Me? An Innovation Expert? Who’d have thought!

9 04 2010

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. Andy Warhol

It can be fascinating to look back at where you have come from. To sit and reflect upon what you are doing now, and the experiences that have brought you to where you are. Whilst we are busy focussing on the trivial, and sometimes not so trivial matters of the day to day, we tend to lose sight on how where we are going is because of where we have been.

A little profound in the thinking, perhaps, but it is 2 o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting outside, in the cold, with a beanie and a big jumper typing away because of where my thoughts have been over the last couple of weeks.

I was recently introduced by as “an innovation expert”. I’ve been recently suggested as a guy to speak to about innovation. I wonder is this because of where I am, or because of where I have been?

I completed a Graduate Diploma in “Innovation and Service Management”, and throughout the program I often wondered “where is the innovation?” It was there all along. One of the strengths I found throughout this study of “Innovation” was that it comes from doing things differently. From looking at business as a system, and not as a group of individuals. I can look back also at my career and see the moments when I was more interested in doing something differently, rather than doing the same old ‘tried and tested’ things – and at times I was less concerned about what others thought of my approach, as I could clearly ‘see’ what needed to be done (and thankfully those who disagreed were begrudgingly happy with the outcomes).

When I was asked to brief a group of soon-to-be business owners on my business ‘vision’, I started with “Involve, Inspire, Innovate”. I thought it was a pretty catchy tag line, as did the group. Nice bit of validation. And so thus began a journey perhaps not what I intended, but where I seem to be heading at this point in time. When attending a networking event, when asked ‘What does People Motion Do?” I happily sprout that “I collaborate with business owners to inspire their people to become involved in innovation in their workplace”, rather than “I’m a HR consultant”.

I posted recently about the need for development in the area of innovation (Do Your People Trust You To Innovate), and whilst continuing to read and comment on the fantastic responses, I posed a question of my own “So how do we, as leaders in innovation, build a culture that not only encourages creativity, outside the box thinking, and gain buy-in from the front line? Is trust enough?”

I was rewarded with a response by Robin Cook, a seasoned change agent with an extensive background in organizational development/innovation, change management/culture change, strategic planning, and training. To me, he’s an Innovation Expert. But back to his response. Robin pointed me to his research on innovative organisations. I can speak from my own experience  to say that the characteristics he discovered are truly what makes for a supportive culture of innovation.

Excerpt: Lessons Learned From Innovative Organizations: 9 Shared Characteristics

Robin Cook Innovation University Fellow

9 common cultural characteristics shared by some of the most innovative organizations in the world, as identified through site visits during the 1998-1999 Innovation University Fellowship Program.

Perhaps the most striking lesson we learned was just how much these disparate organizations had in common. Virtually every one of the organizations we visited displayed nine shared characteristics:

• Strong, clearly expressed SHARED VALUES

• An appreciation of/for the WHOLE INDIVIDUAL and everything s/he can bring to the organization

• Cultures that encourage OPENNESS and PLAYFULNESS

CELEBRATE SUCCESSES constantly

• A strong, clearly communicated sense of HISTORY

• Intense CUSTOMER FOCUS

• Clear focus on TRENDS, even those that do not seem to directly effect current businesses

CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAMS

I’d like to share with you the whole article, and I’ll post a bit more over the next week about the above, but for now I’d encourage you to look differently at your business, with the above characteristics in mind, and think about how different you can be.





Do your people trust you to innovate?

2 04 2010

When I think innovation I usually think about technology advances. For instance, while travelling back from Canberra I’m working on my laptop connected to the web via a mobile phone (no I’m not also driving, I’m the passenger). Now a few years back mobile technology was unreliable in more remote locations and whilst I still have a few drop outs on the journey, I’m pretty impressed that I can work whilst on the road (more time to spend with Little Miss when I get home!).

photo by Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I wonder why some businesses are seen as innovative, and others are not. How do we define innovative – is it only when there is a leap of technological advancement that we cry “innovative!”, or can it be more subtle than that.

If innovation is to improve something, to make something better, to do something different, then what other areas are we able to innovate?

Innovation and Personal Development

Laura Wolfram, of Sandstorm inc, recently posed the question (via LinkedIn) “What is the most important area of personal development you feel is needed in the innovation field? Training on identifying insights? Effective concept writing? Creative thinking techniques? Others?

There are some fascinating responses to this question. From change of mindset, to buy-in, motivation, to creative problem solving, know-thyself, and even listening.

One of the area’s I’m currently researching right now in prep for a seminar on innovation is innovation and employee engagement. I think all the personal development in the world is moot if you cannot develop and inspire TRUST from your people.

Trust and Innovation….and your people.

Let’s face it, if your people do not trust you, they will not be creative, will not put idea’s forward, and will not see any benefit to putting their idea’s in the open if they do not feel that their manager/leaders will support them.

In terms of support, I believe that you need to develop an environment where your people will trust that you will listen to their ideas (regardless of how outside the box the thinking may be). This means sometimes you need to trust, or believe in your people enough to let them make some mistakes, and perhaps you’ll be surprised that you’ll actually get some innovative idea’s.

You can find dozen’s of techniques to encourage ‘creativity’ (eg brainstorming, mind-mapping, six thinking hats etc), but you’ll not get any quality of response if there is no trust. Perhaps for the first brainstorming session you’ll get heaps of ideas, but unfortunately most innovations don’t fail due to lack of credibility, but lack of effective implementation (ie not enough follow through and ongoing focus on the ‘innovation’). The result of this lack of follow through will be that your people wont trust you to deliver on the promised actions agreed upon during the ‘brainstorming’ or action planning sessions.

So to summarise, if you are looking for personal development to become more innovative, look to how trustworthy you are as a leader.





Getting Unsocial (Media)

5 03 2010

I’ve been thinking about the use of social media over the last few weeks, been learning how to use these tools, and being overwhelmed at the amount of help, tips, tricks, techniques, blogs and opinions that can be found ‘online’. For every “tip” there are a dozen links to ‘show’ you how to do!

I even found myself giving ‘advice’ on how to set up a welcome page for Facebook to a colleague, with links, although I still don’t really understand how I created what I did.(you can see some of these efforts on my Facebook page – why not become a fan!)

It got me thinking about how something that is designed to improve your ‘social’ connections, can actually be a little unsocial! You can now run a business, from home, from a computer, without the need to physically interact with your customers. Now, I know there are many products and services out there that suit this, however what about your business?

In the new social environment, how social are you with your people?

Do you e-mail a quick question, only to wait a few hours before the response comes back? Or do you get up out of the office, and talk with your people? (and I’m not referring to the concept of “management by wandering around”). I’m talking about real, one-to-one communication.

It strikes me that we are seeing a new language being developed, with things like emoticons 🙂 that are a substitute for expressions. How much is lost in the non-emotional context of an e-mail? How many ‘conversations’ have you had in the last few days via SMS? e-Mail?

Are your substituting conversations (face to face) with chatting (online). In a world where everything is moving at the speed of light, there is a perception that someone else’s urgency is your priority. How many times have you had the buck passed to you? You know what I mean, when another’s need for urgency becomes your ‘drop-everything-and-do-this-now-regardless-of-what-you-are-doing’…because they “sent you an e-mail”

I value the ability to be able to e-mail a question to someone, and allow them time to reflect or digest before responding, however there is also a huge benefit from the dialogue that comes from back and forth communication with a colleague.

It’s this form of collaboration that can lead to innovation in the workplace. You have an idea, you talk to  few people about it, you get some agreement, some differences of opinion, and may even come to a different, possibly better, idea through the efforts that come from collaborating in real-time. If you’re the owner, you can also build trust from your people because you are open to hearing their idea’s.

There are now so many forms of social media to interact with your customers (too many to even begin to mention), have you taken time to think about your internal ’social media’? Is it any wonder that your people don’t tell you about the big issues, when the only contact they have is through the void of e-mail?

Add your comments below on how you “socially” or  “unsocially” communicate and collaborate with your people.

I’d also be really interested to know how many of you small/medium businesses are using facebook, twitter, and any other SM (social media) sites, and how it’s working for you.

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