It’s time to come out the rabbit hole – a shift to an innovative mind-set

There is no denying that 2020 has seen unprecedented disruption in a very short period of time. It is a testing time for all of us, but the question is who will survive this wave of disruption and who will grab the opportunities and come out stronger? We have experienced companies shifting immediately into survival mode and focus on cost reduction (or as a minimum retention), which in the UK alone has resulted in 730,00+ job losses and counting (ONS1)).

At the progressive end of the scale we have seen companies like Zoom flourish and their market capitalisation going through the roof from $20bn in October 2019 to $119bn in 2020. These cutting-edge organisations will face less competition from incumbents and enjoy more freedom to innovate. Old-school incumbents will have to pursue innovations that lie far outside their long-established comfort zone. They need to go back to the drawing board of innovation (Insead 2)).

Those organisations that do not embrace innovation could be out of business in less than five years. It drives the need to collaborate with your ecosystem creating a forward-thinking organisation and identify opportunities to disrupt one’s industry. Bravery needs to be part of the equation, seeking ideas internally and externally to harness the power of your employees, suppliers, customers, and other industries.

Moving forward organisations need to shift gear and make innovation top of their strategic agenda. The focus should be on user-centric problem-solving, driving creativity and establishing an agile organisation that can pivot quickly in response to changes. These five key principles will help prepare your organisation to drive innovation:

1.  From Profit to Purpose

A tie that binds an organisation with the wider community is a shared understanding that there is a new leading edge. It is those companies able to harness the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability and enjoy a distinct competitive advantage. (HBR / EY Beacon Institute 3)). Organisations need to be clear about how they create value that will drive them into the future, positively impact communities and demonstrate a strong purpose that customers can relate to. Research suggest that purpose-driven firms are more profitable for their investors.

With increased pressure from stakeholders, organisations need to define how they can drive positive change and leverage innovation to create purpose-driven products and services. Signing up to UN’s 17 Global Goals (e.g. climate action, gender equality, no poverty, etc.) sends a strong message to stakeholders but you must live and nurture this purpose to have credibility. When bringing innovative ideas to market, think about creating a positive impact on e.g. communities or UN’s Global Goals with one key question in mind: – how will this help us make a difference and do we live those values?

2.   From Silos to Networks / Tribes

It is no surprise that we achieve the best ideas when we collaborate. So why do silos still exist? Why do we keep nurturing and maintaining those structures? We know from experience that the only outcome from working in isolation is unhealthy relationships between teams. A plethora of internal and external challenges impact employees, leadership teams, suppliers, and customers and, as a result, they lose sight of company goals and communication breaks down. This behaviour leads to duplication of work, deteriorating performance and a disengaged workforce. According to Trello 4), 86% of executives and employees blamed lack of collaboration or inefficient communication for team problems and failures.

Cross-functional collaboration is a powerful way to build and leverage networks and create culture alignment. It is an efficient way to identify and foster innovative ideas and create a motivated workforce. To make tribes or communities thrive they need to have a clear purpose, be self-sufficient and self-regulating. Provide the group with authority and accountability to drive a lean decision process that is free from bureaucracy. The network needs to be driven by discovery, curiosity, and experimentation to foster new ways of working. It will integrate neatly into a high impact learning organisation driven by flexibility, knowledge sharing and adaptability.

3.  From Planning to Experimentation

We spend an awful lot of time planning change initiatives that we believe will optimise business processes, improve customer experience, and develop relevant products and services. We know that data can be manipulated to drive pre-defined decisions based on personal agenda and emotion. That is partly why 70% of projects do not meet desired outcomes or deliver the benefits anticipated.

Improved benefits can be achieved if the focus is changed to experimentation. In an innovative culture we encourage employees to explore by looking for ways to e.g. improve customer services, ensure services and products meet demand and improve internal processes. To optimise those experiments we need to take a user-centric approach and not let processes and technology take the driving seat. Running design sprints is an efficient and effective way to examine business challenges, identify opportunities to solve a problem, create a solution and validate a prototype with customers.

This provides valuable and quick insights from users and influence the innovation portfolio of change initiatives. We need to accept and incorporate a culture of “fail fast and learn” to make an innovation culture work. To optimise experimentation we need to develop a deep understanding of our customers and drive a High Impact Learning Organisation (HILO) through five principles:

  • systematic problem solving

  • experimentation

  • learning from past experience

  • learning from others

  • transferring knowledge

4.  From Business Case to Value at Stake

How often have we been told “sounds like an interesting idea, but could you please put together a business case before we make a decision” when presenting an idea to your leadership team. The problem with a business case is that they are time consuming and with a tendency to adapt the content and manipulate the numbers to fit our purpose. Very often the case is inaccurate based on the data applied, lacks accountability and creates an environment of false certainty.

Value at Stake focuses on the actual business challenges or the extent of the opportunity. It focuses on what can be saved by optimising certain processes or what additional revenue can be generated if a better solution is introduced to solve the business challenge. Value at Stake should not be treated as a business case but a mechanism to highlight the benefits if you succeed solving the challenge with the right product/service/market/process fit. You create scenarios to highlight what is possible and can it be achieved.

When we take a Value at Stake approach, we increase the chances of gaining buy-in from our most important stakeholders.

5.  From Controlling Leadership to Empowering Workforce

How often have we had discussions with colleagues about company culture killing motivation, disengaged leadership, bureaucracy is holding back decisions and all decisions are driven from the top down. If we think about it, culture is 70% driven by the behaviour of leadership and is one of the main reasons we drive away talent. Leaders that lack confidence tends to be more controlling, focus on micro-management, delegate less and ignore recommendations from employees.

With people being your most valuable assets, you need to empower your employees to excel and influence the creation of a forward-thinking organisation. Employees are your experts in what they do whether it is customer service, finance, HR or other relevant functions. They are close to the daily actions and their opinions matter. Bringing employees into the mix have seen organisations increase productivity between 20% - 25% (McKinsey 5)) and a reduction in staff turnover. Organisations need to entrust staff more, operate transparent environments where failure is allowed and lessons learned is the holy grail, engage employees in collaborative idea generation and let them be part of shaping the strategic and innovation agenda. Employees embracing support from leadership will shine when given the opportunity.

So, if you want to enhance and drive an innovative driven organisation there is a need to invest and instil a human-centred mindset. It is an opportunity to innovate faster, more cost efficiently and with greater impact driven by discovery, curiosity, and experimentation. This is a golden opportunity to harness the power of your people and create an ecosystem that will allow you to test even the craziest ideas and validate those ideas with your customers. Fostering an open innovation environment, you increase your changes to disrupt your industry and create competitive advantage.


1) Office of National Statistics, July 2020

2) Reconceiving Innovation for Covid-19, Instead, Manuel Sosa

3) The business case for purpose, HBR and EY Beacon Institute

4) Trello Survey

5) Employee Productivity Statistics: Everything you need to know for 2019, McKinsey

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