Don’t Scoff, Build Innovation Understanding


Innovation Understanding

It’s easier to scoff than build innovation understanding isn’t it? But wait…

  • ‘Innovative businesses grow twice as fast as non-innovators and they are also less likely to fail’ (BIS 2014)
  • 63% of the UK’s economic growth between 2000 and 2008 was due to innovation (Nesta innovation policy toolkit)
  • 85% say improving customer experience and making cost savings could be achieved through innovation (Wazoku Everyday Innovation Report)

…and so on. It’s easy to scoff at statistics, to say that they can be used to prove whatever you want to prove, and maybe they can if the statistic is taken in isolation. But when survey after survey not only highlights the benefits of building a culture of innovation within an organisation but also reveals how leaders across the globe are increasingly seeing innovation as a key imperative then it’s hard to say that building a culture of innovation has no place at business, country or any other level.

And yet that is exactly what some are saying. In the past few months I’ve come across leaders, (whose primary role is to safeguard the future prosperity of their organisation) and consultants, (whose task it is to help leaders to build future proof organisations which stave off the challenges posed by disruptors) who say that either there is no need for innovation within business or that building a culture which sets innovation at the heart of business is either the wrong approach or a waste of time.

As someone who has seen at first-hand the transformational power of innovation I have to say that they are wrong. But as someone who has worked with organisations to transform their culture to one which sets innovation at its heart I can perhaps understand why people may struggle with the concept of building an innovation-led culture. Let’s look at a few of the barriers to innovation.

An culture of innovation is for everyone!

If you think innovation is the same as invention (it isn’t) then it is hardly surprising if you see innovation as being the preserve of the few. So you may look to technological or digital breakthroughs, to product development, or even new forms of transport to deliver future prosperity. While you are expecting some people to deliver developments while others carry on with business as usual then it’s hardly surprising that you find it hard to see innovation in terms of culture.

But true innovation, the sort that delivers market leading, market changing, customer excellence, is not and should not be confined to individual development pockets within an organisation. True innovation comes from everyone; from building genuine customer understanding, from internal and external collaboration and from a culture which is not content with the status quo.

Business as usual won’t deliver great solutions!

The world is changing fast and disruptors are taking your business. Fire-fighting takes up enough of your time, when it doesn’t you’ve got the ongoing pressure of delivering transformational leadership and high levels of employee engagement. So why not just concentrate on those; they are easy, we sort of understand them and if we get them right then surely innovation will follow, won’t it?

My first response is that if your efforts on leadership and engagement haven’t worked so far, what makes you think they will do so in future? But more than that, an innovation-led culture isn’t something that you can simply bolt on to an existing organisational structure. Yes it takes leadership, but leading for innovation is nothing like you have experienced in the past. And yes you want employees to be engaged, but engaging in a collaborative innovation ideal is a far cry from the sort of isolationist viewpoint which in many businesses previously passed for engagement. So if you want to build an innovation capability that delivers genuine differentiation and growth you have to actively build a culture that’s capable of delivering it.

You can’t copy innovation strategies and approaches!

Life would be so easy if you could look at Apple or Google or some other organisation and simply copy their innovation roadmap. But even if you could, that wouldn’t be innovation. Just think about it; how can you be a market leading, entrepreneurial, disruptor if all you are doing is copying someone else’s model? And why would their approach slot perfectly into your context? So whilst there are pathways which you can follow to help to build your own culture of innovation they have to be seen as guides rather than ‘do A, B, C and you are innovative’ steps.

This is hard to understand for people whose mindset leans towards rigid structure. When organisations have to design their own innovation strategy based on their current level of innovation maturity and optimal innovation mix, when the pathway to an embedded innovation culture is bespoke to the business, when even the terminology can be used or created in a way which resonates with a single entity, then the leadership have to embrace an innovation-focussed mindset if they want to lead their business towards success. So when 72% of employees say they have no understanding of what innovation means to their employer, that is a failure of leadership not of innovation culture.

In summary…

Show me a CEO or senior leader who says that building a culture of innovation isn’t relevant and I’ll show you someone who has no concept of the way in which business has changed in the last decade and what customers, consumers and markets now demand of organisations. Show me a CEO or senior leader who says that innovation has failed in their organisation and I’ll show you someone who has failed to lead for innovation.

Building a culture of innovation isn’t rocket science but it is tough and it does require true leadership, senior team alignment and a personal commitment to transform the culture to one of innovation. But the rewards are there for those who are prepared to commit to change. If you need to know more about innovation, if you feel you don’t understand the true worth of innovation, then rather than dismissing it or trying to carry on with business as usual, take the time to build innovation understanding. You may just find that with understanding comes the realisation that you can help your employees, your suppliers, your investors and most importantly your customers by delivering different solutions in different ways.

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