07/11/2014 08:31 GMT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 GMT

We Need to be More Innovative - But Doing What Exactly?

Becoming more innovative as an organization can sometimes seem overwhelming and daunting. The challenge is working out what to do. Set out below are the reasons why and some suggestions for how to work out what to do. If you are struggling to get your organization on board, why not use this blog as the basis of your proposal.

A video version of this blog can be viewed here.

Why bother?

Innovation is not a 'nice to have' it's essential. To stand still is to go backwards. In the London Olympics in 1908, the winning time for the marathon was 2:55:18. 100 years later it was 2:03:59. In the same year Haile Gebrselassie set this astonishing time, in the London Marathon 739 runners were faster than the gold medal winning time in 1908. What was once Olympic standard is now the time achieved by a good club runner.

In 1963 when Porsche launched their iconic 911 it produced 128bhp. A basic Mini Cooper in 2014 produces 136bhp. The lesson is clear - whatever is world class today will be mediocre tomorrow. Organizations that are slow to innovate will simply be left behind as competitors develop and progress faster. Look at what happened to Kodak. See how Microsoft has lost its once seemingly unassailable lead in technology. Both organizations failed to maintain their innovative momentum.

There is good and bad news in most businesses. We are managing to bring some innovations to market. This is good. However, too often ideas take far too long to get through. Innovations that stall are a warning flag that the time taken to develop them is too long and ineffective.

By way of contrast, Apple introduced the iPad Air 2 a few weeks ago. This is the 6th generation of iPad. Do you know when the first iPad was launched? It was the 3rd April 2010. In 4.5 years there have been 6 generations of iPad and 3 versions of the iPad mini.

In order to succeed, organizations have to have a continual stream of innovations deployed efficiently and effectively into the market.

The problem

Organizations neither innovate enough nor with enough speed.

To be clear

'Innovation is creativity with a job to do' (John Hemmerling). Coming up with new ideas is creativity, converting them into real tangible activity is innovation. When people think about innovation they tend to think about radical, or disruptive innovations. This is just one dimension of innovation. There are also incremental and positioning innovations. The first type of innovation is incredibly rare, the second the basis of most organisational growth and the third the realm of clever marketing and communication.

Where the problem could be...

You know the scene, a group of colleagues gather round a flip chart. The aim is to come up with radical new ideas of how things could be done differently. Lots of ideas are scribbled down but whilst everyone is hopeful that they will find the killer idea, deep inside they know that at best they will end up making a small change to an existing idea. However exciting the big ideas might seem there are too many obvious and difficult barriers to overcome. This gets to the heart of the challenge of innovation in business - as the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes once wrote: "The real difficulty....lies not in developing new ideas but in escaping from the old ones." A new idea is like a delicate new shoot. It is full of potential and promise but us easily trampled under foot. In the same way ideas in organizations are killed by internal politics, performance management systems and narrow minded thinking. This is the organizational friction that slows or stops innovation.

The questions you need to ask are:

• What should we stop doing that creates the friction that slows or stops innovation currently?

• What should we continue to do that is delivering us effective innovations?

• What should we start doing to increase the number of innovations and the speed at which they are deployed?

What I suggest

1. Take two examples of effective innovations (where the outcome was a successful deployment of a significant incremental innovation) and two examples of unsuccessful innovations (where two seemingly good ideas failed to be deployed) and understand what contributed to the outcome achieved. Talk to people. Look at the process. Work out what happened at each stage.

2. Secondly, compare and contrast the experiences in your business against best and leading practice in industry.

3. On the basis of this analysis, propose a way of applying the lessons learnt to a pilot project to see if the speed and effectiveness of innovation can be improved.


This initial phase will take probably about 5 days of work (full time equivalent) but will take two months to complete allowing for the time it will take to get into people's diaries for the interviews and the subsequent analysis.


Think creatively about how you present your findings. People take on board information in different ways. Why not produce:

1. A narrative - like this blog

2. A supporting PowerPoint presentation

3. A short 'YouTube' style video clip summarizing the key points

In this way you will make the output as accessible and useful as possible.

Dominic Irvine © 2014 All rights asserted.

To find out more about the range of innovation workshops Epiphanies delivers for blue chip organisations across the globe, get in touch through or +44 (0)1943 430164.