In the drive towards growth, and against a background of economic uncertainty and changing markets, how can business leaders encourage transformative innovation in their organisations? At an RSA event, a panel of experts (including an inventor) shared their experiences of innovation. Some interesting themes emerged.
Who is responsible for innovation?
Over the last few years, new innovation models (e.g. crowdsourcing) have joined the more traditional paths (R&D departments). The challenge is to balance an engaged model (‘innovation is everyone’s job’) with knowing who is responsible for making innovation happen. Organisations need to establish networks that increase the flow of ideas across organisations and to ensure that there are opportunities for regular cross-team interactions. Information professionals can help by ensuring that relevant information flows freely.
One of the most interesting insights came from Richard Palmer, an inventor who had a long struggle to find the right investors and believers in his product. At earlier pitches he met resistance (‘if it worked/ if it was wanted, we’d have done it before’). Success came when he told the right story and won ‘believers to his story’.
Setting priorities and taking risks
A culture that encourages innovation will also need to accept failures. Tata was cited as a company that understands the role that failure plays in innovation.
Developing an alternative viewpoint
Electronic components company Premier Farnell moved quickly when new legislation (about lead content in components) was passed. By viewing changes as an opportunity they emerged as thought leaders in the industry. Then, by creating the first online community for engineers (Element 14), they developed a platform for innovation and conversation that helped transform their brand image. This had a snowball effect on internal morale – and innovation. They became one of the official distributors of Raspberry Pi – which also raised the company’s profile. ‘Pride’ and ‘excitement’ became words which employees associated with the organisation.
The importance of trust
Mutual trust across organisational networks is important. CEB (formerly Corporate Executive Board) suggests that building trust across dispersed teams requires:
- Intent – the belief that everyone is working towards the same innovation goals
- Vision – the belief in clear and credible plans to achieve innovation goals
- Execution – trust in each other to encourage information sharing