Innovation is a buzz word, which is a bad thing. It’s bad because innovation is important and it’s hard. By letting it become a buzz word and everyone jumping on the bandwagon it makes it difficult to distinguish between real innovation and general evolution.
I can’t think of any type of business, organisation, department or agency that doesn’t have some sort of innovation agenda. Very few of these actually ever innovate – iterate, evolve or refine, yes; innovate no. People are bad at accepting they didn’t achieve what they set out to do. When a group of people fail to innovate, it gets justified, the results are changed. It’s said innovation is achieved when it isn’t.
There are two basic factors that mean most people within any group cannot really innovate. Firstly, they are too comfortable in their current position, there is no need for them to change to satisfy their basic needs. Secondly, they are too risk averse, so even if they do see a reason for change, their reasoning won’t let them take action to achieve it.
It means the ambition of innovating in a lot of situations is unrealistic. It is simply not possible. The desire to do so because “everyone else is” damages the entire playing field. Innovation as a concept has become so popular that it has become difficult in some environments to make decisions that don’t have and innovative component. That risks current systems grinding to a halt.
Government and large organisations are good examples. They want to innovate because they think they should, not because they need to. It becomes a situation of taking action that is or seems innovative and looking for a problem it can solve, rather than finding an innovative solution to a real and pressing problem.
These organisations damage the notion of innovation more than anything else. By their very make-up they can’t truly innovate; their structure, roles, governance and systems do not allow the flexibility required to be innovative. It’s this that creates the difference between the rhetoric and the actual sides of innovation.
There is the argument that making smaller changes, the modernisation of tasks and process, is a way of innovating. The problem, if we accept that, is the sheer scale of the innovation spectrum. There is a huge gulf between “innovative” changes to current processes, and the risk and investment required in terms of time, resources and knowledge to conceive, plan, prototype and deliver an entirely new solution.
The two ends of the scale relate very little to each other, which means the people working at each end understand very little about each other’s perspective. In their own context each is justified, but when it comes to defining innovation there are too many variables. A definition for innovation should be simple and limiting, rather than broad and inclusive.
Given the difference in its perception, and the kinds of organisation that stems from, innovation in Canberra is a difficult topic to define, undertake, and measure. There is a lot of talk about being known as an innovative city – but what do we mean by that? Not everyone or every organisation can be an innovator, and nor should it be encouraged. Innovation should involve taking bold risks, and there are some situations where that isn’t appropriate.
Innovation is a word we hear almost every day now though, and I want to know what it means to the people of Canberra. So, no matter what your understanding of it, I’m asking you to give me your perspective. Is the focus on innovation a good thing? Can everyone really be innovators? What does an innovative business or organisation do? And finally, do you think talking about innovation will make a difference to how we look at our world, or is it all just a fad? Leave your thoughts in the comments.