Innovation and learning are two sides of the same coin!

Innovation and learning are two sides of the same coin!

I have done a talk recently at Microsoft Innivation day. That was an epic day where Satya Nadella the CEO of Microsoft came to Sydney and enlighten IT experts about Technology Intensity and how it can influence Innovation.
Also Dr Kellermann Senior Lecturer from UNSW shared his experience that how he built a learning class by using all modern technologies. There were a few more interesting talks.
I also shared my perspective on how innovation culture and learning culture can influence on each other and how learner people can thrive innovation in the team. Here are some points in my talk but the actual video is available here.

Hindrances to innovation

Employees don't know the problems!

Innovation needs to solve a problem, add value proposition to the businesses.
However, in the modern organizations we break apart the main problems into fragments so the complex tasks are more manageable. We paid enormous price though, people lost the whole picture. They don't see the business problems anymore therefore technology experts cannot correlate the problems with the solutions so they cannot be innovative. They sometimes try to reassemble the fragments but it is similar to see the true reflection in the fragments of a broken mirror. That's why our technology experts don't have enough insight to propose solutions for prevailing problems. They mostly focus on increasing efficiency other than other business issues.
We need some tools and methods to address this issue

Innovative solution is unknown and risky:

According to the design thinking, innovation is mostly a hypothesis that needs experiment with unknown result. So it needs a safe-to-fail environment where experiments and failure are valued! Otherwise Fear is a powerful motivator that can makes people to resist. Fear of losing credibility, taking risk, not having enough expertise working with new technology and methods, and blaming attitude.
don't encourage people to be innovative and think out of the box. we need a collective effort to address.

How emotions influence innovation?

Human being rarely experience pure emotions. Pure sadness or pure happiness are quite rare! This is how our nature works.
Human always have at least two contradictory feelings toward the same objects, goals, approaches or people.
At workplace in particular, it occurs more often. For example you might be so happy and excited to move to a new position and at the same time you are sad to lose your team and you feel anxious, insecure and not confident to do the new job. These feelings may be partly conscious or one side of it may be unconscious.

Each emotion that we experience, sends an associated signal to our brain. Emotions which are associated with fear are interpreted as a signal of risk and the fact that the environment is risky. It means, people's decisions and creativity would be impacted and people choose more cautious options in these situations.

In the context of organizations, this emotional ambivalence has a direct contribution to the innovation of people in the organizations.

what is innovation?
When I say innovation, let me frame in what innovation is in my opinion. Innovation is a new idea which is supposed to solve a problem. or satisfy a need and expectations of the customers, Or increase some value proposition for the business.
when some technology is proven to work mostly in the lab we call it invention and It becomes innovation only when it can be replicated on a meaningful practical scale.
In this context Innovation focus on people and their new ideas to solve actual problems of businesses to add any values.
innovation does not mean anything without people and without a problem to solve.

Fixed mindset:

As far as innovation is concerned, I would categorize businesses to 3 groups.
1- businesses which sticks to the obsolete technology and methods doing things inefficiently without being worried about being innovative=> these groups would lose their customers as they cannot support them with great user experiences and customer experiences.
Also Their employee retention would drop and they would become one of the Organizations where nobody really want to join. especially creative experts.
2- Second group are the one who are swimming in the river of innovation. They are responsive to the new technologies and methods and processes in an agile way. I would say mostly startups, open source communities and some technology and thought leaders.
3- The third group though where the majority of companies fall into this category, they currently are not fostering innovation but really keen to do it. The problem is they manifest ambivalent emotions towards the innovation. So they have resistance to adapt changes.

Contributing factors to foster Innovation

Through my personal experience as a developer whose my concern is always overcoming the barriers of innovation, I would like to point out to 3 possible solutions that should address 3 innovation hindrances that we just explored.


In a word it is continuous improvement! Proactively looking for weaknesses, problems to solve, questioning processes. That is all Kaizen does. Some Agile methods like Retros help you review your process and think of

Adapting Growth Mindset

Required skills
In order to overcome the fears of moving toward new changes, we need to ensure that our people have necessary skills for the change. Employees in an organization need to make sure they can perform at their best as much as they did before.
So learning is the significant aspect of adapting innovation.
At the same time, learning can lower the risk of failure of innovative ideas as well. As some risks and failures actually come from lack of knowledge and confidence, we can potentially fill this gap by supporting the individuals learning.
Learning through dialogue and communication
Unlike what some people think, learning is not just sitting in the class and listening to someone else. Learning is a dialogue, communication and is thinking and exploring together.

If we as technology experts establish communication with other teams like shareholders, regulators, marketing, customer service and many more. we can learn business missions, problems and values. So it helps us learning our company business and the whole pictures .Therefore, we are able to correlate innovative solutions with business problems.

Learning is a collective effort
Learning is not a complex step to take. It is a collective effort. It can be as easy as running sharing knowledge sessions. what I have done in my company, was running some small Brownbag sessions or (learning over lunch sessions) for my team and then expanding it to other teams and now its one of the biggest sharing knowledge communities in whole our organization. Like-minded people get together and formed a unity. You want to introduce a new idea, your voice is not loud enough? Your knowledge about tech is good but you don't know the business problems that well. Here is a great opportunity to share it with others and see if they can think of any business cases.

connect your community to other communities

Through those sessions, our internal community gets connected to other inspiring external communities and individuals and experts. So I invited different people to come and join us and talk through similar issues and solutions that they had. We learned from their experiences. We learned how to be innovative and consider possible solutions in the modern world to solve our problems.

That can be a hiring opportunity too. People will know your business, your company and your culture and it helps with attracting new recruits.

So, people across the company started to propose POC and tech spikes to promote innovative solutions and reduce the risk of failure and help making the environment safe-to-fail. Obviously as a collective efforts leaders should incentivize people to come up with new ideas and even provide Hackatons and R&D opportunities to promote the culture of innovation.

These learning sessions established a culture of sharing and caring in our organization. The culture shifted from putting a high value on accumulating knowledge to sharing it. We drove this cultural shift from bottom to up with people.

Innovation is not possible if we don't get out of office and look into broader communities.

Diversity of thoughts

Innovation does not flourish where people agree all the time!

Mental models are ingrained assumptions influence how we understand the world and how we take action. Discipline of mental models starts with turning the mirror inward. Practically speaking, we need different people to become our mirrors and reflect our strengths and weaknesses.

We need more openness to see our problems and innovative solutions. When you have a team of seniors who have been working on a same product for years together, they would not challenge their processes often, they have similar point of views, similar pre-assumption where you should or should not take risks.

creativity thrives when team members bring their unique perspectives and backgrounds to the table.

Expertise diversity

beginner expertise is required for open mindset. Interns and junior see all possible solutions! No question or suggestion look out of context, risky or impossible to them. Once a new starter especially a junior one joins the team everything would change. So many weired and challenging questions which makes the team think retrospectively and look back and review their processes and it may motivate them to correct the processes and think of innovative ideas.
At the same time, having seniors enrich the team by their deep knowledge, networks and soft skills. Having team members that complement each other allows for better problem solving.

Cultural diversity

We can not deny that some cultural backgrounds also has impressive effects on the team attitude. while some cultures intend to follow and be inexpressive, some others can be more expressive, direct and inspiring.
Some people due to their culture can become the agent of changes!
Australia in the cradle of cultural diversity that we should leverage it.

Gender Diversity

When most of the teams in IT are mainly male dominated, it is more likely that they share similar point of view. Having a person from an underrepresented group will bring a different perspective to the team. Different questions ,suggestions and ideas.
I know finding women or other underrepresented groups are not easy in Technology. But as someone who is part of this group, we need to embrace this diversity and have some roll models. we need to get some people from underrepresented group contribute to the community, helping with organizing the community events , advocating, managing teams inside organizations, and provide opportunities to make them feel more comfortable , to make them feel it's everyone's community.

In general diversity helps creative thinking where more possible solutions comes from different perspective. Every team needs constructive disruptive person to throw challenging questions. This makes the team look back and think of small improvements each time. They don't make your life easy, but make it interesting :)
It is great to be a Courageous Change Agent for our teams.

Safe-to-fail Environment to overcome fear of Innovate

Having Safe-to-fail environment incredibly depends on leaders and how they adapt the growth mindset!
In the first place, if we think of safe environment as an funnel, teams should throw lots of new ideas in. If they don't I would say the team is not a learning team.
As I believe in collective effort, I would say we don't need to wait for leaders to do their part! We need to see what team members also can do to improve safe environment around them. Here are something we can potentially do:

Following Extreme programing and Agile practices

Most of these principles helps us build a more growth team and more learning team.
Pair programing for instance, helps people learn in the team especially beginner expertise.
Retro sessions helps the team learn from experiences and get far away from blaming culture.
POC (proof of concern) which helps you assess the risk and reduce the risk of adapting new solutions. It is kind of Kaizen where you implement your idea in smaller scale, test it, learn from it and continuously improve it.

Incentivize new ideas

By running Hackaton, prizing new idea, R&D projects we can learn through the experiment which is the deepest sort of learning.

Learn from our external network:

Keep learning new methods, tools, concepts: connect to your local community, by attending local user groups, workshops, conferences. You might change your company but your external community will be always same people.
lunch time is all about activity and communication (10 min is lunch) so I used this opportunities and ran sessions over lunch to bring external community inside.
Inward facing organizations cannot be innovative . the ones who don't spend time outside wont get to know other solutions.
Creativity is not aways intuitive it mostly comes from inputs. data(issues, solutions) We need to feed ourselves with data

Wrap up

We have great opportunities to become innovative organisations!
We have fantastic diversity in Australia, We have unbelievably supportive community with amazing helpful people who can help us with the learning.
We have collaboration culture in the society where people have sympathy for each other. We have passionate people who would love to have impact and drive innovation across organisations.
Lets leverage all these opportunties and build learning innovative teams to satisfy 3 related groups to the innovation including IT experts, stakeholders and customers.