I am doing some research into innovation at the moment. There seems to be a very interesting correlation between authenticity and innovation, which I want to explore.
The hypothesis is that when we work authentically we are more motivated and persistent, we are better able to think broadly and connect the seemingly random information that is so important for innovation. The flip side is that when we are working in an environment where we don’t feel able or encouraged to be authentic, we are less able (or willing) to be innovative.
However, there are plenty of examples of businesses being innovative in ways that we might struggle to define as authentic. Phone hacking and Libor fixing are both “innovations” what is the culture and the belief system that chooses these innovations over legal and positive ones?
Before I continue – a couple of definitions:
Authenticity in the personal context means knowing oneself and being it in all situations without fear or compromise.
Innovation means the valuable application of ideas
Innovation is not just about ideas, it is about filtering the ideas to identify the valuable ones and then applying them in a way that sustains the value creation.
What I am specifically interested in are the cultural enablers of innovation in a business context. It is relatively easy for a start up business to innovate, that is what many are set up to do. What is more challenging, and therefore interesting, is how to create a culture of innovation in a large and particularly in a successful business.
For a large and successful business, especially those with shareholders, innovation is hugely challenging. There are three main barriers to innovation:
1 – Systems and process: Any large company has to have good systems and processes in place, but innovation is usually chaotic, unpredictable and disruptive to systems and processes.
2 – Opportunity cost: On the whole investors choose companies that offer good returns on their investments now and the higher and more long term the risk the less likely they are to invest. Innovation is almost exclusively long term and risky.
3 – Integrating ideas: If you separate your innovators from the rest of the organisation, it can be impossible to integrate the ideas back into the organisation The most famous result of Xerox investment in their PARC innovation lab was the Mac and then Windows, neither of them Xerox products. Part of the reason that the PARC innovators were willing to demonstrate their ideas to Apple was their frustration at not getting their ideas implemented by Xerox. If you don’t separate your innovators from the rest of the organisation either the innovation or the rest of the organisation are compromised (see Systems and Processes above).
We have bet our whole future on our ability to innovate our way out of the hole we have made (we have already made this bet, so there is not much point in trying to negotiate it now).
We need to innovate culturally and politically in terms of how we lead, how we behave and particularly in how we treat each other.
We need to innovate in terms of resources and how we provide for the lifestyle to which some of us have become accustomed (and many more need to – if we are to avoid massive conflict) whilst restoring our one and only life support system.
We need to innovate the economic system that underpins the structure of our society, such that it facilitates success and fulfilment for the majority rather than focussing massive wealth on a minority.
Much of this is already going on and there is a lot to be very positive about, particularly in the cultural shift that is going on in many corporations. However, we are only scratching the surface and we need to be able to reliably choose the positive and sustainable innovations over the damaging and short term.
What I would really like to understand is how do companies successfully integrate positive and sustainable innovations. What are the actual processes used and what is the culture that enables it like.
If you have any specific stories and examples I would love to hear them and the names of companies that you feel are great authentic innovators.
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