Balance is a good thing in life and business. Why? Because you miss something if you don’t value the other side. The yin and yang.
But being both productive and innovative are not comfortable bedfellows.
Why? Because there is a tension between production and innovation. And this tension is finely balanced. If one overpowers the other then the likelihood is that an organisation will misfire and the results could be damaging.
It is a fairly accepted fact that when there is an over focus production, this is usually at the expense of innovation. In a highly productive business, abiding by the rules is given utmost priority. And when rules count more than creativity, then innovation suffers.
Of course, you don’t need your whole organisation to suddenly start being highly creative. You don’t really need or want a very creative accounts executive for example. But creativity is really important for innovation. And if your organisation is rule focused, sure, your core product will continue to be made well. But what about your next product, your next growth phase? What happens when demand wanes? Because eventually, it will, as it always does.
Charles Handy in his book, 'The Second Curve' explains that the sigmoid curve is a very real thing. Every product, person, and organisation follows the same pattern. You begin by learning, and your performance is slow in fact it dips, then you learn, grow and eventually prosper. Eventually, though you decline. And for organisations, and people, the idea is to avoid this decline by launching a second curve that enables you to start again either with a new product or by doing a new thing.
The problem, Handy explains, is that at the point we need to do this, we have reached expert status. Which is exactly the time we are least likely to want to change. Whilst, on the one hand, we may be bored with the thing we are doing, everything may feel easy, and we are not being challenged at all. And to give this up for frankly a more unpredictable, risky existence does require courage and energy plus a willingness to sacrifice your expert status.
Organisations suffer from this reluctance. Many simply don’t invest enough time in building a culture that will allow for both the first curve and the second curve to thrive. The criteria for success is limited and anyone who steps outside this paradigm simply doesn’t fit into the organisation. They leave or don’t even get recruited in the first place.
So what about Leadership, Innovation, and Technology?
Firstly, leadership defines culture. The second curve should not destroy the first as this culture is there for good reason. But it is likely that if you don’t have an innovative culture now, then trying to change it would be a disaster.
Often, the leadership will ask the senior group responsible for the success of the first curve their opinion on a second curve. I would venture these people are not always the right people to be asking or involving. The second curve represents a huge threat to them. They will be enjoying the fruits of their hard earned work and status. They will likely be defensive and highly protective.
A second curve will pose a threat and position them well outside their comfort zone. The most likely result is that you won’t get off the starting line, and if you do, there will be an intolerance to the time it will take for the second curve to be successful. The performance of the second curve will seem at odds with how the company measures success with the first curve and what the company considers most important. This polarised performance (which to begin with is likely to be quite stark) will look dreadful in the eyes of the finance department and those who see themselves as responsible for the company’s 'first curve' success.
But there are other ways. Why not set up an alternative unit that is far enough from the main company to have the possibility of establishing a different culture? By doing this you will more likely recruit a completely different team to focus on the second curve. Separating a group has a lot of value. They don’t get sullied with the old thinking, or demotivated by the ‘no’ culture. And this is least likely to disrupt the first curve and gain all of the value from fresh thinking. Whilst allowing for the fact innovation is incredibly unproductive. It takes time and is unpredictable, but with the right focus and energy an idea is more likely to blossom if it is given the right time and environment to breathe away from the judgemental culture of the first curve.
Innovation is of course a crucial component for growth and evolution. The need to adapt is ever more evident today, especially given the speed of change. The traditional company will eventually struggle if their modus operandi is measurement and that has a stringent rules process in place. These may be necessary for an efficient manufacturing operation for example. But they are the killers of innovation.
And technology is also important. Of course, but it isn’t as important as people. And I say this with the people in the team and the people who are your customers. I firmly believe that many technology companies, particularly within the InPrint community, underinvest in marketing and place a greater emphasis on technology than they do people. People are our greatest technology – their abilities should be harnessed properly by being inspired by leadership’s vision and the mission the company has to change, or help the market and world in which they operate.
So this is why we are running Leaders in Technology next week. It is an opportunity for all of us to think about leadership, innovation, (and to some extent technology), and how we drive our businesses forward within the challenging world of innovation and getting new ideas to gain traction and become accepted by an often risk averse and conservative industry.
If you would like to attend, for £65 you can, and our sponsors Diamond Dispersions have kindly sponsored networking drinks and dinner.
And this link to reserve your ticket https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leaders-in-technology-summit-lit-tickets-34510180880