The triple ‘I’s for transformation

Monday, 20 June 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The only permanent thing in the whole world is change. This applies to individuals as well as to institutions. Organisations embark on change initiatives in order to improve their performance. Today’s column is about the triple ‘I’s for transformation, in shedding light for sustaining change.

The word ‘transformation’ is associated with change for better. Business organisations need it in order to stay competitive. How can it happen with the involvement of employees? Triple ‘I’s pave the way.

Imagination

Let me propose Imagination as the first ‘I’. It is all about dreaming or envisioning the future. Every product and every service in the world is someone’s imagination some time ago.

It reminds me of Jules Verne. He as a pioneering science fiction author wrote about space, air, and underwater travel before air travel and practical submarines were invented, and before practical means of space travel had been devised. It was Jules Verne’s dream that became a reality when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

The same is true for what Sir Arthur C. Clark imagined of satellites encircling the earth. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, as the first artificial satellite to put into Earth’s orbit, it was his dream that became a reality. The launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments, heralding the space age.

Imagination has a significant integration to human progress across ages. I am referring to the journey from hunting era to farming era and then to industrial era. Human kind has come a long way from ‘chasing and killing animals’ to ‘visiting a supermarket to buy killed animals’.

Charles Babbage, a British youngster saw his book-keeping father burning the midnight oil and went ahead to invent a device called ‘the adding machine’. Now we call him the ‘Father of the Computer,’ in paying tribute to his rich imagination.

In fact, the world has now moved from information era to imagination era, where human creativity is the cutting edge factor for success. Let’s take an example from the field of advertising. Say, there are two advertising firms with similar offices, similar equipment and similar software. One firm comes up with an impactful TV commercial and the other firm comes with a lousy one. The difference is human imagination, unleashing creativity.

What is the relevance of imagination to business organisations? The answer is simple. It is seeing beyond obstacles in search of opportunities. Individuals imagine the future of their institutions. Vision and mission of an organisation can be the resultant outcomes. We need the next ‘I’ in moving forward.

Innovation

I propose the next ‘I’ as innovation. The ideas generated in the phase of imagination are now taking shape as a product or a service. Imagination sparks creativity, in moving beyond the old stale patterns of thinking. Innovation is all about practical application of the creative ideas to the point it generates value to an organisation.

John Naisbitt, who wrote the international best seller, ‘Megatrends,’ tells us the importance of creativity in action: “In the new corporation, creativity and individuality are organisational treasures.” It is an individual who can imagine and convert the imagination into innovation. The respective organisation has to support such initiatives.

Take 3M as a case in point. It is a global giant, formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, based in Maplewood, Minnesota, USA. With over 80,000 employees in more than 60 countries, it produces over 55,000 products, including adhesives, abrasives, laminates, passive fire protection, dental products, electronic materials, medical products, car care products, electronic circuits and optical films.

Its core business is innovation. Its motto is to innovate, innovate and innovate. It celebrates failures in order to give the strong signal to employees to take risks. The salient aspect here is the amount of emphasis given to innovation. When individuals with imagination move forward, innovation fosters.

It reminds me of what our veteran writer Kumaratunga Munidasa said a long time ago: “A nation without innovation will not prosper, but will lie lamenting, being unable to beg.” Innovation has paved the way for many a country to succeed in becoming globally competitive. Where are we with regard to innovation? How many new patents do Sri Lankans register annually? Nanotechnology can be cited as one promising area where innovation has begun to yield dividends.

Innovation can take many forms. It in fact is a multi-stage process whereby organisations transform ideas into improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace. We know how one leading insurer introduced ‘On the Spot’ compensation, leaving the competitors ‘out of the spot’.

A local herbal product range made available in handy packaging matching global standards is another example of how we have been innovative. Variety of payments made possible through a short text message from your mobile phone also highlights the opportunities for innovation available.

Implementation

To complete the process, we need the third ‘I,’ which I would call implementation. Imagination leading to innovation requires implementation to reach out to the needy customers. If imagination is more individual driven, implementation is more institutional driven. In other words, it is the ‘I’ that ensures the wide scale application of innovation.

An organisation might have great grand plans, but if they are not converted into concrete action, results will not come. That’s why implementation maters a lot. According to Fortune Magazine, “About 70 per cent of CEO failures came not as a result of poor strategy, but of poor execution.” If implementation does not properly take place, the chain is broken losing all the positives associated with imagination and innovation.

I have seen this happening in many local research institutions. When you visit the place and see what they have done, it looks impressive. Yet, how about the next step? Why don’t such innovative products reach a larger customer base? The key aspect is implementation.

There can be several barriers for such implementation. I have identified three. They are the absence of clarity, consensus and commitment.

Clarity is an absolute must for implementation. As the Buddha said, Samma Ditti (right seeing) leads to Samma Vayama (right action). If you do not see things clearly, you will not be able to do things cleverly. In some of the local organisations, I have observed this to be a major issue. Lack of clarity at the top level will make the organisation floating without a strategic direction.

Consensus is needed to foster team work. If imagination belongs to individual, then innovation belongs to an interactive team. Then comes implementation, which should be driven by the institution. Here we see ripples, first from an individual to an interactive team, then from an interactive team to an institution. Consensus is the key binding factor. If there is fragmentation, the end result might be delayed implementation with a possible cost overrun.

Commitment at all levels is again essential for implementation.

It involves job effort and identification with the organisation by all employees. In other words, people should do their properly, while being proud to associate with one’s workplace. The chain of imagination to innovation will get stuck if implementation does not happen with committed employees.

Insights on the way forward

We looked at triple ‘I’s in identifying their potential in providing value for organisational transformation. They are in fact parts of one continuum of value creation. An emerging role for people managers is to inspire individuals to imagine more.

As I see in some institutions, especially after lunch, they should not be day dreams. Instead, dreams are needed with dedication to make them reality. As the golden saying goes: “Dare to dream, dare to act, dare to fail and dare to succeed.”

Our country has reached a stage where we need the triple ‘I’s more than ever, in order to ensure a balanced sustainable growth towards prosperity. Business organisations can contribute their part by fostering triple ‘I’s amongst their employees.

You need to break inertia to get into immediate action.

As Aldous Huxley said, “What matters more is not how much you know but how much you have done.” Knowing should lead to doing in bringing in required results. May it happen abundantly in Sri Lanka.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of human resource management and organisational behaviour. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk.)

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