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How to embed innovation within your organisation

Written by Matt Desmier, Regional Partner for Digital Leaders South West

On August 25th, Digital Leaders SW (Bournemouth) hosted a salon to discuss ‘Innovation’, a word used to describe the “act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods”. Innovation is often seen as being crucial to the continuing success of any organisation, but how do businesses truly understand the benefits? And even if they do, do they know how to embed innovation throughout their organisations all the while dealing with the pressures of day-to-day tasks? Thirty people from the local business community, and two knowledgeable speakers, gathered to discuss this potentially boundless subject.

Starting the evening’s conversation was Michael Mallia, Business Technologist within the Innovation Team at LV=. Michael began by discussing LV=’s introduction of an innovation lab and emphasising the importance of thinking differently, experimenting and testing in order to innovate. He assured the room that businesses should not fear failing fast as it is a valid way of learning and innovating.

Next up was Will Roberts, Senior Innovation Manager from the RNLI. Will explained that by 2024 the RNLI want to halve the number of lives lost at sea in the UK and Ireland. He said that using problem solving as a method of innovation can be hugely successful. For example, if the RNLI are aware that they have been unsuccessful in saving lives because it has been dark, they are empowered to find solutions to overcome this. This has an inclination to spark innovative thinking. Will noted that it is important to sometimes challenge usual processes in order to innovate.

The floor was then open for conversation amongst attendees. Michael and Will’s talks sparked great conversation around how to motivate employees to be innovative, despite the pressures of their day-to-day job.

A question was raised as a result of this: isn’t innovation just a definition? Many agreed that it happens in the workplace already and it’s constantly evolving. Change can happen, but surely it’s about having the courage and capability to do something different.

This led the discussion in the direction of culture, a topic that both Will’s and Michael’s talks had touched on. The room agreed that there was a need for openness within the business; that support from the senior team to encourage and promote innovative behaviours was absolutely necessary. Without a visible champion at Board Level, it was often hard for the workers at the coalface – those who are best equipped to tackle problems as they know more about them – to feel motivated to change.

The issue of funding was highlighted as a potential factor in the facilitation of innovation. However, is funding truly necessary for innovation? Often a lack of funding can encourage new ideas to emerge and evolve. It is thought that some of the biggest global challenges have been solved through unfunded innovation.

So, how can a business successfully innovate? Perhaps there is no fixed answer to that question, but it is definitely important to think differently, test and experiment; to start small, celebrate the wins and lose from the losses, and for most it should not require a great deal of money.

  • “Without a visible champion at Board Level, it was often hard for the workers at the coalface [ ] to feel motivated to change.”

    Well, I kind of take issue with that. I think the motivation for change is often right there in the wider workforce and it’s the hierarchical structures or organisations that do jack $hit for supporting innovation [or creativity for that matter].

    In my experience, an ‘innovation pipeline’ with its Board members bottle-necked at one end and a seemingly endless series of filters, checks, balances and powerpoint presentations in-between can be a most stifling situation.

    The idea that a Board member needs to champion, advocate for or mandate innovation is barking up the wrong tree… perhaps and old, withered and diseased tree.

    Let’s focus on the ‘system’ supporting innovation and creativity, not the individual people. The question could be “How does the system behave?” rather than “how should our Board Innovation Champion behave?”

    The future of work is networked. I want my senior leaders integrated with what’s happening; curating, watching, listening, responding, acting. A system of innovation provides space for every employee to have ideas, contribute and be heard; regardless of role, pay grade or job title.

    Let’s move on from conceptualising Board members as ‘thought leaders’ who are the only mechanism by which change can be mandated, motivated and sanctioned – and grunt workers being at the “coal face” or “front line” of an organisation, eagerly awaiting authority to be given for thinking, and relying on the Board for a motivational kick up the backside.

    There is no front line.

    There is a garden awaiting some care, turning the soil, composting and sowing of seeds, which could produce anything we want – even things we weren’t quite expecting.

    So let’s garden.

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