Innovation and Innovation Culture: What Comes First?

It’s not exactly news that, in 2018, competition is global. The only way for many businesses to survive is to constantly improve and invent.

That’s right, this is another innovation article.

It makes sense then that companies are investing millions in the innovation chase. One of the popular cars in this obscure race is in-house “innovation labs.” Interpretation of this term seems to vary somewhat from business to business, but most seem to think that innovation involves wheeled furniture, ball pits, and sexy colour schemes.

 Leave us alone guys, we're innovating.

Leave us alone guys, we're innovating.

As eloquently put by Andy Howard of the Village of Useful in his article, “Innovation Labs Don’t Work,”…well…innovation labs don’t work. They’re disappearing as fast as they appeared in the first place.

“Firms aren’t creating innovation labs for the right reasons. ‘Innovation theatre’ is all most innovation labs amount to,” Howard describes.

Big businesses are making big mistakes in the innovation space. But why is it so hard for them to crack this creativity nut?

Innovation requires not just creativity, but the means to act on that creativity. While big businesses might have big bucks, they also have big bureaucracy. But even the most streamlined of companies still struggle to come up with new ideas and act on them.

For companies to lighten the load of entrenched problematic administrative systems, the thirst for innovation has to be genuine.

As put by CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns, “As we get more comfortable and push ourselves to the centre, and give people more space to shine and over-achieve, then the bureaucracy becomes only that what we need.” Alas, it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario.

There’s been some kickback to this sentiment - that big businesses struggle to get creative. But many of the arguments put forward seem to confuse acquisition with innovation. Buying out a company or moving onto a new line of products isn’t where big businesses come unstuck. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Optimisation of processes and methods requires agility and dedication. Whatever makes a company a company - clients, commitments, projects, assets - will always be that company’s priority. They can’t afford for it not to be, or they wouldn’t be a company. Moving into new territory involves time, resources, and risk, and there is only so much of this that can be invested before core business is compromised.

“There are very few leaders who can balance the short term and the long term together, and also know how important that growth is, and have a sufficiently long-term horizon that they’re willing to sacrifice things,” says Idealab’s Bill Gross.

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Lots of businesses blame themselves for their failure to innovate, but it’s really just an ingrained problem experienced by many companies across many industries. They struggle to pay enough attention and resources, they become stuck in monocultural thought processes, and there are just too many bureaucratic barriers to real change.  

As put by Gary Flowers in his Slingshot blog post, “Large companies simply find it hard to start from scratch and think like an entrepreneur.”

This option suits a lot of people (including our clients, of course!) is outsourcing.

“There is this overused quotation - ‘99.9% of smart people don’t work for your organisation.’ It’s very true, and so it would be a shame not to be able to tap into their (external) knowledge base to solve your internal challenges. More often than not you don’t have enough resources in-house to solve all the problems that you have,” explains Olda Patel, innovation strategist and manager.

NewieVentures was founded out of the frustration that many big companies can experience when they attempt to innovate on their own.

We love problem-solving - it’s what we’re about, and it’s what engineering is about! We’re dedicated to this creative vision - we’re qualified, we’re nimble, we’re collaborative.

We’re innovative.