​Bridging the productivity gap
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​Bridging the productivity gap: How to build a better capacity for innovation

As technology accelerates the rate of change and reduces barriers for competitors and disruptors, most industries are undergoing rapid transformation. Innovation has become the most important capability required for the survival and success of modern businesses. But there are a few things we need to be aware of if we’re really going to liberate their ideas and creativity.

As technology accelerates the rate of change and reduces the barriers to entry for new competitors and young disruptors, most industries are undergoing rapid transformation. Innovation – and the ability to foster it – has become the most important capability required for the survival and success of modern businesses.

Whilst some innovation might come from specialist teams that are encouraged to think differently, it’s no longer enough. What we need is innovation everywhere. Many organisations expect innovation to come from their leaders and managers – which it might – but their time is better spent coaching others to innovate, multiplying the capacity for innovation exponentially. Those front line workers, actually doing the work, often know what really needs to change.

But there’s a few things we need to be aware of if we’re really going to liberate their ideas and creativity.

1. Avoiding suboptimisation

To really foster innovation, you need to avoid situations where one part of your business is only concerned with its own success. Where a particular department or team works only on its own – for its own benefit – you have something called suboptimisation.

People doing a single specialised job will need to understand how a change will impact the wider business. Without this, a change to a small part of the business may have no impact, or a negative one, on the overall organisation performance. This type of suboptimisation behaviour is rife in organisations with silos, where goals aren’t aligned and there’s no visibility of the performance across the business. To avoid suboptimisation we need to ensure goals and data are visible to everyone (not just a few specialist teams).

2. Curiosity

Another challenge we have with specialist ‘innovation teams’ is that they may have a single point of view that is relatively fixed. Curiosity is a precursor to creativity and after a long period of doing the same thing, curiosity understandably wanes.

But when experienced people collaborate with people new to a problem, they’re natural curiosity will trigger questions that make the experienced person think about how they work in new ways. In fact, just asking how or why they do something is enough. The practice of verbalising things can rearrange things in their minds and trigger new ideas.

3. Motivation

So, why bother to innovate? People are understandably nervous about change and there’s a perception that technology is removing jobs. But in reality, the jobs are often just changing to less repetitive, more creative ones.

So, innovators have nothing to fear. And that means that everyone can switch to a less fixed, more growth mindset. As business leaders, we need to foster a mindset where everyone is curious, looking to learn and participate in change, rather than letting it happen to them.

4. Validation

Just implementing new ideas without understanding their impact can have unpredictable outcomes. To have the courage to innovate new ideas safely needs testing. And to test a change we need the data in the form of Key Performance Indicators. If we want innovation everywhere we need data everywhere for all to see.

So, if you’re looking for people to innovate in your business, you’ll need to create an environment where business objectives are understood, performance is visible and people can collaborate and share ideas. Here’s what you’ll need to provide:

  1. Visibility of goals across the organisation so everyone can see how they’re aligned
  2. Visibility of performance indicators to validate if change is having a positive or negative impact
  3. Cross pollination: the freedom for people with different experience and knowledge to collaborate.

If you’re ready to change the narrative and fight the real challenges of innovation, download our latest white paper to learn more about creating cross pollinating teams in What’s the point of innovation without participation? How to unlock a culture of ‘Innovation Everywhere’ without risking it all.

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