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Nurturing Innovation in Your Business

Innovation is today’s go-to business buzzword. Everyone says they do it, but do they all understand what it truly means? More importantly, how can you make it happen?

The Advitech Group’s Chairman Larry Platt offers his thoughts …

Contrary to conventional thinking, I am of the opinion that innovation emerges from the vibrant interaction of players and the inherent characteristics of each of those players. The commonly held notion that extra money or training will lead to innovation does not consider all of the reality. Of course these aspects are important – but in themselves they are inadequate in achieving the desired result.

History is filled with examples of individuals, organisations and companies who have made momentous advances in the sciences and technologies. The players involved did not necessarily have the training nor the finances, but were successful nonetheless. The same evidence demonstrates that the scale of the human system involved is no guarantee to success. I believe that an innovative individual is the result of their upbringing, education, opportunity, family, personality, relationships, social groupings, and so on.

The complex connectivity within their brain and with the world around them is also crucial. Neuroscientists understand that it is from the multi-dimensional connectivity between brain cells (neurones) that the wonder of the human person emerges. An innovative organisation is all of the above – and more. The complex interaction between individuals creates multi-dimensional layers of connectivity in the whole human system.

Why are not all individuals or organisations innovative? Realistically they all are, but to different extents. What we really aspire towards is high quality, high value and consistent innovation. The question is, how do you create an organisation that will be innovative? The trick centres around the concept of emergent properties and self-organisation. A whole branch of science covers these concepts – so in the interests of brevity, I will simply state that many systems of interacting agents or players have emergent properties. The brain and the person emerging is one example. Innovation is an emergent property (or outcome) from a human system (such as an organisation or company).

Constraints, connectedness and characteristics (the three Cs) are governing words when it comes to designing an innovative organisation. Remove constraints, increase connectedness within your organisation, and carefully select the characteristics of your personnel. Finally, guide your organisation to success.

1. Limit Constraints

A key constraint is lack of finance – ensure your people have the time and money they need to support the innovation process. Rid yourself of overly burdensome procedures – too much control limits creativity. Build knowledge within your people and ensure they operate with purpose. Fight against the ‘fear of change’ inherent in many organisations and ensure your leaders demonstrate their willingness and openness to change how things are done.

2. Build Connectedness

Create connections and open social systems within your workplace – provide an open plan layout, commit to an open door policy, hold regular social activities and ensure strong and frequent internal communications. Use IT infrastructure to support collaboration. Hold purposeful meetings. Most importantly, ‘walk the talk’ and build trust.

3. Choose people with the right characteristics

People with the best potential innovative characteristics will be problem solvers who are prepared to devote personal time to their profession. They will demonstrate their commitment to the organisation they work for, and its purpose. They will recognise opportunity when it knocks, and as team players they will be willing to express and share their ideas. It is rare for all these characteristics to reside within one person. The key is ensuring they reside within a tight knit group.

4. Guide the organisation to success

The next step in nurturing innovation is to understand the principle of ‘guided self-organisation’. Persons of influence, usually the most connected or the most authoritative, should aim to ‘guide’ rather than ‘direct’ the organisation in a direction that maximises the likelihood of successful innovation. They achieve this by monitoring and shaping the direction, culture, friendliness and success of the organisation. Management researchers are now recognising that this style of leadership has the best long term outcomes for an organisation.

Innovative organisations can still fail, often as a result of external factors. But the likelihood of failure can be minimised by being agile – though this will be the subject of a later blog post.

Larry Platt, Executive Chairman – The Advitech Group

Contact Larry Platt on 02 4924 5400.