In times of financial strife, the word innovation, gets talked about more and more as if people think it is something that can be turned on and off at whim. We all know in reality to create an innovative environment takes time, patience, leadership and a recognition that for each successful innovation many fail.
So in late 2006, early 2007 I got to learn how innovators really work. First of all they give you snippets of what they are up to. "oh we are just thinking of putting No 10 Petitions online, all right boss?". "that thing I mentioned to you a little while ago it's going live, nothing to worry about...". "oh you know that little innovation we talked about, it seems to be causing a bit of a stir". "I need to go and see Ministers". "you need to go and see ministers".
and then over your port and lemon or snowball one night you read the national news headline "which prat thought this up". Should you get angry or pat them on the back and say right now dream up something else. The reality is if you are going to create an environment that gives people the time to think, to dream up ideas, to push the boundaries and then do something with the idea, you can't worry about the odd bullet heading your way when things don't go as people thought. This reminds me of the three legged chicken joke.
"A man was driving along a road when he noticed a chicken running alongside his car. He was amazed to see the chicken keeping up with him because he was doing 50 MPH. He accelerated to 60 and the chicken stayed right next to him. He speeded up to 75 MPH (u oh...) and the chicken passed him up. The man noticed the chicken had three legs. So, he followed the chicken down a road and ended up at a farm. He got out of his car and saw that all the chickens had three legs.
He asked the farmer "What's up with these chickens?"
The farmer said "Well, everybody likes chicken legs. I bred a three legged bird. I'm going to be a millionaire." The man asked him how they tasted.
The farmer said "Don't know, haven't caught one yet."
Rolling the clock forward three years from the launch of the e-petition site, who would have thought that the e-petition website would have spawned the power of information task force, the releasing of 3,000 data sets to the public under http://www.data.gov.uk/and applications such as the asborometer achieving over 80,000 downloads in two days, and becoming the number 1 free app in the UK iTunes App Store and also an Android Market top 25 free application.
But for people to innovate they need the space to think, to dream, to test ideas, to make mistakes, to be protected, to be trusted. Many processes in a business look to ensure each pound spent is put to good use - how can you tell when you are innovating? Other processes look to take out, or mitigate, as much risk as possible - er that's killed that innovation then! and even more processes ensure that all your resources are aligned behind delivering corporate objectives... well if innovation is a corporate objective then you are ok, but I don't see that often.
Times are going to get increasingly tough financially and this runs the risk of limiting innovation so if we are too see innovation in a business whose predominant culture is to minimise risk, then we need a few candidates to take the odd bullet or two.
Will you volunteer?
and finally as Oscar Wilde said ""An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all."
"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." – Albert Einstein and
"If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative." – Woody Allen