Scientists across the world have been involved in a frantic race against time in a bid to find a solution to the fungus which is wiping out Ash trees across the globe. In the UK alone some eighty million trees are at risk from the fungus which is believed to have originated in Poland in the early 1990s. With so many trees at risk in woodland, parks and gardens scientists have even taken the innovative step of crowdsourcing their research.
A minor breakthrough came in March 2013 when the DNA of the fungus itself was unlocked. More recently the genetic blueprint of an Ash variety which is apparently immune to the fungus has also been unlocked leading to hope that a solution may be within reach.
When we look back over the history of scientific discoveries, the act of unlocking the DNA code will probably be in line for the break-through of all time award. Not only has it given us a chance to treat new threats such as that facing the Ash trees, doctors are increasingly looking to cure patients with individual treatment plans based on their specific gene matrix. It seems incredible that four simple elements (A,G, C & T) can combine and recombine to create endless varieties of life.
But it is not just plants and animals which have their own unique DNA. Businesses also operate under a unique mix of employees, product & processes, suppliers and customers. And just as the four elements of DNA mix to produce an endless variety, so too the key elements of business mix to produce an endless variety of organisations. In fact the parallel goes further. In the same way that in the plant kingdom the DNA mixes in one way to produce a sweet smelling rose and in another to produce deadly nightshade, so the business DNA mix can produce a strong organisation with and outstanding reputation or a shambles which is not fit for purpose.
The one advantage which business has over the plant and animal kingdom is the way in which it can self determine its evolution and its culture. Plants evolve slowly over time in response to external factors but generally a rose will always be a rose in one form or another. Business has the chance to look at itself and dramatically change its DNA. This means that when the business decides to take advantage of the opportunities offered by an innovation culture, it can take action to change its DNA mix.
That a culture of innovation is critical to business success and even survival is not disputed. But it is the way in which businesses react to this environmental change which will determine whether they succeed or fail. Let’s be clear about one thing. Innovation culture will only work when it permeates the entire organisation. Employees need to absorb it, products and processes have to work within it and every approach to suppliers and customers has to be with innovation in mind. Leave out one element and the culture will fail.
But when we are rebuilding our culture there are some areas which are more important than others. Just as the roots are closest to the soil, so innovation is best managed as a bottom-up exercise. Yes the CEO and management team need to lead the way but only in initiating and creating the conditions for the culture to change. Creating outstanding customer service means front line employees have to be on board; so do team leaders who need to enable an environment of flexibility, agility, adaptability, creativity, fun, different thinking etc. In fact the middle managers are the true gatekeepers of innovation, influencing behaviour and process.
Innovation success means that the DNA mix needs to evolve to build relationships with customers far beyond just selling to them. Co-creation with customers as part of an open-innovation strategy is the best way to enhance business culture and build meaningful connections, helping to shape products, services and solutions with customers not for customers. That way they have an ‘emotional investment’ in what you do and how you do it. (That becomes part of the differentiating experience)
To change the organisation’s DNA means that first you have to understand the organisation’s DNA. Drilling down, understanding how people, product & process, supplier and clients all interact may not be an easy task. It means understanding successful mixes as well as toxic ones which may stand in the way of an innovation culture change. Sometimes it may require outside help, just as we are trying to help the Ash, but once the DNA is sequenced you can start to move into producing a more flexible, productive, innovation culture which provides exceptional customer service, strong growth and offers a sunny and sweetly fragranced face to the world.