Do we need a simpler, easier and more engaging approach to innovation?
Innovation is vital to the continued success, growth and sustainability of every organisation.
And this awareness is reflected in survey after survey with senior executives around the world.
In a 2013, BCG survey on the most innovative companies, for example found,
‘Most companies continue to rank innovation as a top strategic priority. More than three-quarters of respondents placed it as either number one or among the top three, continuing a trend of the last several years.’
So leaders know that innovation is important.
This battle is won.
But there are two problems.
1. Most managers are not doing innovation.
Sure they talk about innovation and they often have lovely sounding values or principles placed on walls but in my experience there is more rhetoric than action. For example, one of P&G’s 8 principles is that ‘innovation is the cornerstone of our success’.
I often talk to management groups and ask them for one innovative action they have done in the past 30 days? More often than not, there is a nervous shuffle of feet as managers rarely volunteer any initiative.
And don’t get me started on KPI’s.
I have had many discussions over the years with leaders who agree with me that innovation is among their most important drivers of success.
Yet when I talk to them about have an innovation goal for their leaders and managers they make up all sorts of excuses.
See the inconsistency.
What executives say is important is not aligned to what they are encouraged to do.
2. Poor innovation results
This is the other major problem.
Even with organisations that are actually doing innovation their results are often disappointing.
To be sure, there are a few highly visible exceptions (e.g. Apple, Samsung, Dyson etc) but for the most part innovation seems to offer a disappointing experience for most leaders.
The great majority of new products fail for example.
In addition, ‘less than half of the executives surveyed said that they were satisfied with the financial returns on their investments in innovation’ (2005, BCG report on innovation).
Even more starkly a 2013 Accenture survey with executives on innovation found,
‘The vast majority of executives, 93 percent, continue to regard their company’s long-term success to be dependent on its ability to innovate but, at the same time, less than one out of five (18 percent) believe their own innovation strategy is delivering a competitive advantage.’
So this is the dirty little secret of innovation.
It doesn’t work for most organisations.
Now many consultants and academics argue (correctly) that innovation involves trial and error and failure but such a widespread systematic failure surely suggests a new approach.
We are winning heads but not hearts.
In trying to better understand the failure of innovation I came across what I thought was an interesting insight.
In my private conversations with leaders they told me that the large scale, disruptive type innovation as promoted by Clayton Christensen and others was intimidating, exhausting, expensive and risky.
To use an analogy they knew there were all sorts of benefits of becoming fitter but the only option to achieve this was to run a marathon with no training. Not surprising they did not feel like doing this.
I believe it is the same with innovation.
If you are only given a choice of a disruptive business model or game-changing new product with its inherent risk, cost and potential failure it is not surprising that many leaders do not want to play.
The head says yes but the heart says no.
As a result, a paralyzing inertia takes hold.
Small Wins Way.
This is why I have developed a new approach to innovation and change, that I call The Small Wins Way.
It is an easier, simpler and more engaging way to innovate and grow.
To go back to the fitness analogy, this new approach would encourage people to just start going for a walk a few days a week and then to slowly build up confidence, stamina and progress. The emphasis would be on constant effort, achieving small goals and celebrating success.
To be sure it takes longer but it can have a big impact over time.
Consider this example.
In Australia for example, the national carrier Qantas, through its fight attendants has for the past 23 years asked passengers to place their loose change and overseas currency in envelopes and hand to the staff.
This small, simple innovation has raised over $30 million dollars for UNICEF.
It embodies many of the principles of a small wins innovation.
The program involves a small change in behaviour (e.g. placing change in an envelope), it is continuous (i.e. every flight) and has a cultural impact because the program involves lots of people who feel great about helping others who are less fortunate.
I define this new concept as ‘the continuous process of making people’s lives, a little bit better — everyday.’
This definition is similar to P&G for example; ‘We are growing P&G by fulfilling our purpose with innovative products that improve people’s lives in small but meaningful ways.’
The idea is to make small changes that can have over time or cumulatively may have a big impact.
The emphasis is on engaging more people in the innovation process.
Suddenly using this approach, innovation becomes easier, simpler and more accessible, to more people.
Dr Ken Hudson
A small wins Innovation Consultant