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Innovation has never been more problematic or needed – 3 things you can do

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Everyone wants innovation, no one wants to innovate. It’s similar to change. Therein may lie the rub. They are such broad terms, they may have lost their significance. But the problem goes beyond lack of interest, there is a lack of purpose or organisation/management, the pace of change, all and more contribute to this situation. Call it innovation fatigue if you will, in fact a book has got that covered already: Innovation for the fatigued – How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity. And yet, the imperative is as high as ever.

Our society has never been in such a need to transform itself to adapt to the latest changes it faces – the pandemic, a lack of international co-operation and disruptive technologies, among other challenges. We have to work together to make the world more resilient, inclusive and sustainable.

Emerging technologies, environmental challenges and changing market landscape and business models mean that pioneers of change are much needed to build our collective future into a better shape. Innovation by individuals in companies that is added together could bring fundamental societal change.

Startups are doing amazing things and have the capability, being nimble and agile as they are. As long as they are trying to do things for the right purpose, not just to turn a quick profit, or lure another unsuspecting user with a dopamine hit. So too companies behaving like startups which I wrote about here: Startup Innovation. More recently, Toyota Connected is doing some really interesting things. The video below explains and is just one such example I’ve been impressed with. They are doing the hard work of building things themselves, including the capabilities. Innovation after all is hard and takes time, you have to be patient. They’ve been at it for the last three years but it’s worth it.

The stats on innovation priority in the DanelDoodle at the top of this post are referenced on LinkedIn by Michele Zanini who alongside Gary Hamel wrote Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them. He goes on to quote further issues:

Most continue to struggle with innovation performance. A recent McKinsey & Company survey suggests 94% of execs are unhappy about it; Boston Consulting Group (BCG) research indicates only 20% of firms are able to scale innovation.

The stats from Google Trends you can see for yourself any time. I did a search for the word innovation and chose the same date period as the Boston Consulting Group study Michele references and I contrast with. The baselines are different but I think comparisons are still valid. One (Google search trends which is a good proxy for interest) measures search interest relative to the highest point on the chart which is 100 and the other is a percentage out of 100.

So what to do?

  1. Go beyond the lip service. Truly give people permission to invent, create and experiment but also enable them to and reward them when they do. Not just for one day or a week and not just certain people, everyone and all the time.
  2. Stop talking about innovation. Call it something else if you need to – brand it differently. Innovation is as much about perception as it is about reality. And no one likes bureaucracy when it come to innovation processes so keep it simple and sell the sizzle, not the sausage.
  3. Set the imperative, inspire people and build culture. Especially in an age of robots, automation and AI when peoples creativity and inventiveness can overcome the redundancies these will bring about, its important to set the right imperative. We have so many others to choose from as well, when we are in such deep trouble with the planet and finite resources. Purpose that aligns with imperatives but also taps into innate needs we all have to be creative human beings can inspire and infuse people with passion. Building a culture from this basis will never be a problem – culture thrives in a pool of passion. But you also have to be intentional about culture.

I’ll end by sharing two passages that I loved from the book I mentioned at the start that sums it up nicely: Innovation for the fatigued – How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity.

Real innovation, which looks beyond what we do and know now, is still a human game. We have the ability to think in ways that make seemingly illogical leaps between topics and themes, which no machine is able to replicate. It is this ability to link seemingly unconnected things together and blend them in unexpected ways that drives our innovative ability. For instance, no algorithm would be able to consider starting a hotel business without first owning a hotel. No algorithm would be able to make the leap from selling cheap flights, to building a supersonic jet. Or move from the supersonic jet, to thinking about life in the cosmos and the future benefits of space stations.
To successfully embed innovation into an organization means encouraging an encompassing and nurturing culture. If we look at the etymology of the word “culture,” we can get a clue. It comes from the Latin “cultus,” which can be translated as “care” or “cultivation.” Like the farmer, the organization must carefully tend their work culture, rather than simply relying on the brilliance of lone mavericks. The whole organization must be a nurturing system, where everyone is given the right kind of environment to innovate. You can’t expect a whole crop of bright shoots if you’re planting on hard, infertile ground.

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