Innovate On Purpose

Like many people who write for the net, I recognize a catchy title is intended to attract readers and create a distinct perspective. As somebody who earns a full time income as an advancement specialist, of course I’m concerned when anyone seems to cast question on my chosen trade. When questions such as this arise, my first notion is to consider the past and appearance a earlier disruptions in thinking or in technology. Let me consider disruptions because that’s what I really believe is underway – a disruption to how businesses run.

The traditional business methods are being swept away by increasing levels of global competition, free trade, financial calamities, the fact that the internet is decreasing costs of admittance into many businesses, increasing consumer demands and lowering product life cycles. I could go on but in all honesty I won’t need to. Development is now an more important capacity ever, which disrupts the position quo, business as normal way many businesses are run and have been structured.

So, if you believe as I do a disruption is under way, then it makes sense to see how companies and people reacted to previous disruptions. Take, for example, the development of the model-T. When Ford made individual possession of the engine car practical, it disrupted most of the existing order. The example we all use is “buggy whips”, since the dependence on buggy whips plummeted. Were people annoyed that they didn’t need to drill, refine and pump their own gas? No, these occupations and more simply enable people to move ahead and use the new tool (the auto) as effectively as possible.

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Today we don’t question the value of a mechanic to repair our cars – thankfully, given how powerful and complicated they’ve become. Why would we think about professions that accelerate and improve invention in different ways? In any disruption, there are people who take advantage of their knowledge or simple showmanship to develop products that extract value from customers rather than delivering value to customers. Whether those people are the inner managers who’ve innovation titles (the “custodians” of the article) or technology consultants (“the word slingers”) make no difference.

Every hype cycle has it’s charlatans, which is exposed enough soon, and every capability or technology has its experts who help others take advantage of new tools, methods, techniques or products. Will the authors now complain about Lean and Six Sigma Blackbelts? The authors note that some companies – Apple rightly, Google, GE and others have a culture of innovation that appears to propel these companies toward ever more innovation.

They also make the declare that these firms have business owners at the helm. Seems a stretch out except for Google any more. While I admire the leaders of 3M and P&G and GE I’m not aware that some of them were anytime an entrepreneur, so the hallowed sainthood of business owner market leaders is misleading if not untrue. Most firms aren’t lead by innovative, charismatic business owners and don’t have a “culture of innovation”.

They have cultures that sustain “business as normal” which conflicts with innovation. Introducing a fresh tool or ability often requires either remarkably bold internal managers (what the article derides as custodians) or insightful change agents from the exterior (the dreaded word-slingers). Change doesn’t happen by itself – it happens through catalysts.

The article then makes claims that refute its point, noting that sectors like high tech, pharmaceuticals and the movie industry don’t hire “a large number of consultants”. The authors make another point at the end which i find interesting and moving, but a bit naive. They say that businesses need to provide the means to offer “freedom to explore the high-risk messiness and the fuzzy, nonlinear ways” where innovation increases. Hmm. What other functions or processes within a modern business could be described as fuzzy, high messy and risk?

No. In fact no process or method that can be used to operate a vehicle any revenue or cut any cost in a business would survive if it were fuzzy, high messy and risk. Large businesses don’t operate that way. In companies that have a strong innovation culture Even, there are still described advancement procedures, people with innovation titles and sometimes the best innovators use creativity consultants even!

The authors have a point – some advancement can be dangerous, messy and non-linear. But it doesn’t mean the whole innovation capacity should be still left completely to chance! For anything to get done in today’s business, someone needs to be accountable and needs to be some structure there, some knowledge plus some best practice.