cologne.

Event note
HRM Expo 2011, Cologne
Keynote Speech of Robert Rosenfeld
Wednesday, 21 September 2011,
9.30 – 10.30pm, keynote forum, hall 3.2, Cologne Expo Centre
Subsequently public interview
www.hrm-expo.com

Mr. Rosenfeld, you have been engaged in the field of human innovation for over 40 years now. Was there some key moment or crucial experience that prompted you to dedicate your professional life to the issue?

I’ve actually been involved with innovation since my youth. I was raised in a family with relatives that were very entrepreneurial in nature. On holidays we would sit around and create new products and services. That was our entertainment. One of my uncles, Sol Harrison, was president of D.C. Comic Books which includes Superman and Batman. What I observed and took part in was the clashing of different opinions. I learned that it was this kind of dialogue from which something emerged that was new.

As I entered the work environment at Kodak I saw similar types of clashing occurring. But the clashes of opinions really produced problems. For instance, people weren’t able to get the funding they needed to bring the ideas together. So I wanted to set up a means by which to get the funding. I created a concept called an “Office of Innovation”, which allowed people from all over the organization to come forward with their ideas. My staff and I helped the originators shape and enhance their ideas as well as navigate them through the organizational maze to get sponsorship and funding. In organizations, if you have an idea, you need an innovation guide.

What is the difference between innovation and creativity?

Creativity is the generation of new or novel ideas. Creativity is very important, because without it innovation cannot occur. But creativity is not innovation. Innovation is when you take a creative idea or act and convert it into a quantifiable gain. This is something that the organization values and can measure. For example in a company in the private sector it can be the bottom line, the market share or the percent profitability. In a university it could be the number of students graduating.

It is easier for an organization to be creative than it is to be innovative. Getting a creative idea funded and implemented in any organization is not a simple task.

And what else is innovation good for?

It is the lifeblood of every organization. Organizations can continue to do things “business as usual” for periods of time, but over time, something happens in the world or the marketplace that forces us to reinvent ourselves.

I see Innovation on a continuum from evolutionary to expansionary to revolutionary. Evolutionary ideas are those which are incremental by nature. Expansionary grows the current paradigm. While revolutionary ideas are really out of the box and breakthrough. To sustain innovation, you need to have a focus in all three areas. Every company needs to make sure that evolutionary ideas are always present, because this allows incremental changes that lead to sustaining the product – for example, a change to an operating system or manufacturing line or packaging material. An example of expansionary innovation would be drive up banking or the ATM. At the same time, companies have to be spending a certain amount of effort looking out into the future for what is next by investing in revolutionary, out of the box ideas.

So for these ranges of innovation from evolutionary to revolutionary, organizations need to invest in the entire continuum. Organizations have to create an innovation portfolio that allows them to put invest in each of the areas. Without that kind of portfolio our organizations are vulnerable.

To be more innovative lots of organizations are looking for creative people. Is that a guarantee for innovation?

The question is: What type of creativity is a company looking for? Everyone is creative, just in different ways. Are recruiters looking for creativity that is more incremental in base or are they looking for creativity that is expansionary or creativity that is more breakthrough? They need to match people to the whole spectrum of innovation; people who prefer to work in the different areas and who are actually really good in it. It is a question of using the right people in the right place. Therefore we need to look at domain expertise, but also see the invisible components that influence the human dynamics of innovation.

How can HR professionals or leaders find out which innovation type an employee or a job candidate is?

They need to put a focus on their cognitive, conative and affective make-up. We have used lots of indicators or tools to do this and then developed a special indicator focused on innovation and creativity which is called the ISPI (Innovation Strengths Preference Indicator – ISPI®, editor’s note). The ISPI allows you to measure the innovation preferences of people as well as see how a person prefers to work in groups and teams. It answers questions like: How much control do I need? Do I like to build relationships? Am I a person who wants to take quick action or weigh different options before acting?

The ISPI helps HR professionals to look behind the psychological make-up, understand how people prefer to work, how they can leverage the strengths of all of their people and also appreciate the differences in others. It is important for HR professionals to know that everyone is innovative, just in different ways. This is a critical success factor for teams and jobs.

So one aspect how HR can stimulate innovation may be to care for heterogeneous teams?

It depends. Sometimes you need a whole mixture of people in a group, but sometimes a homogeneous team with very similar psychological preferences is necessary. For example, if the company is looking for more breakthrough ideas, it has to create a certain homogenous group that we refer to as “Pinggers”. They ideate and see risk differently than most. They live more “out of the box” and their thoughts go down tangents and pathways other people do not. They bi-associate, which causes them to connect seemingly random concepts together to come up with very novel and unique ideas. When you give a Pingger an idea, they immediately associates it to something else, to another idea, and they keep generating more ideas in their head. When you put this person in a group with other Pinggers, it is like an explosion of thought and this changes the paradigm that you happened to be in. If you mix that group as a heterogeneous group, it shuts the Pinggers down. Other people have trouble tracking what the Pingger is doing and it impacts the bi-association. HR has to differentiate what type of people you need when.

Do you think that the innovation type is also a question of age?

With the ISPI, once you become an adult, there is not much shift with age. But life and experiences may cause a shift, but usually not to opposite ends of the spectrum. In terms of age, when we are younger, generally speaking we don’t have the barriers of what’s been done before. When we are older we have more of an NIH-problem – a not-invented-here-problem – or a problem of, “We have done this 20 years ago, it didn’t work”. There are killer phrases like “I tried that and it didn’t work” or “That’s interesting, but we don’t really have the money for that”. So when you look at age, younger people may come up with novel thoughts, some of which have been tried before. But the world is different and maybe now you have the ability to implement things that you couldn’t before.

A more senior person plays a really important role in being able to understand the workings of the organization as well as its history. They have to temper some of their NIH-problems or the inability to be open to new ideas is stifled. Younger people need to understand that not every idea is going to make it. As a matter of fact, on average, from 100 ideas 10 percent are going to get funding; 3 to 4 percent will wind up to going out the door and 1 to 3 percent will be successful. People need to be aware that sometimes even a good idea doesn’t fit. HR has to praise the people whose ideas did not make it. “Yes, you have done something right by providing this idea, but it isn’t what we should be doing in this moment.” If you don’t have that conversation, people will be less likely to share their next idea.

Besides the NIH-problem, which are other barriers for innovation you observe in your daily business?

There are a lot of things that block people. Many are organizational, but it usually comes back to human dynamics. Some employees may have problems with people coming up with ideas that are not theirs. Others have a problem understanding people who are different from themselves.

In the office of innovation at Kodak back in 1978, I went to a meeting where somebody presented an idea. Some of the people who were attending the meeting were completely tuned out. Others decided to attack the speaker – it was almost like taking a gun out and shooting at him for coming up with such a different idea. And of course it was an idea in early stage of development. At the end they said, “Do you know what? Why don’t you come back, when you have thought this through?” The originators never showed up again, because they weren’t treated with the respect they needed. This was the caused by some organizational barriers, but it was also caused by the people not “hearing” one another. That is the ISPI element. It’s invisible.

This is not a Kodak thing but an every-company-thing: It is very hard to push an idea up a hill. It is much easier when you go to the top of the hill and let a thing roll down. In a similar way, ideas in their early stage of development need to be nurtured just like people do in order to get the idea heard. So the blockages that take place are organizational in nature as well as psychological. Another blockage is the limited amount of funds that are available.

How can HR treat employees who don’t want to change anything?

Many people are predisposed to dislike change. The employees with this attitude are basically concerned about what’s going to happen to them when the change occurs. And it is a leadership issue to reinforce for them that it is really not a problem, if it truly isn’t. These people, who basically don’t like change, make something run over and over again consistently, which companies need to in order to put something in the marketplace. If they don’t like change, it is not a bad thing. You have to deal with them differently. They will deal with change more in small steps and need more reinforcement on the changes than those people who are open to risk. All people need to feel validated for who they are. That is a leadership charge.

So what exactly is the part of HR stimulating innovation?

First of all, HR professionals as good business partners can help employees to know where their sweet spot for innovation and creativity is and how they can work well in teams. Secondly, HR can support and coach the managers and leaders on how to focus and find the right people. And thirdly, going back to the employees, they can help them evaluate how well they have applied their abilities.

Therefore HR professionals need to understand the lexicon of innovation and they have to be able to teach it to the entire organization. It is up to the leadership and HR to be able to differentiate between the different types of innovators and at the same time praise all of them for what they do well. If in the organization people can talk with each other about how to make innovation happen, you can actually make it happen. Every organization has the components which are necessary to innovate. It really is up to HR and to the leadership to orchestrate it.

Interview: Stefanie Hornung

Full article from HRM.de can be found here