Try a ‘grow your own’ approach

“Someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action – fast.” So said legendary CEO, Jack Welch, describing GE’s learning culture back when he presided over the global monolith. Many times since, executive teams have been exhorted to beg, borrow or adopt, holus-bolus, whatever ideas are in vogue, all in the name of innovation. 3M, Procter & Gamble and more latterly, Google and Apple, are favoured targets of the copycats, who conveniently overlook the far-sighted leadership and cultural transformation required to be a genuinely successful innovator. “There’s something about the culture of business that tends toward excess — in financial markets, to be sure, but also in the “market” for new ideas and management techniques,” according to Fast Company co-founder, Bill Taylor. “The dynamic is always the same… a genuinely original strategy is born in one company or industry, consultants discover the practice and turn it into a marketable commodity, executives in all sorts of other companies race to ‘buy’ the product — and then they wonder why the technique didn’t work nearly as well in their organisation.” As innovation blogger, Paul Hobcraft, points out, innovation can’t be imposed or borrowed. “It is amazing how many organisations lack a clear innovation vision and an explicit set of statements from the chief executive or their designated C-level officer on innovation,” Hobcraft says. “If you get people to ‘freely’ talk about innovation, its importance, its impact and can ‘paint’ the future in broad brush strokes, they achieve a growing clarity and enthusiasm and that often missing critical component – a sense of shared identity.” Maybe it’s time to stop talking ‘innovation’ altogether, Taylor argues. “What strikes me about the organisations I’ve encountered that are genuinely innovative is that they rarely use the language of innovation to describe what they do or why they do it,” he says. “These companies simply do what makes sense and what comes naturally.”

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