Understanding the Big(ger) Picture for Successful innovation

What forces are influencing your organization/project/proposal?  It seems I’ve discussed this question and the bigger issue of organization context a lot recently. (By context I am referring to the dynamics, forces and environment that you or your organization operate in.)  I am a firm believer that you need to understand the environment and forces impacting your organization in order to effectively foster innovation, create, and implement new ideas or programs.

The idea isn’t new.  In associations we have been talking about SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis for years  Maybe because this model has been around for so long we discount the value? Regardless, awareness of the circumstances and forces impacting your organization are critical to developing your innovation efforts. If you don’t know where you are, what is going on in your community or what might be coming, any idea (including some really wrong ones) can look good!

To better understand your context, you need to get beyond your perspective (and possibly that of your personal network). I encourage you to pull together a diverse group of people from inside and outside your organization. Don’t make this a group of the usual suspects. Mix it up. Invite people with different backgrounds, colleagues from different industries, the people who like to solve challenges, maybe even the ones who challenge you. You need diverse perspectives to see the full picture and create real connections.

A simple tool to structure your context exploration is the Context Map game (http://www.gogamestorm.com/?s=context+map ) from the wonderful book GameStorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers. The game offers a simple framework and suggested visuals to guide your efforts.

To get the discussion started and move beyond people’s automatic responses, I recommend you create a few thought provoking questions probing the areas you want to explore. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started. 

  • Are changes in technology, education, social media or other areas impacting or threatening the products or services you offer?
  • What organizations, institutions, technologies or businesses could impact your market?
  • What forces could support innovation in your organization?
  • What forces could thwart innovation in your organization?
  • How do your primary audiences (organization leadership, members, staff, etc.) view the challenges, opportunities and forces that are or could impact your organization?
  • What do organization leaders and members value most?

Developing new perspectives or solutions generally requires looking at the world in different ways. By forming a diverse group to investigate your organizational context, you are on your way to developing a map that can inform your innovation goals and overall organizational activities.

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