Nothing stands still, Innovate!

imageWe are at an exceptional time in history. My generation saw camel carts on the roads, the telegraph, accounting tabulators and manual ledgers. We were served by kiryana stores only and the rupee went a long way in fulfilling our needs. We heard BBC news on crackling Grundig radios and were lucky to see a movie rarely. If the newspaper did not arrive at our doorstep in the morning, then the biggest disaster would not touch us. This went on for years, with little or insignificant change.

Then one day in 1983 I remember sitting down to work on an Apple IIe. It was Unilever Pakistan’s first desk top computer – yes I have this honour, of being the first in thousands in the last 32 years. I did not realise it then; the world changed from that day. Several changes happened to the philosophy of life. Speed, choice, awareness, expectations and fulfilment all arrived home. It is now a fast world, where there are no absolutes; anything can happen.

Change is a given today. When change is a given, then the human will be innovative to get ahead of that change. Therefore, innovation is todays mantra. Forget about getting ahead, we have to live by it to survive, Blackberry (Rem) and Nokia totally understand this statement, after the beating they took recently.

Innovation might be a mantra, but look around the world and many just cannot make that change. Hence, they pay the ultimate price of annihilation or becoming marginalised as a has-been. This was discussed endlessly in the MAP (Management Association Of Pakistan) Convention on Innovation recently. It was a pleasant surprise, that so many of the contributors understood innovation and swore by it. I went into the discussions with a certain thought process, which was affirmed by others and therefore it gives me confidence to write about it here.

Innovation needs to be broken down into four areas. And now I will use corporates as the base example.

The first two areas are a given. Both (A) and (B) have to be in existence for Innovation to germinate. They are also the simpler and easier part of the whole. There are thousands of systems and organisations from which to copy and poach.

A/ Process should be appropriate, efficient and meaningful. It’s the implementation side of things. We need to follow a funnel system. Many ideas go in at one end, fit a concept, are evaluated, tested, and at the other end comes out one well thought-out Innovation, which can be implemented with confidence and hope.

B/ Human Resource aspects are fundamental. We have to have right people in the right place. The innovation people will have the capability to manage (A). Generally, they are flexible people, with quick grasp and ability to connect to people and situations. They hop, skip and jump to manage the innovation roller-coaster.

Now come the much higher view areas, which are far more important to be able to innovate.

C/ Culture is a farm for innovation. If it is fertile, innovation will happen. If it is infertile, then the best in (A) and (B) will fail. It fails because the rest of the organisation has to take part sometime in the innovation game. If the organisation is not conducive, then I can promise you it will kill the innovation. Humans as individuals dislike change. So right from the CEO down to the foot soldier, people have to be ready to embrace innovation. You walk the corridors of an innovating company and you can feel the bubbly-ness which symbolises the culture of change and innovation.

D/ Innovators need protection. The history of ideas says that almost all will fail. The ten per cent which get through more than pay for the failures. They change the world, as has occurred in the last few decades. Risks can be taken; thinking can be out of the box only when the innovators know that failure will not mean punishment. Punishment is not just a loss of a job, or monetary reductions, but also the emotional status. There cannot be ostracising or humiliation for failure. If that happens, innovation will die its death even before its started. It will become lip service and no action.

Organisations thrive on the above elements. Put them into place and the output will be worth its weight in success. You will hit the proverbial pot of gold, at the end of the innovation rainbow.

  • picture is from Dreamstime a free picture site.
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