September 13

Holding back innovation – Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise!

These lines from Thomas Gray’s “Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College” may have passed into common parlance as the more common saying that ignorance is bliss; but when it comes to management theory and, in particular, the need to step up into the innovation era the poem contains lines, which are far more apt. At heart innovation isn’t rocket science but it does require a fundamental re-appraisal of the culture, processes, values and behaviours of an organisation. Whilst some companies “get it” there are far more who either don’t consider the need for innovation or who fall victim to one of the common denominators which seem to beset those who set out more in hope than in judgement.

In fact every time I go into an organisation anywhere in the world I can almost guarantee that one or more of the common denominators, which hold back innovation, will be present. The most fundamental one is “a lack of innovation strategy or even a consideration that innovation needs to be approached in a strategic and organisation wide way.” Put simply, innovation is not the preserve of a few scientists locked in a room while the rest of the organisation goes on its merry way. Nor can an innovation culture work on a scattergun principle with different departments adopting or rejecting innovation to suit their own idiosyncrasies.

“Innovation is figuring out how to do something better than it has ever been done before”
David Neeleman – founder, JetBlue

If innovation is to be aligned across the organisation then the CEO and the senior team need to adopt a strategic understanding and alignment to the core growth strategy. This enables them to drive behaviours, actions and ideas around needs, markets, customers, trends and technology; in fact across the entire business sphere. Only once the full weight of the organisation is behind the drive to innovate can an organisation become exceptional.

This doesn’t mean that every department has to change to the same degree but organisation-wide the ethos and approach have to be aligned. Otherwise contributions become subjective and limited, there is a lack of focus on innovation and departments become even more silo’d than before. Even worse, a scattergun approach can result in organisation-wide chaos as one department seeks to innovate whilst others try to rein in empowerment or stick to process-driven modules.

Change in pursuit of innovation is arguably the most disruptive change facing any organisation but innovation also carries the greatest potential return. Getting innovation right is initially the responsibility of an organisation’s senior team and this can put pressure on the leaders themselves to change. This pressure to change is something that my team and I have been working on with organisations across the world and is something we call the ‘Next Generation Organisation’.

“Differentiated Innovation, Differentiated Leadership & Differentiated Culture for Next Generation Organisations.”

Some want innovation, some ‘get’ innovation and some have innovation thrust upon them but it is the bold leader, the visionary who wants to drive their organisation into making the most of 21st Century competitive advantage who actually takes the right steps towards a culture of innovation.

Oh yes, and the lines from the Ode which I referred to earlier? Well they are a warning to all those who gaily sail their businesses on unchanging and oblivious to the way in which their rivals are changing the business map through innovation.

Alas! Regardless of their doom, the little victims play;
No sense have they of ills to come, nor care beyond today.

Everyone says they want or even need to innovate but few actually do it. If you want to be one of the few, we can help you get there.

Got a question? Ask me…



Innovation, Innovation Culture, Innovation strategy, Leadership

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