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Innovation: Not Here Thanks – We’re Too Busy

August 11, 2010

Most organisations proclaim they are open to new ideas and are seeking to be ‘at the leading edge’. This is true even in a traditionally conservative area such as contracting or risk management.

Yet where do these organisations and their leaders seek those new ideas? Many rely on the quality of the people they hire. They are confident that they innovate because of the intelligence and knowledge of their highly skilled (and often highly paid) professional staff. Others seek new ideas through articles or case studies delivered by magazines, webcasts or conferences. Some may use consultants as a periodic source of ideas and a few will undertake research or commission benchmarks to validate their performance, frequently from organizsations with limited insight (ideally they reflect only the perspective of the function in question and therefore won’t ask too many tough questions).

In truth, most functional groups are not especially open or welcoming of new ideas or innovative approaches to old problems. Many do not welcome suggestions that things could be done better. Quite a number are in denial that there are problems – and those that exist are someone else’s fault, and therefore not their responsibilty to fix. When these groups discover new ideas or methods, there is a tendency to think of all the reasons why ‘it wouldn’t work here’. This is especially true of anecdotal evidence (which is the type they often prefer), because individual case studies are in part interesting precisely because they can be dismissed as ‘not applicable’.

 It is also rare to find examples of cross-functional collaboration to identify sources of improvement. Most functions prevent internal analysis or constructive criticism of their services.

 Yet all the evidence shows that innovation depends on a readiness to listen to and work with outsiders. It is through the combination of their perspectives and our knowledge that we come up with new approaches.

 Often, it takes a dramatic shock to open eyes and ears to innovation. If a company survives the shock, it goes through a period of soul-searching and true openness to innovation and change (of course, some resist and continue on a downward spiral). But it seems sad that we cannot become enthusiasts for change and continuous improvement. It should be a source of real pride that we are evolving and adding new sources of value. We should be eager to list the ways we have changed ourselves, our processes and those of others; have you thought about the list of improvements you have initiated recently? Are you an innovator, or just waiting for the external pressure to force change upon you?

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