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Thu, Jun

Many consultants make the mistake of equating innovation with technology, the internet and owning a garage where you can experiment away the hours.  So it’s a pleasant change to discover a website like Wisepreneur (http://wisepreneur.com ) which aims to help innovators even if they don’t want to invent the next Facebook and focuses on challenges that are firmly grounded in everyday business life.

Recently tackled issues include how to stop that post-meeting drift (when an agreed plan of actions mysteriously drifts in the wrong direction), whether your company unconsciously stifles innovation (by creating a culture where new ideas are stifled by meetings where people say things like “We’ve tried that”, “Management won’t go for it”, etc) and, in an especially timely post, whether you need to do an inventory of your unspoken assumptions and decide which ones should be discarded.

The difficulty is that many of the assumptions that need challenging are the ones that, in management’s view, made the company successful in the first place. But the history of business is full of companies whose strengths became weaknesses where success, ultimately, bred failure. Holly Green, CEO of The Human Factor (a corny name for a consultancy but it doesn’t make her insights less valid) suggests every company could usefully ask these core questions:

  • What has changed with our customers, the market, the industry and the world
  • What assumptions do we still make even though some of us suspect they’re no longer true?
  •  What processes do we hold onto simply because “we’ve always done it that way?”
  •  What new ideas/processes/services have we thought of recently but never progressed because they “would never work”? Has anything changed since we made that call?

 

The importance of being boring

Why weren’t Canadian banks hit as badly by the credit crunch as American and British banks? One answer is given in ‘Other People’s Money’, Justin Cartwright’s exceptional novel about a Rothschild-style banking dynasty. In the final chapter, a spokesman explains a Canadian bank’s resilience by saying: “We are boring and we don’t go to the opera.”

In boom times, great business leaders are lauded for their eccentric, audacious genius. But in an era where every week reveals another business that doesn’t seem to fully understand its own business – the bank J.P. Morgan being merely the latest example – many pundits now feel there is a lot to be said for leadership that is quiet, shuns the limelight and doesn’t indulge in what ‘Time’ magazine columnist Joel Stein calls “a lot of alpha male yelling and inspirational speechmaking”.

In Stein’s book ‘Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity’, he interviews leaders from all walks of life and finds that the most effective – like the captain of a fire station in Hollywood – “weren’t particularly charismatic, or funny, weren’t the toughest guys in the pack, didn’t have a Clintonian need to be liked or a Patton-like intensity. They were, on the whole, a little boring.”

Yet the firefighter, Klein suggests, has learned that “inspiring people through your personality is a risky, exhausting endeavour. But if you make people feel like you’re going to help them accomplish something far bigger than you, you can let the belief do the work for you.”

What can we learn from Apple’s late, lamented genius Steve Jobs? After his death, many eulogisers – like Eric Jackson and Gene Marks at Forbes magazine – quoted his famous address at Stanford University in 2005, as did Megan McArdle in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/follow-your-bliss-sort-of/246350/) when she rebuked him for advising students to “follow their bliss” – i.e. pursue their dreams. Good advice if you are the next Steve Jobs, McArdle noted tartly, but most people aren’t.

The Drupa innovation park 2012 presented by digi:media (‘dip’) will focus on particularly young companies, start-ups and players with groundbreaking solutions and applications.

Innovation is key to continued business success as this magazine espouses on a frequent basis. Within the busy online corridors of Fespa's Wide Network there has been an ongoing discussion on the topic too. So just what do we mean when we talk about innovation? There are various definitions.

Fespa has set out 'Eight Steps to Innovation' to encourage wide-format entrepreneurs to embrace innovation more actively as part of their strategy for future growth. Ahead of June's 'innovation' themed Fespa Munich, sales and marketing director Marcus Timson has warned that: "Innovation can be intimidating for entrepreneurs, especially when they are steering their businesses out of an economic downturn, with the inevitable focus on efficiency and cost- and cash- management that brings."