Innovation is a Space, how are you creating it?

With the benefit of my old role at Velteo  (Acquired by Bluewolf in Oct 2012) and the types of projects we got engaged on we had the opportunity to witness common themes across diverse industries. One of the most important and most frustrating themes is how most companies recognise the need to change in pockets but those pockets don’t have the power to affect the change. In fact the pockets that can affect the change are often fearful of it and are not willing to make the paradigm shift to drive innovation. As Steve Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ presents, innovation is made possible by creating space for it.

This is a serious problem, which is affecting the Australian Economy daily, the recent announcement by Ford to close its plants is just another example of the impact of lack of innovation despite receiving funding a few years ago to prop the business up. According to the World Economic Forum,  Australia has dropped yet again in its Innovation rankings to number 18 for Innovation Capacity from 9 in 2004. This during a period when the rest of the world has been in recession, something is not right and we need to do something about it. There is a direct link between jobs, wealth and welfare and the Innovation Capacity of a country, Australia can do better.

I am coming at this topic from a few angles, notably Leadership and IT. Since Velteo (Now Bluewolf) is at the cutting edge of Cloud Computing, Customer Engagement and Cultural Enablement we are in a good position to recognise why so many companies are stuck. More often than not it comes from bad past experiences, lack of education, a stage 2 or 3 culture where true collaboration is non existent and genuine fear of change. We have seen and convinced many companies (not all of them though) that change is inevitable and that change is speeding up. It has never been easier to start up a competitor, to crowd source ideas, to collaborate with the collective workforce and to execute ideas using agile and mobile technology like salesforce.com and Apple’s iOS. Innovation is also cultural as the Digital Natives in our world begin to come into power (50% of the worlds population is under 30 and in 10 years 40% of the Fortune 500 will no longer be here) new competitors will rise and move at breakneck speed leaving the Fortune 500 waning i.e. Facebook.

More often than not it has become the IT Departments of most organizations who seem to be the brakes on innovation. It seems Consumerism has taken hold and the business wants the tools to execute on the ground, yet traditional IT Departments hold back and more often than not cannot keep up with the demands. Sighting best practice compliance and security concerns they get in the way of your companies innovation and competitive advantage. With Cloud Computing all of these concerns go away, leaving your IT departments with more time to plan and execute on higher value tasks and projects and drive true innovation, not better Data Centre’s but better engagement models and applications. The new age company understands this and has converged traditional silos into one organisation where IT/Management/HR/Marketing/Sales/Service are one profit centre.

We also see old school management styles struggle with the new paradigm, Digital Natives. This hold’s organisations back due to their inability to harness the collective, retain talent and attract the best. The new age workforce thrives on Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery. Most organisations still treat their staff as a means to an end without concern for synergistic drivers. Its the organisation who can marry up an agile culture with the fuel of empowerment that will out compete and win in this ever increasing hyper-connected world where Service and Care are the new main pillars of success. Although many organisations are beginning to adopt corporate social networking platforms to address these concerns they will fail unless they address the underlaying structural faults of their organisation as referred to by Tribal Leadership. Only Stage 4 companies (where the status quo is “We’re great, they’re are not” versus Stage 3 “Im great, you’re not” can put to great use these social tools where sharing is done without fear and unconditionally. Where social performance management tools like Work.com can be used without an underlaying sense of dread that ‘this is just another stick to be used by my boss to get me to work harder’.

There are many other areas of business that need to be addressed for improved and sustained Innovation but in my  humble opinion the two areas of Leadership and IT are a great place to start. Once an ecology where hunches, ideas and concepts can be shared without ridicule exists and the black hatters understand their role without abusing it, it is then that real breakthroughs materialise. From there its how an organisation can execute the ideas by way of an operational system that will affect results. Bringing down the silos and connecting internal organisations for effective engagement and collaboration has been the primary engine to creativity and innovation in history, so why not harness this for your organisation and create the space to enable it.

It doesn’t stop there however, its not just about creating innovation in business, we need to foster an environment of  innovation in Education, The Arts, Governance and Science. We must enable collaboration amongst all these traditionally isolated worlds, thats how countries like Switzerland and Singapore have managed to achieve 1st and 2nd place in the rankings. They have shown an enhanced capacity for Innovation through strong collaboration between Academic and Business sectors, combined with high company spending on R&D ensures that much of this research is translated into marketable products and processes, reinforced by strong intellectual property protection and government support of innovation through its procurement processes.

Waiting for our Government to take the lead on driving a space for Innovation is fruitless, we need to be asking ourselves how can we empower ourselves to create a space for Innovation daily. When was the last time a teacher fostered this, when was the last time your boss supported this and when was the last time a parent nurtured this approach? I hope together we can discover how we can create a space for Innovation and lead from our current position.

The following brief video on where good ideas come from is invaluable in understanding the Innovation Paradigm:

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