On the 14th September 2011, I finally got to meet two amazing Innovation Guru’s Kjell Nordstrom & Chris Barez-Brown. I had read publications and watched you-tube footage of both of them, but never seen them live let alone got to meet them!
The conference was entitled “Igniting Innovation & Ideas” and was designed to look at how innovation and creativity, combined with great leadership and the properly aligned organisational model could create a competitive advantage in any industry or business.
Kjell took the morning session and began by analysing various companies from Siemens to Apple to Coca-Cola, banks to governments and the make up of these organisations from a competitive perspective and what they have done to make themselves successful. Throw in a few stories on how peacocks survive in the wild, being a basically flightless and slow bird yet being highly successful at surviving and how the cycle of innovation works and you end up with a thoroughly entertaining and thoughts provoking experience.
A few points Kjell made:
1. Technology does not drive successful innovation. Take Apple for example; it does not purport to have the best technology which keeps it a head of the game. It, like the peacock, ensures that its design/brand/image is so desirable that a person or being has already made the decision to buy into it before they have even asked about the technical data supporting it or even how much does it cost?!
2. There is a cycle of organisational success. No matter how you cut it, or what sector you are in you – get an idea, innovate it, create a temporary monopoly and then reap the rewards IE profit. Note the word temporary. The best companies realise this and continuously re-innovate new ideas so that the cycle continues. Any business that heavily relies on a “cash cow” in today’s environment will eventually fail.
3. A company cannot have a complete idea on where it is going in the future and a plan to implement it – Called Genuine Uncertainty. He uses the example of a very successful Scandinavian bank who make a point of setting no plan for the business and no budgets to work to. What they do is constantly benchmark themselves against their competitors, evaluating their products and services against others and ensuring that what they do is better. It’s not to say that an organisation should not have core values or aims, but if you identify a plan too early, then circumstances around you could change and if you are not quick enough to adapt you run the risk of being left behind. To succeed, a company must now continuously experiment.
4. The world is full of “liquid fear”. There are so many elements that an organisation or society can pre-plan for, be it terrorism, an economic crash or a rise in the cost of raw materials. The point being that there is no one identifiable threat and so an organisation must be flexible enough and structured such that it can react in time.
5.De-learning can be more difficult that learning. Removing cultural or organisational traits can be harder than trying to implement new ones when innovating.
6. China’s historic competitive advantage is like an ice-cube in the desert. Granted, it is a large ice-cube, but it will melt none the less. The market is no longer driven by cost, it is and will be driven by innovation.
Kjell also described in detail his idea of a “Phantom Firm of the Future”. What do companies need to look like to succeed in the future? To explain this he described some key traits they must have;
- Need to be lean. If the structure of an organisation is too large, then it cannot adapt to changing circumstances. Look at how HP has divested in PC’s and is now focussing on 3-4 key core areas.
- It needs to be Tribal – share knowledge, share values, form teams, use collective resources. “Hire for attitude, train for skill”
- It needs to have an open network. Do you think that Apple could have come up with 500,000 apps for their devices in the space of just a few years? No, what they did was create an environment that allowed third parties to create apps for them and a space to offer them out to others!.
- It should be nodal, a series of departments that can communicate and interchange to suit the work required. He used the internet as a prime example, lots of nodes with vast amounts of information all interlinked so that others can tap into their skills/experiences/knowledge quickly and effectively. “Siemens does not know what Siemens knows.” Firms have too many silos that do not communicate.
- Need to be non-hierarchical. The business should be heterarchical. Companies are great at top to bottom or bottom to up communication and direction, but not so great at sharing across departments. Need to be more lateral.
- Everything is temporary. No permanent structures, everything is projects based and flexible.
- Chris Barez-Brown, author of the recent book Shine and previous director of the WhatIf!? Innovation company took a more personal look at creativity. What is it that makes a person innovative, creative and energised?
He used ideas like change your environment on a regular basis. Dont hold meetings in the same room all the time, external stimulus helps provide a space that can excite the brain into thinking better, thus the same room, same chair, same agenda stifles creativity.
“It only takes one turd to ruin a pool party”, crass I know, but the idea being that if someone comes up with an idea that they think can benefit the business, it only takes one person to say “we tried that before” or “it will never meet the budget” to kill an idea dead. What did not work before, does not mean it will not be feasible in the future under different circumstances.
Be visual in your ideas. To really understand the potential of something, you need to first experience it and don’t be afraid of failure. If you want to examine a new concept don’t write a business plan and full analysis of the subject, build it, try it, find something similar and you will learn a lot quicker if it will or will not work. He used the example of a gentleman who worked at Disney who came up with the idea of Animal Kingdom while on safari with his children. He put it to the board and they all rejected it saying there was no technology, no thrilling rides or visual effects and he wanted to do something from yesteryear. So, after a number of failed attempts, he brought a bengal tiger into the board room and the project was signed off there and then. The sudden experience of fear, excitement and adrenaline is what made his idea get the board to agree, not a detailed business plan and cost analysis.
Speed is key to creativity and innovation. “If someone comes to you with an idea and you want to kill it, ask them to do a business plan with full commercials.” Momentum and speed is a function of passion, keep the passion going, keep the creativity of the idea going.
Overall, the conference was a fantastic day of insights and analysis on how organisations, people and tribes need to adopt and encourgae innovation to ensure that they continue to be a success in the future.
I have heard many people say it, and Chris and Kjell did also – Dont be afraid of failure. In fact expect to fail more times than you succeed, but the one time you succeed in the innovation process will pay off 100 times against the failures that preceded it.