Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Innovation: too important to leave to employees?

Innovation? Not more bother!
"True or False: Employees Should not Be Bothered with Innovation?" That's the question posed in this article by Copenhagen-based strategic adviser Stefan Lindegaard. This piece raises some points that call for comment. We reproduce them here:
"... If executives believe that busy employees cannot be “bothered” to look into [innovation], this sends a strong signal that they do not prioritize innovation high enough. This is very dangerous in a business world where innovation has finally started to get high on the executive agenda [but maybe not high enough: we hope to report on this when we've collated and studied the data from our "IP in the Boardroom" survey, here] and where it seem as if the future winners are those who know how to make innovation happen.

Let me add two other perspectives to the comment:

(1) You should not let every employee work with innovation in a company at the same time, but everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute – some way or another. This can be through clearly identified ways for employees to suggest ideas and projects and to build on those of others. It could also be through frequent innovation campaigns such as internal business plan competitions or challenges [There is however no one-size-fits-all rule. A workplace that is strongly geared towards innovation will almost certainly have a template for reporting and rating innovation and invention, maybe along the lines suggested by Donal O'Connell here, while workplaces where innovation is only an incidental and infrequent by-product of other activities may adopt a different approach].

(2) Even people that are busy with their daily work should be focused on improving the organization and innovating where it is possible and relevant. This is where most innovation actually happens and we tend to call this incremental innovation [one wonders whether this is decreasingly happening where technology and innovations are increasingly outsourced or are the product of open innovation involving suppliers and subcontractors; in any event it demands a level of loyalty and commitment to the welfare of the employer that may be on the wane as the prospect of having a job-for-life with a single employer is less frequently realised]."
Another factor that can affect an employee's contribution to innovation is the availability of relevant information.  Free access to published patent applications, news of the latest scientific and technological development and abstracts or full texts of academic literature is now generally no more than a few mouse-clicks away from any person with a curious mind and a creative bent -- and there is rarely a need to be at one's place of work in order to investigate new avenues of thought.  Whether the employee wishes to share his thinking with his employer and colleagues, or instead to strike out by himself or use his ideas as bargaining chips when seeking employment elsewhere, is quite another matter.

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