To Innovate or Not? From Spurgeon to the Bloomberg Innovation Index

by Jose Floren

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Let the lion out of the cage”, a quote by Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), could apply to innovation…

Ideas can be shackled. If an idea cannot be heard, explained, elaborated, even debated; it is at a disadvantage. Unable to move forward, it can’t be free and realize its potential.

The free open flow of ideas leads to all kind of innovation. Innovations improves the competitive advantage. Competitive advantage leads to a better bottom-line…

Bloomberg says “The best antidote to stagnation is innovation, the creation of products and services that make life better—whether it’s air conditioning, vaccines, or text messaging. Every country wants to foster a culture of innovation, but it’s not easy to do.”

Innovation is one of those “buzzwords” in today’s business world. Everybody is talking about innovation, at least many are. Some companies seem to have a strong innovation mentality; a blog to register them and a forum to review them. Seems awesome!

I have been involved with innovation, mostly IT related, for many years. Working in various capacities, at a variety of places and companies, and on my own.

Innovations, the action or process of innovating, or of producing ideas on how to create or improve something, via new tools and/or processes, or improving them is—I read and know, somewhat natural for many of us. Aversion—it seems, is common too…

Everyone has ideas—some very good. Researching, developing and testing those ideas is much harder. Selling them is the real issue!

In some large organizations, I have been involved with there has been some level of receptivity for innovation and some level of formality about it.

In some of the more “informal” workplaces, innovation has been relatively simple to initiate and execute. Just present an idea in a meeting, get positive feedback and proceed with it. Granted, not many resources are always needed, but still innovation–and in a time, a while back, that it wasn’t a ‘buzzword’.

Simple and not so simple innovative projects can be initiated this way.

In environments with more flexibility or “liberty” (and sometimes authority) to experiment, innovation thrived.

Paradoxically, in large organizations with formal Innovation initiatives or processes, it has been the hardest to accomplish one’s objective.

Some of those organizations all have a place to submit the ideas and have a committee that reviews them—this is good so far… But, they also present other roadblocks that prevent or slows change and improvements. In particular:

  • Lack of discussion meetings, where ideas are introduced, questions are asked, there is opportunity to explain and elaborate the ideas and receive feedback. Open to all!
  • A “committee” and influential people “acting up”—not by positive action, but by preventing action, mostly making premature judgment.
  • Focus on game-changer and/or flashy innovation, when there should be innovation at all levels. Even simple changes are positive—they all add up.

This is not easy overcome, it likely requires active high-level involvement and participation. Innovation is not easy, since we have a tendency to:

  • Resist change; fear of the unknown;
  • Get comfortable with the “status quo”;
  • Have “bad memories”—I call it the “Vietnam Syndrome” of IT projects;
  • Lack confidence—in ourselves and others;
  • Have risk aversion—perceived or real; etc.

A strong commitment by management—from executive level and down, is recognized as critical for success. But, this is not enough…It has to be actively promoted to the lowest levels.

An innovation structure needs to be flat, horizontal (like a Matrix organization), with representation from all levels. Give “permission” and encourage participants to “speak freely”, “off-the-record” …

All innovations submitted should be discussed, have its “day in court” so to speak.

Create an open environment; do regular in-person sessions with executive level feedback. Promote the innovation culture. Don’t wait for volunteers; invite likely stakeholders. Promote innovation participation, encourage incubation and execution.

Everything and anything can be improved; many times in a cost-effective way, many times it needs to! Let’s innovate…

Let the lion out of the cage!

References:

The Bloomberg Innovation Index report:  http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-innovative-countries/

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jose-florenJose Floren has over 25 years of comprehensive IT experience, contributing to effective solutions in support of a variety of industries and commercial applications, including ERP’s in manufacturing. Jose is proficient in IT technical subjects and informed in current trends and technologies, using extensive programming and development experience with various architectures, languages, and Databases.

About Jose Floren

Just an IT guy struggling with implementing innovations.

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