You don’t innovate by copying

September 24, 2008

Here we go another keynote on innovation, excuse me for being cynical but yesterday was about economic comparison not innovation and the write up for this session is not promising. I suspect we will get the normal list of retrospectively interpreted cases and a few platitudes in a numbered list recipe or two. Hoping to be surprised however. I got in a few minutes late (taking pictures of our booth) so missed the introduction. Our speaker is Peter Skarzynski, CEO of Strategos and author of Innovation to the Core with the worrying subtitle (in the context of recipes) A Blueprint for Transforming the Way Your Company Innovates. He believes Proctor and Gamble are the bench mark for innovation which is interesting but no explanation yet. Here we go with the main speech

Strong claim that 96% of all innovations fail although it turns out the source is a friend of his, so lets call it an opinion at best. Rambling series of references to blue chip companies to establish that innovation is an issue (I think I would have accepted that with a one sentence statement). He asks if the failure is due to lack of money and then says not as R&D spending has no correlation with growth. Now that assumes that growth either is innovation or a direct indicator and that R&D spend is a true indicator of allocation of resource. Both of those could be shot down in two minutes, but OK lets go with it. So what do we do about it?

Hopefully we now get to the meat. He is making a dominant argument (or theme) that training is the solution. Assume you can’t have a great leader like Steve Jobs so train people to innovate throughout the organisation (I am paraphrasing here). Apparently it was inconceivable that TQM and Sick Stigma could have worked ten years ago as people would not have been taught on the shop floor but now we accept it, ipso facto we should be able to do the same for innovation. OMG, the culture word is being invoked, the universal panacea, if in doubt blame culture or sell a cultural change programme.

This is the classic popular management book approach, a set of third party cases (i.e. not ones using the method advocated by the author but ones he has picked from other popular management books to fit his hypothesis) listed with public domain data to elaborate the case. Then a set of idealistic this is how it should be statements are made with no indication as to how you would do the same thing in your own organisation.

On schedule the list appears, here it is:

  1. Listen to those closest to the problem
  2. Humility – always someone smarter
  3. Focus on the business moele
  4. Teach learn apply (rinse and repeat)
  5. Challenge orthodoxy
  6. Harness disruption (inevitable suprises)
  7. Address unarticulated needs
  8. Please crash! (safely)
  9. Approach systemically (please)

Each of these points is illustrated by cases as expected. Looks like this guy has been reading and summarising Wiki-economics, all the normal cases are rolled out again (If I had the power I would banish anyone mentioning Goldcorp yet again to the Siberian Salt Mines). I love this one: Brainstorm unexpected surprises and plan how to meet them. Now what aspect of the definition of unexpected am I missing here?

Back to Proctor and Gamble (wondered if we would get there) and the case of selling through Bunco through participation, connecting with unarticulated needs. Good point here but its been a long time coming.

Will someone please tell me how, imitating other cases (assuming its possible) can ever constitute innovation? All the cases he has given are of people thinking differently about their work, not following some retrospectively coherent and superficial summary of past innovation.

I’ve had enough, only five minutes left and the two by two matrix is appearing along with the process flow chart. I can’t take any more of this I’m going

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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