We need to become really worried over our potential to re-galvanize growth across many of our economies. There is this growing feeling that in Europe, perhaps even the United States, we are in for a prolonged drawn out ‘slump’ with the possibilities of a Japanese-style lost decade.
Crash austerity programmes are compounding deeper economic problems and we need to find ways to create more demand, yet it does seem our current approaches are placing increasing constraints on solving this growth need. Of course, the public debt to GDP for many countries is alarming but if you can’t fix the problems with achieving growth, you just get further into debt. It seems as the predicted ‘inflows’ continue to fall below the forecasted ones you are forced into borrowing more to even support the existing environment. This adds further struggles to hold onto some of the essential services we require to function and we seem to continue downwards in a collapsing spiral.
We are suffering from those evil twins, a lack of fresh investments and bold innovation, which are failing, by not doing the essential job of promoting growth, of leading demand, of creating the new wealth we desperately need. The scale of our needs requires a different type of engagement, up and down our society; we need a new set of norms otherwise we will continue to witness some extremely painful adjustments across large parts of society.
Engagement means different things to different people
We do use the word ‘engagement’ just the same as ‘innovation’. They are thrown around and used in isolation, often to self-justify and defend, but until we can connect them in ways that generate a sense of real commitment, we cannot begin to create the conditions for sustainable growth.
The majority of people today are seemingly disengaging, pre-occupied with personal worries, gaining little incentive in what they see for their future. We need to turn this present trend around. On numerous surveys the level of people in ‘active engagement’ is around 20% in our business organizations for instance and the majority are ‘passengers’ or in cruise control, mostly detached from the bigger picture, so preoccupied, often with fear and apprehension or already caught in their personal economic traps, unable to see a way out.
The implications of this are profound and need radically altering.
If this growing lack of engagement continues we lose the emotional connections, that sense of belonging, feeling part of something worthwhile and believing we are going to gain something in return. This return not only comes in financial ways but in a growing sense of trust, confidence to commit, for knowledge that you seek to explore and leverage, and for knowing and understanding you are part of something bigger, you ‘feel’ commitment.
This goes well beyond requiring ‘engagement’ in actions called for, it comes from drawing individuals into a broader community for meeting their expectations, for their alignment to working towards a future that is committed to working through a new way to act and collectively grow.
It moves beyond just “involvement and interaction” it needs to have “intimacy and influencing aspects” and here lies the potential impact that new innovation can bring. It gets attention, it brings engagement and tracks back to the propensity to share, to advocate, showing you are involved, participating and seeing the new value that innovation brings that you want to be part of. Engagement moves from being a goal to being a result through innovation. Engagement needs to be enacted at a multi-level -societal, organizational, team and individual.
At society level committed engagement is missing for innovation
Presently within the European Union the Horizon 2020 initiative where innovation is a central part, is stalled. It is not being adopted, no one can agree on the budgets, what to include, what to drop and sacrifice, it seems we are locked into many conflicting battles, deeply caught up in the austerity drive sweeping Europe. The very ‘instrument’ potentially seen to support and grow our economies is facing the same determined forces as witnessed in so many economies, to reduce it, so we stifle growth potential even further. If we cut too deeply into innovation will we have the capacity to return to any normality?
In the United States, the consistent call for innovation is like an annoying beat of a drum, it needs the rest of the band to turn up and start playing. We have a present government unable to play the decisive role, caught in the inability to fully function, whatever each person’s political views, where polarization is killing the potential to ignite innovation.
Again we are facing some tough questions as the Budget Control Act enacted in the summer of 2011 will require automatic cuts in discretionary spending to occur starting in January of 2013, commonly known as the sequestration, in order to achieve $1.2 trillion in savings through 2021. What will the effects of sequestration-based cuts have on U.S. productivity, competitiveness, employment and growth?
“There is no more important subject to the future of this society than innovation. There is nothing that can solve our problems in the way strong economic growth can solve our problems”– a quote from The New York Times Washington Bureau Chief, David Leonhardt recently.
With innovation so critical to tackling problems and so elemental to economic growth, it is dismaying that innovation is not our active point of engagement. We need to relearn making things and simply less on relying on making money and reliance on just ‘service.’ We might have lost much of our innovating roots.
The business leader needs to have more innovation engagement.
If we cannot engage employees within the workplace then innovation is deficient, it lacks the vitality. There is this overwhelming relationship between engagement and innovation. Innovation requires a real interest, a passion to want to question, to explore, to discover, to investigate. If we are not receptive to the ‘weak connections’ or ‘weak signals’ that need bringing together and associating in new ways we don’t move beyond the existing, we miss new horizons.
The business leader needs to offer the right environment to draw out our insights and not allow us to default across to what we already know as the only answer we can provide. They need to offer an engaging environment for innovation to be extracted in new ways. I have written enough in this need for leadership to engage in innovation in recent weeks, not to burn up more of your time on this except to say it is incredibly important to get this innovation leadership gap resolved. It is vital we get leadership engagement and involvement within innovation, greater engagement brings greater insight and that can lead to greater innovation activity.
Engagement is often more associated with Customers and Work place involvement
Employee engagement is a key part of any strategy. How ‘we’ engage with customers and suppliers determines much in building trust, gaining commitment and building relationships. The quality of these values has moved well beyond’ what’ an organization does but ‘how’ it does it.
Cris Beswick nicely put this in an article last year: “Innovation is within the grasp of every employee. Innovation is a message every growth-hungry organization has been trying to get across for some time. This means we can finally use ‘innovation’ as a form of engagement.”
He goes on and suggests innovation be used as a catalyst for changing your organization: “Where there is purpose, people can rationalize the need and the fear of the unknown is reduced”
So why is engagement within innovation so important?
Engagement can become the behavioural footprint in change, it can shift the mind of the person who it engages, and it can often place their contribution into context. Engagement becomes the catalyst for innovation but it needs to be continuous and well-constructed. It needs not just to hold people’s attention; it needs to offer the potential delivery of a better result. This then can channel the essential energy, to regain a feeling that their voice counts, is heard and valued.
People do want to belong, to share and collaborate but only where they see the value. If values can become aligned to achieve a greater sense of meaning, that it encourages and motivates. We all are far more ready to then be stretched, to want to explore, to seek out ways to collaborate and find new synergy we can associate with, and it is the art of engagement that draws us in, to seek out this new value.
We need today to generate new economic activity, to improve dramatically and create new solutions to claw ourselves out of the difficulties we are presently facing. If we don’t engage we are simply operating in the twilight zone and we don’t achieve the necessary impact needed for growth and getting ourselves of the enormous holes we have somehow dug ourselves into. This needs engagement across society, across communities and within each person to simply identify with.
High-yielding innovation needs a real engagement
Engaging in innovation offers the real potential for high-yielding innovation, this can inspire us but it needs commitments by all to get involved, to interaction in more positive ways, to influence and be intimately involved, to become simply engaged. If we don’t become engaged, we can’t hope to emerge from the times we are in.
Engaging in innovation, I’d argue, can certainly lead the way but we need alignment at all levels from policy, through implementation, creating the right conditions and execution, so we can achieve a positive impact for our societies. We need to move beyond ignoring where we are, we need to draw a line on how we got to this point or what needs to be done, and return to clear engagement, stewardship and commitment.
We need to deliver a new purpose, based on innovation as the enabler, to solve our problems and regrow our economies. We all need to engage in this. I think we need too, as the alternative disengagement across society, is not a place to go but we are seemingly heading that way unless we find ways to change and quickly. We do need to engage with innovation at all levels.
image credit: 2008.nbcolympics.com
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.