Innovation: The New Dirty Word In Organisations

Innovation: The New Dirty Word In Organisations

22 Mar 2017

Innovation: The New Dirty Word In Organisations teaser

By Travis Thomas, Business Manager, Integral Development


Innovation has always been a core tenant of organisational success for top performing organisations. Everyone knows it. The issue facing organisations today is not ‘how do we innovate’, it’s ‘why aren’t we innovating’. It’s a bit like exercising; we all know it’s healthy and something that must be done, but it’s just all too hard. Think about a 5am run in the rain or lifting weights at 8pm and you’re bound to feel tired just at the thought of it. That’s the same challenge with innovation. The word conjures in our mind the grandiose talent that only the gifted amongst us who own 7 black turtle necks and as many pairs of denim jeans can achieve, all while inventing the next iPhone. Hollywood has done us no great service here. Let’s take a step back and look at the core ingredients in innovation.

Willingness to Change

In life, we consciously choose to get up and go for a 5am run or we simply say ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘I’m too tired’ and go on with the other things we value in life. Innovation is no different. You must WANT to change the organisation. It’s hard, but repetition builds muscles. Small steps in innovation can build these muscles and the more you use them, the stronger they get. This is where Design Thinking really sets the pace. Think of it as your personal toolkit in the same way you would a coach or mentor. Design Thinking provides insights into innovation via tools, a tiny steps process and engagement that pulls in stakeholders from across the organisation. This unified willingness to change can galvanise the organisation into a sprint towards innovation that becomes hard to break. Here in WA, the Western Australian Innovation Strategy cites Design Thinking as a “skill required to accelerate innovation”. The clear mandate for innovation locally couldn’t be any stronger.

Simple Processes That Work

Innovation isn’t putting ideas into some magic box, waiting for emergent change to arise out of the other side. Innovation is simple, iterative and process based. Whether it’s something like GE’s simple tweak on MRI machines (via paint!) that made kids fall in love with MRIs (yes, in love) or service design innovations like Society of Grownups academy for adults (keep reading below) these ideas can be simple, low budget initiatives that change the organisation. Applying these simple processes can net better revenue, cost savings or help solve a problem that’s existed for far too long in a unique and novel way.

The Power of One

Organisations don’t change overnight, nor does innovation become a mantra at the flip of the switch. That doesn’t mean one person can’t serve as the catalyst to the innovation journey. One person, using a robust process and engaging stakeholders soon becomes two, then four, then many. Successful organisations like PepsiCo, GE and countless others have made innovation a core tenant by having small pockets of innovation supported by a minority group in the organisation. Not everyone needs to be on-board but enough voices will tip the scales in your favour, so get the ball rolling!

Innovation is Rarely the Stuff of Legends, But Can Be Legendary

For most people, we aren’t looking to build the next Tesla or fly to Mars, but that doesn’t mean innovation is any less important. As one person said during my MBA studies, sometimes innovation is just taking out a small gear in the cogs of the machine (user experience) and changing that one piece.

In the service design space, a core issue exists in the space between university and adult life in teaching young adults about managing money and life. In the US, Society of Grownups used Design Thinking to come up with an innovative way to educate young adults and get them thinking about personal finance in a new way, engaging this target population in their adult journey young enough to ensure they make the right choices for retirement, healthcare, etc. in a market banks had struggled for decades to appeal to. The innovation resided in the how, not the technology or the what. Applying simple, practical tools allowed this organisation to capture engagement of a struggling group where much better resourced and established organisations had failed. The key point is innovation isn’t hard and it didn’t take a Steve Jobs to do it. Good innovation is a balance of tools, technique and stakeholder engagement on the back of organisational support.

Let’s Innovate

Whether you work in the private, not-for-profit or government sectors, the tools and techniques for innovation still apply. Top universities like University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and Stanford’s D.School have provided solid research combined with applied practical tools for leaders to utilise in driving innovation. Innovation isn’t new, nor is Design Thinking; they simply work as they should.

If you’d like to discuss innovation in your organisation or attend our upcoming course on innovation, contact us at admin@integral.org.au.

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