Get More Innovative by Rethinking the Way You Think18 November, 2015 / Articles
Innovating how we innovate. Improving how we improve. Analyzing how we analyze. Gimmicky workplace wordplay? Absolutely! But effective prods and provocations for inspiring organizational introspection and insight, as well. Exercises like these, often known as “going meta,” focus managerial attention on what creating new capabilities might mean. That’s important for any business.
Psychologists and educational researchers, for example, stress how metacognition — the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes — is integral to enhanced learning and better decisions. Rigorous “thinking about thinking” boosts cognitive capabilities, and framing business competences and aspirations in meta-context invites ingenuity around their fundamentals.
“Going meta” offers a simple yet powerful heuristic for organizations intent on defining the measurable essence of change. Making the ends a part of the means can prove enormously influential.
Here’s an example: At a professional services firm rolling out KPI dashboards, a breakthrough came when a cross-functional design group and IT considered creating a KPI dashboard to manage KPI dashboards. What literally began as joking comments about “dashboard management” turned into creative debates around designing “master dashboards.” How could disparate KPIs be effectively aggregated and synthesized across the enterprise?
That macro-perspective fundamentally altered the mission. Designing KPI dashboards for KPI dashboards transformed how the team perceived its opportunity to impact top management, as well as individual users.
I witnessed comparable meta-behaviors at a global engineering giant committed to a bold predictive analytics initiative. The data scientists and their business counterparts first identified the opportunities most likely to generate the biggest impact and best results within a year. They then debated which predictive analytics might prove most strategic over the next five years.
But as the teams better understood each other’s capabilities and aspirations, they began wondering if predictive analytics could generate better predictive analytics. Using predictive analytics to analytically predict next-generation predictive analytics created completely different — and important — conversations. The result was an innovative predictive analytics roadmap that no one would have — sorry — predicted.
The common theme? Organizations became more introspective about being introspective. They gave greater thought to the impact they were trying to have. This injected a level of creative rigor. “Going meta” encouraged people to double down on making sure they understood their mission-oriented outcomes. What seems like a cheap semantic trick turns out to have profound organizational implications.
There’s another example in A.G. Lafley’s first tour as P&G CEO. Making the global consumer products behemoth more innovative was a top priority. But Lafley explicitly eschewed calls for his company to build on its traditional models and methodologies for innovation success. Better extrapolating and extending P&G’s storied past into its innovation future was no longer good enough. Lafley consequently asked his company to become “more innovative at being innovative.”
In other words, he challenged leadership to devise new business and technical models for innovation. The company’s “connect & develop” initiatives and dedicated emphasis to design thinking became part of both P&G’s value creation process and culture. Lafley’s “going meta” substantively changed the company’s innovation rhetoric.
Implicit in the meta-approach is the importance of measurement. What turns “analyzing how we analyze” and “improving how we improve” from slogans or mantras into actionable, implementable design rules is measurement. That is the “meta” challenge and opportunity. Making metrics “meta” requires a commitment to measurement, not just rhetoric.