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  • Writer's picturearcheinnovation

Introspection: A Crucial Step Before Investing in Innovation

Updated: Apr 3

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”  Aristotle


I have always believed that within each of us, there exists the spirit of an innovator. We may not always perceive it, we may not always identify it as an innovative practice, yet we all find little ways to make our daily routines, our work and our chores run a little bit smoother over time. Whether you call it a “little trick”, a timesaver, a shortcut, or a #lifehack, it’s something that you have learned through trial and error over time, through repetition, practice, and perfection. 


I love watching videos of people who have found ways to optimize their daily activities. Whether it be cutting fruit or stacking boxes, cooking hacks for healthy dinners or fantastic homemade gadgets – when you look for it, you can find innovation all around us. It’s pretty cool. 


We seem to naturally have these instincts, and yet we so rarely take the time to look inward to truly appreciate them. We rarely take the time to ask ourselves: What are the things that I’m good at? What are the subjects that truly excite me? How do I innovate in my daily life? How can I contribute towards making the world a better place? This is a shame, because these important questions allow us to better orient ourselves before we leap into something new.


The same concept applies to innovating within an organization. Before diving headfirst into innovation, it is essential to take a step back and examine your organization from the inside out. This is what introspection is all about – checking in with yourself, or your organization, to understand what works well and what needs improvement. 


Introspection involves taking a step back and examining the organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and strategic gaps. It can allow you to gain a deep understanding of the organization's values, governance, culture, capabilities, and to recognize the human resource talents that exist within your current team structure. By engaging in introspection, organizations can align their innovation strategy within their organization’s existing frameworks. This allows them to chart the path forward, and identify potential roadblocks along the way. 


I like to remind clients that successfully delivering internal innovation is the sum of many moving parts that propel forward our innovations, allowing us to get from where we are, to where we want to be. Innovation is an act of navigating new ideas through labyrinths of internal governance and internal politics. To navigate through other’s legitimate concerns about moving away from time-tested practices and shifting focus away from immediate priorities. Delivering innovation can be a maze of considerations, and this is how introspection comes into play. The introspection process will provide you with the key considerations necessary to chart a course of action within your organization that both respects existing frameworks, and leverages existing resources. 


Before launching into identifying ways to innovate within your organization, the first step of any innovation journey is to take the time to prepare, and create a map to identify potential obstacles or points of friction before they arise. It is about charting the path of least resistance.


So, how does an organization begin a process of introspection?


Introspect yourself before you wreck yourself


The hardest part of introspection is that it requires us to be painfully aware of our reality and be willing to document the good, the bad and the ugly parts of how our organization operates. 


Yes, introspection requires a hard look in the mirror and most importantly, at this stage, the process should not focus on where you should be innovating. It is about identifying your baseline, establishing the starting point, and clearly assessing the resources and skill sets that are readily available within your organization.


Before beginning the introspection process, it is important to differentiate from how your organization operates on paper (your governance plan, organograms and flow charts for example), versus the way you truly operate on a daily basis, the actual working flow of your organization (essentially flow charts plus the human variable). Every public entity, business or institution has a way it aspires to work efficiently, but the human element, and external factors often require that managers and employees learn to, let us say, circumnavigate procedural roadblocks in the interest of getting things done. 


In most cases, the larger the organization, the wider the divide will be between leadership expectations and what really happens on the ground. All you need to do is watch a few episodes of Undercover Boss to appreciate this nuance. Introspection asks you to have an open dialogue with your team to explore these nuances, to understand them and to see how the innovation plans you are envisioning align with your true starting point. 


Noah’s recommendation: Appoint an introspection committee responsible for overseeing the introspection process. The group should consist of no more than 5 people and include a mix of expertise and seniority levels, offering a range of perspectives from the top to the bottom of the organogram. This diversity of perspectives will help you better understand the entirety of the organization. Meaning, do not just delegate this process to a single person or department, create a new committee for this process composed of a mix of seniority levels and departments. 


3 tips for planning an introspection process


Time to get to work. The Introspection process, as the title suggests, is just that, a process, and all good processes require a plan and a methodology that will be used to collect and analyze feedback and collected information. Luckily, that is the first step for your introspection committee. Here are a few tips to get you started: 


Tip 1: Your Introspection Methodology


When planning your introspection methodology, the question is not solely about the actions you will take to analyze the situation and collect data, as these will be fairly standard (interviews, group discussions, surveys, suggestion boxes, etc.) The question you should ask yourself is: what is the best method for my organization, the one that fits in our internal culture? 


  • Some key considerations are: 

  • Number of employees and geography of those workers. 

  • Your existing culture. Do you have a history of sharing feedback openly among the team? If so, try group discussions. Do employees feel concerned about their reputation or career when they openly criticize the organization? Really? Maybe anonymous surveys are best for you. 

  • Whichever method you choose, ensure that employees have a platform where they feel comfortable sharing their true thoughts about the organization – again, the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

  • Be mindful of the employee’s perception of this process. You are essentially asking them to tell their bosses things that will likely not be flattering. 

  • Transparency with your employees is essential to ensure better results. Communicate why your organization is undertaking an introspection process, and what outcomes they can expect.  


Tip 2: Look at the whole board


Like in chess, you cannot plan a winning strategy unless you see the entire board so that you can consider all the potential variables. When undertaking an introspection process or any internal review process, I find that people tend to focus too much on identifying only the problems in their eagerness to find opportunities for innovation. I believe a good introspection process looks as much at what is going right, as what might be going wrong. Many people see an audit as a negative thing, a way to find mistakes. In reality, a good audit will also highlight all the things that are done well. All findings, both positive and negative considerations make up the entirety of your organization. 


If you’re going to take the time for introspection, be sure to look at the whole board. I assure you that you’ll learn a lot about your organization’s true-self. Keep in mind that: 


  • When you only ask people about the negative aspects of the organization, they can tend to take on a defensive posture, being careful not to overly criticize themselves or their team. When you look at the positive as well, employees can interconnect the good with the bad, and provide more context to better understand the feedback provided. 

  • Innovation isn’t just about fixing problems, it is also about turning the good into great. This is an excellent way to find some potential quick wins that will show your employees the benefits of finding ways to improve and innovate in the interest of themselves and for the organization. 

  • Introspection allows you to also take the time to understand where you perform exceptionally well. Understanding why you perform so well in one area can present insights on how your existing resources can be leveraged for some additional quick wins and improvements. 


Tip 3: Celebrate the results, whatever they are


I think one of the reasons we neglect to undertake the introspection process, whether in our professional or personal lives, is that it compels us to take an honest look at ourselves by asking difficult questions, and we’re not always sure that we’re ready for the results. 


Because the results might bring to light imperfections in the master plan or in the way leadership has decided that things are supposed to be done –  so who will be affected? The results might indicate that we need to change. Change can be difficult; it will cost money and it brings about a need to know what change represents for our future. I realize this might not sound appealing, but would you prefer to move forward based on false assumptions of how things should be working?


We are living in times that require us to think differently about how we work, the tools we use to operate, and how our organizations will reposition themselves in the years to come. All of this will require us to adapt; we can resist, but I assure you that the true danger is in inaction, because others are moving ahead quickly. Your organizations will be asked to refit, retrain and rethink everything. It’s a lot to consider, and we can feel so lost in all these considerations that it makes our head hurt. The alternative is moving forward without direction; you can’t figure out how to get where you want if you don’t know where you are. 


Yes, the introspection process will be challenging, and it may produce some results that we would rather not see. It will demand time and effort from every team member to grasp the full picture. However, in the end, you will gain a better understanding, and hopefully a better appreciation of everything that your organization accomplishes (because, after all, things do get done). 


So, whatever emerges from the process, share and celebrate the results, celebrate them as a team. You have accomplished something pretty remarkable, and it will make you more resilient, regardless of what the future holds. 


Final Thoughts


I believe that the true value of the introspection process is that it adds purpose to our effort to find ways to innovate within our organization. It connects our desire to improve with a solid foundation upon which to build. It will identify internal strengths that can be leveraged toward new opportunities and reveal our strategic gaps – areas where we will need further support and must build internal capacity to become more resilient in an era where new technologies and modern regulations challenge our comfortable status quo.


These are exciting times filled with new ideas that should be embraced and that should inspire us toward new possibilities. We must advance toward them to avoid being left behind. Introspection takes us one step closer; it is a process that can energize your team and build enthusiasm rather than concern about what is to come. 


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I’ll be back in June with the next quarterly article where we’ll discuss building innovation ecosystems to respond to strategic gaps identified through the introspection process. 


Until next time,

Noah

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