A daring journey to innovation in a VUCA world

June 21, 2021

7 minutes to read

Opinions expressed by Contractor the contributors are theirs.


The Covid-19 pandemic persistent effects across societies and economies are disrupting long-held simplifying models and assumptions about our complex world. We feel like we are in a state of perpetual imbalance and seeking stability and predictability. The uncomfortable truth is that we’ve never been here before, and leaders have very few proven best practices to apply.

We usually approach innovation with the idea of ​​moving from a known static state to the next predicted static state. Instead, we need to recognize that we live in an unpredictable dynamic system with many unknowns. With this understanding, we can proactively strengthen our ability to react and respond to signals, emerging threats and opportunities. As entrepreneurs, we can strive to constantly feel, learn, adapt and innovate.

Related: Innovate or Die

Adaptability and resilience are not mindsets or cultures. Instead, these are separate properties of complex systems, whether that system is an individual, team, business unit, or organization. As distinct properties of the system, they can be deliberately designed and architected. To design an adaptable learning system that can respond to unpredictable changes, we need to deconstruct the system and understand its granular components.

The individual person is the essential and complex subsystem of enterprise architecture of an organization and the most important link with the rest of the world. At the root of our complex reality is the foundational nature of humans and the human-to-human connection, trust building and bonding. The pandemic has revealed that previously unknown and unmet needs for success come from close physical human collaboration, co-creation and interaction.

Meeting basic human needs

With this understanding (and to encourage individual journeys to innovation), organizational leaders must address a range of design elements in their business architectures – in a coordinated and interconnected manner – to meet basic human needs. This guiding principle for innovation and lasting change in a business is the people-centered approach, or “personal experience”. To apply this principle and create the conditions for continuous innovation, entrepreneurs must implement three key design practices:

1. Activate continuous learning

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future (or VUCA), the ability to learn to learn is the best way to endure and prosper. To cross the threshold of knowledge, an organization must become what Peter Senge, senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-founder of the Academy for Systems Change, calls a “learning organization”, Which continually challenges its mindsets through triple-loop learning – or learning to learn – to examine underlying beliefs and assumptions.

Related: Are You an Explorer in the VUCA World?

Are we pursuing what is right? Are we serving a higher purpose? When given the opportunity to learn, people are more and more motivated. They contribute more to the common purpose of their organization with new ideas and creative thinking. In a learning organization, leaders bring outside perspectives into the ideation and design of co-creative products at an early stage. Instead of treating the end user or customer as an external stakeholder, limiting their participation to early stage market research and late stage user testing activities, include them in the team. design. Involve them in the “messy” middle stages of ideation, design, and prototyping to increase the likelihood of meeting their unmet needs.

Leaders also probe unmet needs and possible futures through methods of anticipation or means of formulating critiques focused on future development (such as appreciative inquiry or scenario planning). From there, they deploy adaptive processes through cycles of hypothesis-based experimentation, learning, feedback and adaptation, incorporating continuous reflection in the form of before and after action reviews for understand how to learn better.

2. Reinvent old ways of working

For many reasons, including habits of working in physical proximity, work is more closely associated with countless dependencies between people, resulting in workdays full of meetings, context shifts and interruptions. The work also often lacks a shared and coherent outcome or goal. The productivity increases we are seeing today in remote work environments often feel like we are running faster on a treadmill but not getting closer to our destinations.

Related: 3 Trends That Will Define Remote Working In 2021

Work should be structured to activate the team and individual “flow states” in which people are immersed in their work and creativity flourishes. Leaders should strive to establish true collaboration where teams have generative and inclusive discussions in courageous spaces (instead of just sharing status and coordinating activity).

Entrepreneurs and startup leaders must foster strong cohesion between individuals within teams (and teams of teams) with a clear common goal around the work to be done, as well as prioritize time and establish practices to create social bonds and trust between individuals and teams to stimulate the flow of ideas and knowledge. It is also worth rethinking the structuring, packaging and division of work in a modular way, allowing flexibility in where, when, how, with whom and by whom work is done. Deconstruct work into cohesive clusters with close collaboration, rich communication and the collective intelligence of an inclusive team.

Within teams, batches need to be further deconstructed to be well suited to an individual to be performed with relatively little clarification or interruption. Loosely combine these cohesive work sets to reduce dependencies and ambiguous feedback loops; it creates autonomy for individuals and teams to explore, experiment and make decisions.

3. Deploy more sensors in value chains and ecosystems

In a dynamic world, customer needs are constantly emerging and changing. Leaders must probe the needs of unmet customers and create courageous spaces for their companies to discover. Frequent feedback loops with information collected from a variety of sensors (human, digital and combined) are essential components of intelligent adaptive systems.

Given the essential role of people and their relationships as the backbone of every value chain, it is important to continuously probe the alignment between individuals, the teams they work in and the organization or organizations. at large. Individual and collective goals must align to achieve positive results. Sensors deployed to detect alignment among individuals, teams and organizations, it is about deliberately articulating the goal, regularly validating alignment with the intended goal, and recognizing individuals and teams demonstrating behaviors aligned with a common goal.

Alignment enables organizations to imagine and create products and services (authentic to their purpose) that resonate, generate brand buy-in, and create lasting relationships. Startup leaders need to understand that the cornerstone of our complex social and organizational systems is the individual, be it an employee, customer, user, candidate, a partner, supplier or other stakeholder in the ecosystem. Keep this in mind when designing products and services, going beyond features and functions. Go deeper to explore the underlying human needs that a product or service seeks to meet, whether they are functional, emotional, social, or motivated by deeper motivation.

Create feedback loops (via human touchpoints and digital data collection capabilities) in product architectures and customer lifecycle management practices to collect and retain information about customer experiences during the use of products and services. Do the same with the process and people architectures within the organization.

Business leaders now have the opportunity – almost an imperative – to rethink the set of business and product architectures and the ecosystems in which they live from the perspective of the individual as a building block of a system. complex. The satisfaction of human needs and desires as well as person-to-person relationships in a social system are essential to its capacities as a reliable and sustainable system. Now, with the principles of personal experience at heart, change and innovation can be diffused one person at a time.

About Alma Ackerman

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