To innovate we also need to Let Go!

There is some controversy around a school in Sweden, which has made iPads available to students.  The concern is that kids with iPads, won’t bother to learn hand writing.  The  question is:  Is handwriting an old technology that we should be prepared to let go of?

Innovation is not just about inventing new stuff, it also requires letting go of the old.  This happens, fairly naturally at a generational pace, but sometimes we need to innovate faster than that.  The businesses that are best at innovation are the ones which have cultivated an innovative environment and culture.

Creating an environment for innovation is challenging for many businesses because it runs counter to many of the things that are required for day to day business.  For example, innovation likes unstructured space and time.  While more standard areas like delivery and execution prefer time and space to be structured.

Historically businesses have got around this with so called “Skunk works”, however these often become so detached from the run of business that few of their innovations are implemented.

The most innovative teams are inspired by a sense of purpose that matters to them.  They are also fans of the product.  If they are not already fans of the product the first step in innovation is to ask how would the product need to change for them to become fans?

Innovators are unaware of the boundaries and/or confident in their ability to overcome them.  Lack of experience is often good for innovation, it is one way to avoid the kind of “group think” that closes creativity down reflexively.   Another way to avoid group think is to bring together lots of diverse expertise, personalities and backgrounds and make sure everyone knows each others passions, experience and expertise, so that they know who to go to.   Innovators create a culture of exploration and openness, which supports the asking of foolish questions, experimentation and the inevitable failures as part of the path to success.

There also needs to be lots of space to read, chat, explore, walk and do other things that don’t require too much brain capacity.  We are often at our most creative when we are processing an idea in the background, while doing something relatively simple.  We can be busy and creative – if we are fully focussed on the challenge, however it is hard to expect people to be creative when they are busy with “normal” work.

One of the most critical aspects is to create a path for new ideas, so that everyone knows where to go with an idea and how to pitch it.  If the idea is accepted, those who came up with it may want to have the opportunity to lead, or at least be involved, in it’s development, without the risk that they work themselves out of  a job once the project is complete (or if it is canceled).

Great innovators are also early adopters of other people’s innovations.  The most innovative environments are likely be equipped with the latest relevant gadgets, furniture, imagery and so on.

Innovation tools

Visioning – articulate the end point you really want to create, without considering how to achieve it, that comes later.

Go for walk and talks and other activities that require minor concentration.

Study other innovative companies – Read:  Fast Company and Wired, watch TED and other similar channels.  Also explore oblique – history, different businesses etc and make links, look for innovations in one sector that can inspire innovations in your own.

Build quick rough and ready prototypes, trying stuff out is great for inspiration, for communicating the idea and for proof of concept.

Innovation requires determination and resilience however it is wise to only share ideas with people who are supportive until they are strong enough for scrutiny.  It is also important to be inspiring and persuasive when communicating the innovation outside the inner circle of those involved.

Develop the why? (not just a conventional business case).  Conventional business cases can be very limiting, not every innovation needs to have a short term and direct financial reason for existing.  Your innovation might make sense in ways which are not immediately commercial – and that is OK.

Innovation is not just a matter for the innovators, it is also about the market.  If we are too far ahead of the market, there will be just a few dedicated fans and early adopters to support us.  If we are too late, we are just another bandwagon jumper copying the innovators.  Successful innovations are the ones that are just far enough ahead of the curve to be exciting for a wide enough audience – but not too far ahead.

Are we ready to let go of handwriting yet?  I am – but I might be on my own.

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nx

Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
neil@neilcrofts.com
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Skype – neilcrofts

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About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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3 Responses to To innovate we also need to Let Go!

  1. I agree with the idea of using ipads in educational environments, as a tool. But I don`t think that eliminating handwriting from the student´s curriculum is a good idea. Why? Because it´s not only an end goal to teach kids to hand write, it´s also a means to teach children other skills like organizing their notebooks, organizing ideas, working neatly and teach them to be responsable for their work. If you have an ipad who does all those things for you, children will not learn those things.
    It´s the same as for using an encyclopedia, we were taught how to use the index to find things, so for that you had to think in an alphabetical way etcetera. Thanks to that skill it is now very easy for us to use Google to filter out results and get to the site we are looking for. Kids nowadays have no idea how to look for information online, yes they know how to search with google, but they don´t know how to filter information because they don´t think that systematical. So a ´useless´ book like an encyclopedia (because you can find everything online), is a very usefull tool when it comes to teaching skills. The same goes for handwriting…….

  2. Patrick Nash says:

    iPads, laptops etc are a really welcome innovation. My handwriting was always bad at school and I got marked down for it! You could argue that relying on handwriting works against the success of some schoolchildren. I’m in my mid 50s and frankly wish I could have typed my school essays all those years ago. Lets hear it for innovation.

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