Innovation and the readiness to do something new

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Innovation means putting into effect something new for your organisation. There may be many sources for what is 'new'.

1. It may be something borrowed or copied from another organisation. For example, an insurance idea from India may be introduced into Canada (or the other way around). There is a certain amount of risk because cultures and conditions are different. Nevertheless, you would only want to copy successful ideas, so the risk may not be great. It is 'new' for your organisation, but not new in an absolute sense.

2. There may be a logical reaction to information and research data. If you find that 60-year-olds are going to the cinema more and more, you may want to make films for that age group. There may be a logical reaction to changes in the law. There may be a logical reaction to the low cost of production in China, so you set up factories in China. All these things are both logical and new and so are part of innovation.

3. There may also be a logical design that puts forward something new. For example, cost-cutting and outsourcing may be driven entirely by logic, but are still innovations. The design of new products and new services may also come about through a logical design process.

4. Lastly there are innovations produced directly by the exercise of creativity. Such innovations are original and neither copied nor the result of logical progression. Direct creativity of this sort may be a higher risk than the other sources of innovation - but the rewards can also be much higher.

Innovation always requires a readiness to do something new. Anything new is a risk. Anything new is a distraction from the normal routine. Anything new requires commitment of some resources.

For obvious reasons, many organisations do not like to try new things. Executives reach senior positions through being good at continuity and problem-solving. You do what you are supposed to do and solve problems that interfere with that doing. The readiness to try new things is not usually a factor in an executive's success and promotion.

Then there is the fear of failure. Something new that does not work out is a failure or a mistake. Language does not have a word for a 'fully justified venture which, for reasons beyond your control, did not work'. So anything which does not work out is a failure. It makes sense to avoid 'failures'.

If there is a readiness to try new things and the habit of exploring new possibilities, then innovation can happen. It is very hard to seek to create a climate of acceptance for every new possibility. The climate has to be there all the time.

Maybe there is a need for a specific 'Innovation Officer' whose business it is to develop the innovation readiness.

The various sources of innovation have been listed above. Clearly there is a need for someone to be sensitive to what is happening elsewhere in the same field and to what is happening in the world around. There is a need for an 'opportunity scan'.

Many organisations work on the basis of 'osmosis'. If a new idea has been around for a long time and has been taken up by other organisations, then it becomes natural (and low risk) to adopt that innovation.

This is very much how doctors choose to become aware of new advances in medicine. If something is 'around' you eventually get to hear of it. This is not a very proactive approach. It is more a matter of following the field than leading the field. You do not want to be left behind, but you do not want to take the risk of being in front.

There must be a readiness to explore and implement new ideas. This is usually not the case, even when much lip-service is paid to innovation.

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