Rethinking innovation – Part 1: Reality check

This post was trigger by this excellent post: 50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation – via Juzmcmuz on twitter.

It struck me that the way to do innovation is fairly well discussed, widely written about by many parties, and generally fairly consistent. This list is a great testament to that. I think by now, we all know how to do innovation, or at least how to find out how to do it.

The real challenge lies in the fact that for all the chatter about innovation, in reality, most businesses think of innovation as little more than a marketing spin, the latest buzzword – and I have heard this from clients in candid moments.

Perhaps the uncomfortable truth is this: Most businesses don’t want to be innovative. They can’t eve if they desperately want to be so because of the entrenched operational and human factors that made them who they are.

“… innovation is unnatural. Established businesses are built for efficiency, which depends on predictability and repeatability … Bosses may sing a pretty song about innovation being the future. But in practice the heads of operational units will favour the known over the unknown.” – The Innovation Machine on The Economist. (Thanks to Tanneke for the timely link.)

What most businesses want is a clever and innovative and practical and cost effect and non-threatening solution to an immediate problem.

It would be more helpful if the conversation around innovation were to shift towards the practical leverage of creativity at a more day to day level, and not massively disruptive organisational change.

For most businesses, innovation is probably more practical when taken from a “working within the system” approach – with the acknowledgement that the final results may be closer to radical improvement rather than revolution.

So why is organisational transformation just about impossible to achieve for most businesses? Because revolution is actually the domain of the brave and foolhardy. Can you imagine how hard it would be to convert a group of religion A believers to religion B? And have the conversion stick? And without significant deaths or carrots?

The way I see it, the key barriers to innovation are significantly enmeshed within people’s personal attitudes and beliefs. They tap in to many fundamental human behavioural and social traits. They are also hardwired into the genetics of most businesses; they link in with the very basis of conventional (and prevalent) management and practice.

Going through Idea Champion’s list of 50, here are the key factors that stood out for me as being Hard To Change. They are Hard to Change because they connect deeply with our human psyche and the very DNA of business practice:

(I have either quoted or paraphrased above – see the full list)

Unless you can magically get everyone ready and open to questioning their beliefs and attitudes, to challenge the comfortable status quo, to question conventional business “truths” and wisdom; and at the same time be open to changing those beliefs, you are unlikely to succeed. How hard is that?!!

In subsequent posts, I will go through each barrier in more detail in subsequent posts to look at the realities of each and the challenges of trying to change them.

And before you think this is all about the pessimistic no-can-do moaning, it isn’t. I will offer up a set of optimistic opportunities at the conclusion of this series of posts. I hope you read through to the end!

2 comments

  1. Bob Jacobson said:

    This is a very cool project, Zern. It gets better and better.

  2. Zern said:

    Thanks Bob! Really appreciate the encouragement! :)

Leave a Comment