September 24

Setting New Rules for Innovation

You can be honest with me. I’m not your client, or your colleague, or your investor. You don’t have to show energy and confidence and enthusiasm in front of me. I’m simply the guy who can help you to transform your organisation into one which shapes the future through a culture of innovation. So what I expect from you is honesty; and from my work with other business leaders I know that if you are truly honest then the idea of a culture of innovation which embraces empowerment, collaboration and adaptability among other measures is a little disconcerting.

Admittedly the extent of your concern depends partly on what sort of leader you already are. If you believe that leadership equals power and the sole function of a leader is to instruct others then we may need to do some hard work on modern leadership methods before you are anywhere near ready to embrace innovation. And the extent of your concern may also depend on the business sector or country in which your business operates. For example, those working within business sectors such as marketing or media will generally already be familiar with collaboration and ideas creation, whilst those in more process driven fields such as manufacturing may be more used to hierarchical structures and risk mitigation. Similarly, those working in countries such as China or India which traditionally embrace hierarchy and structure may initially find the idea of open collaboration to be countercultural.

But whatever your background, it’s a fair bet that you do have a concern about the extent to which opening up your organisation to a culture of innovation may equate to inviting unstructured chaos into the business. I can help there straightaway. A culture of innovation may give rise to collaboration, it may give rise to greater levels of empowerment, it may even give rise to people acting on their own initiative to create genuine solutions; but what it certainly does not give rise to is anarchy. Far from it! The most successful innovation cultures are built on a defined structure in which every person knows and understands their personal level of accountability.

In fact, in some cases instilling a culture of innovation may actually require additional regulations. We came across an example of this recently in an article from graduate business school INSEAD. They highlighted the way in which one Chinese company had moved towards innovation thanks to the creation of additional rules. In seeking to be more innovative Longfor Properties knew they had to overcome the traditional hierarchical framework which exists in much of Chinese business. So they created rules which flattened the structure by empowering local branches. The rules also removed the absolute authority and privileges traditionally associated with senior management as well as changing the promotion structure to be one which rewarded ability and customer satisfaction.

The result, as the article said, was that…

“Longfor’s instruction manual for innovation was instrumental in giving employees permission to think beyond China’s prevailing hierarchical business culture.”

This is just one example, but even in economies which are more traditionally freewheeling, successful innovation requires structure if it is to deliver game changing results. So if the idea of unstructured innovation was holding you back from shaping an innovation-led future then hopefully that’s one area of concern which has been laid to rest.

If you’d like to find out more about structuring the right culture for innovation you may be interested in our latest book: “Building a Culture of Innovation – A Practical Framework for Placing Innovation at the Core of Your Business” Written by Cris Beswick, Derek Bishop and Jo Geraghty the book is being published by Kogan Page on the 3rd December 2015 and is available for pre-order now.


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