Moving Up the Innovation Spectrum: Part I

Filed Under Innovation

energy efficiency
Harvey Wade

March 18, 2014

Innovation is a word that is increasingly thrown around the business world. It’s something many fear because they associate it with big, uncomfortable change. Fortunately, our research last year found that 32% of people recognise that they need to change their everyday working practices to be more successful. But although 32% accept that there’s a problem, that still leaves 68% of people who are set in their ways, potentially digging their heels in because they fear that innovation could disrupt the way they’ve learned to comfortably get things done.

Small Steps, Big Change

However, change for the better doesn’t always need to be disruptive and painful. Think of innovation as a spectrum: at one end, smaller, incremental changes can be introduced before moving up to more disruptive and complete transformations. All levels of the spectrum have their own place and purpose. For those who may be hesitant about diving in at the deep end, it may be better to start with something at the lower end of the scale, as it’s less daunting and easier to achieve.

Let’s put this in to context for a moment by thinking about your office email policy. CIOs everywhere are fighting a constant battle to keep data storage costs down, and many tackle it by attempting to reduce the size of employees’ email inboxes. Lots of companies, particularly those who can’t initially afford to invest in transforming their operations, start by making a small shift in their email policy, e.g., instructing employees to only send email to people who need to see it, rather than sending a mass email to the entire team. That way, inboxes will be easier to manage and information won’t get lost.

Transformational Innovation

Introducing small changes like this can make a real difference, but also act as a stepping stone to build up to bigger, more transformational ideas. In this instance, transformational innovation of existing email practices could be the introduction of an instant message platform that allows group conversations, which gives employees a space to instantaneously share information and solve problems, instead of having long email discussions. People who have been using email for a number of years may find it hard to adjust the way they work and adopt the new system, but it will be much easier if you’ve already introduced smaller changes to challenge their thinking, and can show the benefits of making the switch. Likewise, once budget holders realise the gains that come from incremental changes, they will be less resistant to larger ones.

In my next post, I’ll be looking at the practicalities of how change happens and identify some of the main barriers to implementing change. This should help to convince the 68% of employees who are digging their heels in to come around to the idea of change. But in the meantime, remember; making small improvements and changes is better than making none at all. If you are not improving, watch out — your competitors are!