The Road to Innovation, or bust


Behavioural change

One of the great things about Christmas is the reappearance on the TV of all those old films which you first enjoyed as a child. The Sound of Music, The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery, Monty Carlo or Bust; whatever your personal favourites, the chances are that a bit of channel hopping will bring at least one of them to the small screen this December. And if it doesn’t, well if you are lucky enough to have a reasonable broadband speed then online streaming is also an option. (BTW, I’m not suggesting The Sound of Music is one of my personal favourites, just a great example of a popular seasonal favourite!)

In fact, online streaming is a perfect example of the road to innovation in action as well as being a great example of the way in which some marketplaces transform as technology evolves. It also acts as a warning to those who sail on serenely in the belief that their marketplace will never change rather than looking at how they can stay ahead of the game. If you want an example, just think how swiftly video rental company Blockbusters disappeared from the high street!

Taking inspiration

But we can also take inspiration on innovation from those films of yesteryear. Take Monte Carlo or Bust for example. Loosely based on the Monte Carlo rally the film is the story of ingenuity, trickery and double-dealing in a car race across Europe. The film also gave rise to the Wacky Races cartoons in which Dick Dastardly and Muttley constantly tried to outwit fellow racers with ever more ingenious modifications to their cars. Every failure spurred them on to try something new, a perfect lesson in treating failure as a learning point and never letting up on your purpose or your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

Interestingly Monte Carlo or Bust and Wacky Races can also teach us about one of the pitfalls companies trying to ‘innovate’ without structure typically face. It’s all very well doing lots of stuff, constantly tinkering in order to come up with self professed innovation; but unless changing the organisation as a whole is delivered via a cohesive and coherent plan then all your ‘Heath Robinson’ efforts are likely to do is result in over-complexity, poor performance and ultimately, employees suffering more innovation culture change fatigue.

Let me take the car analogy one step further. What does your innovation strategy look like? Are you aiming to be a supercar, delivering detailed and carefully planned innovation reminiscent of companies such as Apple or Nike? Or perhaps you are looking to be an innovation disrupter, outwardly offering the four door family estate but in reality delivering a product which is as fast and well-made as the supercar at a fraction of the price? However, I can only hope that you aren’t planning on paying lip-service to the genuine need for innovation by purporting that it’s on the strategic agenda or by adopting the ‘boy racer special’ approach, showy and full of noise but with little substance.

The fact is that innovation, if it is to be a strategic driver of competitive advantage, differentiation and growth and built into organisational culture at all, has to be introduced in a holistic manner. Ultimately, that takes leadership; a special kind of leadership that recognises the importance of purpose, the sort of impetus which Martin Luther King’s dream imparts for example. But also, leadership that understands Einstein’s comment that “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Innovation leadership

Combining those two key ingredients, purpose with creativity forms the basis for innovation leadership. It’s the sort of creative leadership which Adam Grant so eloquently described in his book Originals. For Adam Grant, creative leaders are not simply visionaries; they are also able and prepared to take the initiative to turn their visions into reality. They understand that the road they need to take is not necessarily the easy one, nor is it necessarily one which has been well travelled before; but if it leads to the right destination then it has to be the one to take.

So, my challenge to all the CEOs and senior leaders out there is this: As you prepare to take your organisation into 2017 and beyond, take time to examine the roadmap you are laying out for yourself and your organisation and ask yourself; are you genuinely ready to build a cohesive and meaningful culture of innovation? If not, then you may have to watch as the design-led, future-shaping disruptors race past you to win the innovation prize.

This article was written by Cris Beswick for Training Zone and previously posted on 12/12/2016.

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