Five years ago, the then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced that the Government would invest in the north of the country, to drive economic and business development into a region that, to some people’s minds, had been forgotten for too long.

The idea gained popularity.

And it worked.

Mr Osborne had done something quite clever that, when we analyse it now, shows recognition of a need and behaviour that we’d call consumer-centric.

What did he do? He saw the reality of a situation without bias. He explored ideas to achieve a ROI for everybody concerned. He made funding available for business and public services. He consulted with opposition parties on the ideas before tabling options (call this testing). And he picked his moment.

Maybe more importantly, he delivered the idea to market and it had an effect. As the saying goes – invention is having new ideas, innovation is doing new things.

And then Mr Osborne left government, the energy and interest for his idea tailed off, and now the signs are that this initiative is stumbling. Investment is still weighted in favour of the south of the UK and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is still pushing for funding and wider recognition.

The lesson: pick your champion well.

How do you entrust the strategic future of your growth plan to anyone? Well, perhaps you don’t. In an ideal world, management will do this as a group and be completely invested in your future. But we know that this is a dream. So, it may be necessary for business to put a structure in place that takes responsibility for innovation. And when there’s a structure, there’s a head of that pyramid.

Here’s a few tips on how to pick the person, or decide not to.

Tip 1

Don’t automatically settle on the long-server who is heading for retirement. If this is on your mind, be dispassionate. This person may be the best for the job, but do they have the energy and charisma to draw peers into a process that is creative and challenging? What’s their record of disruptive activity?

Tip 2

Do listen to what is being said around the lunch table as well as the board table. Who is it that says things like ‘did you see that article about…’, ‘I was listening to a podcast about X on the way in today and it made me think about our…’, ‘I missed Killing Eve, I was hooked on that programme about plastic waste…’ and so on? Research forms the backbone of innovation – consuming a wide range of content is a critical skill. If you need one thing in innovation, it’s a ‘question everything’ mindset.

Tip 3

Don’t believe that sending scouts to trade shows is the answer. Trade shows and conferences are exercises in competition awareness and shopping. Everything on a trade show floor is available now. If you want to copy those ideas, go ahead, but this is product development and just puts you where your competitors already are.

Tip 4

Challenge the team. Who is it on your team that asked to subscribe to a journal you’ve never heard of, or who sent you a link to a site that you couldn’t see the point of reading? In their head, there’s an idea looking for a way out. It might be worth having a coffee with them. Maybe everyone you work with reads things published in places you have never heard of.

Ask your team to ‘show and tell’ one day. In a single workshop, we learnt that the client team comprised a national champion speed skater, a skateboarder, a bed-jumper (don’t ask) and a national netball representative. Until we asked, no-one knew.

Tip 5

Decide if you need someone to drive innovation, or if what the company really needs is something different.

The short-term fix may be that you initiate some interest in innovation by appointing a person (or some people). Often these guys struggle to gain influence across departments, because their remit is to introduce change in an environment where efficiency and cost management depend on everything staying the same.

It’s more likely that your business needs top-down leadership and the evolution of a culture that challenges its own practices while being on the look-out for emerging opportunities.

If you want help getting started, that’s what we do.

Future thinking. Future-proofing.

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