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A new book by business adviser Elvin Turner provides a practical guide to how to encourage innovation in a disruptive business world.
In a world in constant disruption, keeping up with the pace of change is vital. Many companies either fail to fully recognise the need to keep innovating or to take the whole workforce with them, particularly older workers.
A new book, Be Less Zombie, by Elvin Turner, points out that many companies are, perhaps understandably in the current circumstances, too afraid to focus on anything more than immediate cash flow which he says will ultimately jeopardise their long-term future.
He says: “The short-term, cash-grabbing response is often triggered by the anxiety of having nothing in the new product pipeline. And it is anxiety’s sibling, fear, that stops companies from backing the more risky ideas that the future pipelines need. It’s a circular paradox resulting in companies that are literally scaring themselves to death.”
Business as usual does not generally generate new ideas, he states, calling for a six-point innovation framework, including creating a tailored innovation strategy and a focus on embedding an innovation culture. That means aligning innovation with other strategic goals and creating a financial dependency on innovation so resources are always available. Resources are not just about money, though, but time and staffing availability – something that can be increased through, for example, outsourcing and using gig workers and smart automation.
Turner says: “Innovation is too easy to sideline in both good times [through complacency] and bad [through cost-cutting]. When that happens we become strategically vulnerable.”
The book is a practical guide, full of advice on thinking of potential customer demand, creating ownership of innovation, funding it, communicating the innovation process clearly, brainstorming over longer periods than a one-day workshop and democratising innovation through small-scale experiments. These experiments can be funded according to the data and learning they generate, with failures being used as a learning tool.
If you are encountering resistance, Turner advocates finding a team that is keen to do more and helping them to become successful experimenters. Others will notice any success and be encouraged to innovate too in a way that feels less imposed from above.
When it comes to capacity building, Turner suggests linking training to the bigger picture so people understand why it is an important use of their time.
He starts with leaders, saying they often have little experience of delivering the kind of levels of innovation needed in their organisation. For some an obstacle is pride, for others lack of time and for many it is that they think they know all about innovation after having done a half-day module on it.
Instead he favours innovation by stealth through getting managers to use a range of tools that help them to think more strategically about innovation and focusing on how teams can be more innovative and on outcomes. For more junior members of staff more traditional training can work which focus on identifying priorities and capacity and are backed up by coaching for team members. He talks also about the need for cross-functional collaboration and for creating structures, such as cross-functional idea advisory boards, that promote it.
He states: “Give people the basic skills to design great questions, ideas and experiments. Whilst all are important, I would major on experiments as they have such a huge impact on creating executive confidence around innovation.”
The book ends with a call to arms. “Innovation is often an argument with the status quo, but it doesn’t have to be. By applying some of the ideas in this book my hope is that innovation will begin to show up as an inevitability inside your organisation, not as an anomaly,” writes Turner.
*Be Less Zombie is published by Wiley, price £12.99. More information at www.belesszombie.com/turniton.