What is innovation and where does it come from…

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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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts




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 What is innovation and where does it come from…

  1. Nicola Millson says:

    Hi Neil. We’re a community of practice that blogs/talks/lives and breathes innovation and sustainability. We were born out of frustration at the low level of innovation in business towards sustainability – which is a result of your 3 barriers and more. Have a look at some of our thinking on how to accelerate radical innovation. http://www.6-heads.com

  2. Simon Lawder says:

    Hi Neil. My partner and I have decided to tackle head-on what we have observed in so many organisations, business and no-for-profit: that we have lost the courage and the inspiration to be truly creative. Perhaps the best way of demonstrating what we mean is by posting etracts from our communication.
    The Art of Creative Thinking
    Reconnecting leadership and creativity. Workshops, seminars and individual coaching.
    Managers today have access to almost unlimited volumes of data, statistics and research. It is so tempting to take the safe option, to fall back on information about what happened yesterday and to allow that alone to guide our decisions for tomorrow. The result – strategies we can justify in hindsight, but riddled with compromise, risk averse, unadventurous and frankly boring.
    We’re only using half of our brain; either we’ve forgotten how to think intuitively, how to bring the most exciting human faculties to our work – imagination, creativity, emotion, feelings, spontaneity, inspiration – or we’ve left them at home.
    The Art of Creative Thinking is an infinitely flexible concept, each intervention designed to offer leaders, entrepreneurs and teams intensive sessions, where you’ll have the chance to revive and experiment with those talents that have lain buried for too long and gain the confidence to devise ground-breaking answers to achieving your goals.
    Every one of us can be a more effective leader. Whatever your current beliefs about leadership, clear or confused, we can help you find the most relevant path through the theory jungle, then define and refine the personal leadership style that works in practice for you.
    We often use games and exercises drawn from the expressive arts to help you learn to interact more consciously, respect and utilise differences and discover the fresh insights that lead to braver decisions.
    The way we work is exciting and it’s fun. Our aim is that you walk away freshly inspired and more focused, with a new purpose and meaning to everything you do.

    Catriona Galbraith, artist, mentor, holistic therapist and expert in personal and spiritual development
    Simon Lawder, writer, entrepreneur, accredited leadership coach and social responsibility specialist

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