Innovation. Seeing it differently. Seeing it for what it is.

Burning match against a black background.


Last year we quoted a report* called Innovation Matters, from PA Consulting, that had surveyed top executives from around the world. It says that:

  • 66% of interview respondents believed their organisation would not survive without innovation
  • 37% said their organisation has made no, or only minimal, changes to its innovation approach and that…
  • only 50% of their leaders displayed the vision and passion needed to make innovation happen

Even though nearly two thirds believe they are more likely to be successful if they source innovation from outside the organisation, only a third work frequently with external technology developers.

These findings suggest that, while there is a will to innovate, the way isn’t quite so clear. What’s stopping it?

Over the weekend, an article at made similar points to some of our own blogs. In his article, Why we can’t innovate, Bill Fischer quoted from a newer report called **State of Innovation and wrote, “Despite 41% of the respondents admitting that their firms are “at extreme risk of disruption,” 78% of innovation portfolios are allocated to continuous innovation instead of disruptive risks. It’s a phenomenon we see daily: we are at risk, we know it and yet we choose not to respond in an appropriate fashion…

We are talking about smart, successful managers in well-respected companies, after all. They know their craft well; but they just can’t innovate! It’s not their fault, they tell me; they are ready, willing and able, but too many forces conspire against them. Try as they may, and they say they do try, it is simply impossible to innovate in their situations.

‘So, while corporations worry about disruption, do they actually invest in preventing it? No…”

Here’s another perspective. Seth Godin writes:

Bigger to feel safer 

Creative institutions get bigger so that they can avoid doing things that feel risky.

They may rationalize this as leverage, as creating more impact. But it’s a coin with two sides, and the other side is that they do proportionally more things that are reliable and fewer things that feel like they might fail.

In other words, hiring more people makes their useful creative productivity go down.

This is not the way it works in a factory. When Henry Ford hired more people for the assembly line, productivity went up. Things got more efficient. More lines, more plants, more hands led to more productivity. The natural scale of the enterprise was large indeed.

But a creative studio, a marketing team, architects, strategists, programmers, writers, editors, city planners, teachers–the natural scale of the enterprise is smaller than you think.

This is a new law of organizations, and it’s not well understood.

We hire more people to make it feel safer. To paper over the cracks, to please more people, to increase stability.

None of these things are why the creative institution exists.

While the bureaucracy may benefit from more scale, the work doesn’t.”

From a different perspective, here’s what Kevin Ashton, the consumer sensor expert who coined the phrase ‘the Internet of Things’, said about innovation:

“I’d been lied to all my life: great innovation didn’t come from geniuses having moments of inspiration. It was about putting in the work; finding a way through and messing up and figuring out why you messed up, and then trying something different. And this incremental, step-by-step approach to innovation was just how everybody else was doing it around me too.”

At room44 we appreciate that repeatability drives efficiency, and an efficient process drives the ethos of ‘this is what you do, let’s keep doing it.’ We also know the importance of breaking plans into baby steps that can be achieved while following a strategic trajectory.

But if doing more of the same puts you at risk of being disrupted, and if your risk is measured in such a way as to make the probability of success through risk, unattractive, perhaps it’s time to join the 61% who think they’re more likely to succeed if they source innovation help from outside their organisation.

Let’s give Bill the final word; “The future is forever, but the present is this quarter. I hear this frequently. We are so short-term results driven that we are forced to put off for the future good ideas whose time has come. The growing problem with this, among so many, is that today’s future is shorter than it used to be. With accelerating innovation cycles, industry convergence and lower barriers to entry, S-curves are shortening, and, as a result, the future is advancing quicker.”

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.


*To see PA Consulting’s original ‘Innovation Matters’ report click here.

**To see CB Insights’ original report ‘State of Innovation’ click here

To read Bill Fischer’s blog click here