In a recent conversation, I remarked that I used to be a scientist. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that was wrong. A more accurate description was that I used to practice as a scientist, first with basic science, then the discovery and development of science-based products. But I am still a scientist, in other words I take a scientific approach to many aspects of my work; I think like a scientist.
One of my favourite definitions of innovation comes from Andrew Hargadon – it’s about making the possible desirable and the desirable possible. It neatly encapsulates supply and demand, implying that it’s something the customer wants and the innovator can deliver. It’s where problem and solution meet.
’m sure many of you will have read or heard the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford, “if I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”. This is usually quoted in the context of radical or breakthrough innovation, justifying an approach that doesn’t rely on customer feedback.
It is generally accepted that innovation involves risk. In the more enlightened organizations it is also clear that failure should be accepted as a consequence of playing the innovation game. It’s a bit like sport. You can’t win all the time, but it doesn’t mean that you change the whole team if you lose one game. Equally, embracing failure is going too far.
Open Innovation (OI) is a well-established way to increase options for innovation. It is quite prominent in areas such as Fast Moving Consumer Goods (CPG), but much less so in manufacturing industries. That’s why I took the opportunity recently to find out more from Pete Longdon, who runs the OI programme at Tata Steel.
Tell me more about Tata Steel
Very few management systems or initiatives start with a blank sheet of paper. Every sizeable company already has ways of managing supply, quality, finance etc – and innovation. When the realisation comes that innovation needs to be strengthened, the temptation is often to import a system that will solve all your problems.
Disruptive innovation is the best type, isn’t it? New, exciting and the Rolls Royce of the innovation showroom? The one to aim for? Well, not quite….
Why is innovation like a swan? Of course, the picture is elegant and graceful. But below the surface there is a lot of management legwork going on that you just don’t see. Many companies achieve remarkable things with innovations that add tremendous value to the daily lives of customers and the companies that help them; but the emphasis is almost always on the output, whether that be product, service or business model, not on the work that delivered them.
Innovation is far too often an organizational orphan. How can you make sure it is not just fostered, but becomes adopted and part of the family?
While leadership and management are inextricably linked, they remain different. When it comes to innovation, they remain crucial to the ability of an organization to deliver growth. Good innovation management is fundamental, but without strong leadership, much of the good work done in management can be undone.