Welcome to 2016. The year of Innovation. At least that’s what Australia's Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, wants and it’s a worthy goal. Most of us have now had direct exposure to the impact of the VUCA age.
No longer just an interesting theory, the impact of increased Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity is seen in heightened competition, lost jobs, new ways of working (contract and remote) and greater levels of mental health issues as the work/life boundary has all but disappeared. We’ve reached the tipping point.
VUCA is here.
‘Last year plus a bit’ planning and ‘continuous improvement’ approaches are too slow in a marketplace that is constantly changing.
So YES, we need to innovate. But how?
It has to be more than start-ups
Most reporting on innovation features shiny tech start-ups, populated by impossibly young, smart, good-looking and cool hipsters. (These are the people who replaced the tried-and-tested plate with a variety of impractical wooden paddles, platters and planks remember!)
As important and exciting as these labs, incubators and hubs are, the reality is that most of the benefits of innovation will be felt in improving existing processes in established businesses. It’s nothing like as sexy, but innovating the processes of tax-collection or changing public transport habits is where the most sizeable gains will be felt.
Corporates feel ignored
A recent report by strategy consultancy Crazy Might Work, found that Corporate Australia feels largely ignored in the Government’s December Innovation Statement. The report, surveyed industry leaders from businesses including Telstra, Qantas, and the Commonwealth Bank. Paul Hawkins, CEO of Crazy Might Work noted that,
“Corporates recognize the intrinsic link between innovation, higher performance and a global competitive advantage. Unfortunately the Innovation Statement overlooks this big lever of innovation potential, which is a vital part of our economic and innovative competitiveness,”
The young may miss out too
It’s tempting to think that all of this innovation is going to play into the hands of our youngest workers, those who ‘get’ technology and are hard-wired for social networking.
Yet a report by the Federation of Young Australians, The New Work Order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for jobs of the future, not the past, asserts that young people may be the hardest hit under a new future of work. They cite three drivers behind this.
- Automation: smarter machines performing a growing number of traditionally human tasks
- Globalisation: where technology platforms are making it possible for workers around the world to do jobs from remote locations
- Collaboration: through which we will see an increasing number of people engaged in flexible work with a range of employers to generate an income
So we need to be innovative within our established businesses and also equip our young talent to make sure they are in the right place with the right skills. That’s a priority when the Federation of Young Australians estimates that
"Nearly 60 per cent of students at university and 70 per cent at TAFE are studying jobs that will be automated."
So mastering Innovation skills is critical. The trouble is most businesses don’t know where to start in unlocking the innovation in their people. It’s just an inspiring, yet vague idea. We need a way in. We need to make Innovation real and identify a process that we can follow to unlock its promise. The i4 Model does just this.
We define Innovation as:
The generation of new ideas, the tenacity to bring the best ones to life and the wisdom to know hot to enthuse others to support them.
Derived from neuroscience, the model deconstructs Innovation into 4 constituent parts (called Pillars). The 4 pillars are: Imagination, Drive, Curiosity and Attitude.
Understanding and adjusting our abilities, traits, attitudes and behaviours in each of these equips us to improve our competency as Innovators. This in turn enables us to achieve the economic and social benefits that Malcolm is keen to trumpet.
This is the faculty of mentally forming new concepts, ideas of patterns without involving the senses. It is realised through activities such as:
- Ideas Generation
- Pattern Recognition
In a corporate context, we therefore need to create the environment, space and time for such things and not write them off as an inefficient waste of time/productivity.
This is having the strength and perseverance to pursue the actions required in order to attain a desired goal. It is realised through mindsets such as:
Having ideas is just the start of innovation. Making them happen once the inspiration expires is what separates the winners from the rest.
This is about the thirst for knowing and the desire to explore. It is seen in behaviours such as:
- Eagerness to learn
- Inquisitive Nature
Again, the need to think, be and do different in order to create a new product, process or service can be a significant challenge to accepted business practices.
This is the willingness to embrace doing things differently and holding a positive disposition towards experimentation. It is seen in behaviours such as:
- Embracing Change
We must give you people room to fail forward. Progress will be unpredictable and messy!
Let’s go Innovate
Unpacked in this way, we can start to see a way into Innovation. Contrary to popular belief, innovation is teachable and there are things we can do to access our brain’s innate abilities. We now have understanding, which is the foundation of all positive change. Next we need to create the new structural, physical and cultural conditions to allow Innovation to thrive and prosper in our people and workplaces.