Guidelines for Middle Managers to Innovate

With our work in #strategicdoing, we often are connecting with the Middle, managers looking for new ways to innovate, new ways to link and leverage networks to get complex work done. Many (but not all) are in the 35-50 years old age range.

In these conversations, I emphasize the following points:

Adopt a network mindset

Innovating networks have tight cores and porous boundaries.

Use conversation as your critical innovation technology.– Relationships and networks form through our conversations. Conversations generate and distribute our knowledge. To innovate, these conversations need to focus on action, on experiments, on “doing”. (#strategicdoing teaches these skills.)

Form a core team

No transformation of any scale can be pulled off by an individual. Take time to form a core team. My smallest core team has been 2. My largest: 7.

Understand collaboration as a PROCESS of innovation.– Most people blur the distinction between cooperation, teamwork, and collaboration. That’s a mistake. Collaboration stands apart as a process of recombinant innovation.

To go fast, start slowly

When in doubt go slower. Be more deliberate and focused. As innovating networks grow, they accelerate.

Focus on small wins

It’s always only about small wins. That’s how replicable, scalable, and sustainable solutions emerge to complex, wicked challenges. As your innovating network grows, your definition of a “small win” also grows. (Here’s a Harvard Business Review article on the power of small wins.)

Here’s the paradox: large-scale transformations emerge from a pattern of small wins. The results from concrete, practical experiments accumulate to create the momentum needed for large-scale change.

The problem is that most organizations do not follow a discipline to replicate and scale small wins. Their experiments remain sporadic, isolated, and superficial.

Relentlessly do the doable

Complexity scientists refer to exploring the “adjacent possible”. Stuart Kauffman at the Santa Fe Institute introduced the concept of the “adjacent possible” in evolutionary biology and complex adaptive systems.  The concept explains how biological evolution can be seen as the exploration and actualization of what is adjacent possible, i.e., available at hand.

Entrepreneurs tend to think this way. At the core, finding the adjacent possible involves recombinant innovation: creating new value from the assets embedded in your available networks.