Bruce Nussbaum, Managing Editor, Business Week USA published an article on December 31, 2008 provocatively entitled "Innovation is Dead" in which he suggested innovation
"….was done in by CEOs, consultants, marketeers, advertisers and business journalists who degraded and devalued the idea by conflating it with change, technology, design, globalization, trendiness, and anything “new.” It was done in by an obsession with measurement, metrics and math and a demand for predictability in an unpredictable world. The concept was also done in, strangely enough, by a male-dominated economic leadership that rejected the extraordinary progress in “uncertainty planning and strategy” being done at key schools of design that could have given new life to “innovation. To them, “design” is something their wives do with curtains, not a methodology or philosophy to deal with life in constant BETA — life in 2010…"
Constantly confused and used interchangeably with creativity, “innovation” is worse than dead. It has become meaningless.
Academics have built careers on it, book publishers continue to make lots of money out it and key note speakers talk about innovation case studies endlessly often without having participated in the studies themselves. Indeed, Nussbaum argues "financial innovation is largely responsible for the economic train wreck" we have experienced.
The problem is the word innovation, like advertising, only ever describes an outcome, a past event. It’s the unmentioned and often unexplored components of innovation such as creative leadership, creativity, invention, experimentation, risk, prototyping and the unmentionable “f” word “failure” that defines it.
So if innovation is a meaningless concept, where should our business thinking focus during these uncertain times?
With the rise of China as an economic powerhouse and the newly emerging economies occuring simultaneously as the world’s natural resources are being depleted, we have entered a period of global transformation calling into question the very core of our cultural, political and social beliefs and systems.
A time when Nussbaum suggests we will need "to focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs; humanizing technology, not imposing technology on humans and most importantly approaching uncertainties with a methodology that creates options for new situations and sorts through them for the best, quickly."
The economic soil beneath has changed forever and as the economy begins to recover, we will need to be highly creative and inventive about how we proceed.
So how creative are we?
Two statistics stand out in the national research project "Is Australian management creative and innovative?" The Creative Leadership Forum completed last year offering vital clues to how Australian managers think about creativity and work.
Firstly, only 1/3 of CEO's have any training in creative practices, thinking methodologies and they have very limited understandings of leadership and creativity. These concepts are alien to modern management education and training, yet are the very basis on which an organisation operates innately, daily. The challenge for business leaders is to find a way to understand how creativity and leadership are practiced within their organisations and to develop a meaningful dialogue around them. What does the future hold? How do our managers develop more creative processes? How can we implement more creatively? How can we develop our people both as leaders and creatively? What rules can we break? What is emerging for us and the markets we are in?
Secondly, whilst 81% of Australians say they are creative, only 46% perceive their organisations as being creative. This indicates there is vast untapped creative potential within organisations. The challenge is how to understand the potential, harness it and use it to deliver organisational value and transformation in the process.
This month, we officially launch the Management Innovation Index (the MIX), both a benchmarking and assessment tool designed to assist organisations in that challenge.
Almost 18 months in research, design and testing across multi-national organisations, government departments and SME’s, the Management Innovation Index (the MIX) contains a series of questions designed to flesh out an organisation’s management capabilities and capacities to create and implement change for a sustainable and viable emerging future. The outcome of the MIX is the MIX Assessment Report, a form of discussion paper, enabling an organisation’s management to see where the current gaps are in the organisation’s creative leadership and change capacities and capabilities with recommendations as to how those gaps can be overcome.
Already the MIX has gained recognition at Australian Federal Government level with its inclusion in the submission to Prime Minister and Cabinet on Innovation in the Public Sector as a tool for Department Heads to use when developing their strategic plans for reform on their departments.
In addition, we have created an-line global management innovation index with the intention of over time establishing benchmarks providing meaning and in sight across industries and vocations cross culturally.
We seek your participation in the global index here.
This new decade will see the emergence of a new generation of leaders and managers who understand creativity organisationally from a more aesthetic perspective - not for them the rational thinking espoused by the remnants of the Industrial Age management gurus and their friends, the tenured academics. They will have grown up playing on-line games, with YouTube as their main source of media, with the knowledge that PowerPoint is a multi-media tool and with the know-how, they will simply not be punished for downloading what they wish in the way of images and film free of charge.
For this reason, leaders will need more than ever to understand how the ecology of creativity in their organisation operates and how best to engage with their team and their peers seeking meaningful ways to sustain and move the organisation’s viability.
My favourite quote “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”