Should we be innovating?

Fad: ‘An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something … a craze.’ So sayeth the Oxford Dictionaries, and by any measure (especially a quick Google search), innovation would seem to qualify, at least in the intensity stakes. For those on the newly minted innovation bandwagon, everybody should be doing it, yet University of Queensland innovation researcher, Tim Kastelle, doesn’t entirely agree. With partner John Steen, Kastelle has developed an innovation matrix that acknowledges firms with minimal to no innovation output. “When we hear things like ‘innovate or die’, it might seem like this is a very bad place to be,” Kastelle says. “But this is not necessarily true. Some firms that don’t innovate are actually reasonably safe, at least for the time being.” They nominate four types of situations where organisations don’t necessarily have to embrace innovation: some startups, monopolies and oligopolies, established firms that have forgotten how to innovate, and well-established firms in stable industries. However, most firms – regardless of how ‘stable’ their operating environment appears – would do well to ask themselves two questions: Is there a gap between current and desired performance? And is your environment changing? Take the rapid advance of mobile technologies. Writing in Forbes, Mark Fidelman warns established players to prepare for massive disruption and unheralded opportunities. “People living in the most disadvantaged societies are utilising 21st century mobile technologies to help solve problems that have been around since the 19th century,” Fidelman says. “A period of 200 years bridged by a single device carried in your pocket. Imagine what (those technologies) are going to do to the world’s most advanced.” In any case, even in organisations not regarded as innovative, innovation may already be happening, say Monitor Group partners, Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff. “Typically, many (CEOs) are aware of a tremendous amount of innovation going on inside their enterprises but don’t feel they have a grasp on all the dispersed initiatives.” Their advice, based on their own innovation matrix, aligns with that of Kastelle and Steen: Be clear about your innovation ambition, resource it properly, and manage for the whole.

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