I have recently had the pleasure of introducing Innovation Engineering to various groups of people from a variety of sectors & backgrounds during Lunch & Learn sessions across Scotland.
They was a recurring theme of questions about the barriers to innovation and change in Scotland and what can be done to overcome them :-
How do you get companies to commit ?
How do you get people interested ?
How do you remove resistance to change?
How do you free up culture to be less fearful of failure?
In the past, there was little urgency to change what was on offer or how we operated. It was possible to create a business based on an innovative service or product and to market it to the same customers for years.
Over the career of most senior leaders, the life cycle of profitability for new products and services has been long. It has not been uncommon for a company founder to innovate and for the life cycle of their offerings to last for a couple of generations. Children of innovators, if they managed the family business right, could have a great career. By the third generation the marketplace usually changes such that it needs to be reinvented if the organisation is to survive. Sadly, most don’t and only 3% of family businesses make it to the fourth generation.
In the past, it has been possible to succeed even with an inferior product or service in your sector. This was because customers didn’t know that there were other alternatives available outside their region that offered greater value for the money.
The internet has changed everything. Today customers have the ability to know more about what alternatives exist in the world. It gives them the ability to painlessly and shamelessly compare value for money. It also gives them the ability to share their experiences with other buyers, making it hard for companies to make false promises. For example, when you put a new design skin on the same old product, customers quickly figure out that your improvement is just skin deep.
The internet has changed everything. Today you can use it as stimulus to learn what is available in other parts of the world to help you to increase your value proposition to your customers. You can do rapid research to learn what can be meaningful, sustainable improvements.
Finally, and to give you some hope that resistance to change can be overcome, let me share with you an excerpt from a Q&A with Kevin Cahill, President & Executive Director of the Deming Institute and Grandson of Dr W Edwards Deming and Doug Hall,Founder of Eureka! Ranch and The Innovation Engineering Institute.The full interview is available in Doug’s latest book “Driving Eureka!”
Doug: Bill Conway told me that Dr. Deming had told him it was important to work with the willing. What advice would you give to an employee who is working for a leader who is “unwilling” to learn/change?
Kevin: I agree, you’ve got to work with the willing, whether it’s at the bottom, at the middle, or at the top.
I know my grandfather said quality starts in the boardroom, and I’ve heard many people say unless you’re at the top, it’s not worth doing. I disagree because you’re not always going to get the person at the top right off the bat. I believe that every single person, in every single organisation, has some sphere of influence they can impact.
Ultimately, that’s what I did. When I started out working, just out of college, I had leaders who were fantastic people, but they really didn’t want to change, because what they were doing at that time was working well.
I started out as an assistant to an assistant. But I realised that I could use my grandfather’s ideas, and thinking to improve the areas that I had some influence over. In time, it had a real impact and people started noticing that this guy did something really interesting and different. What it enabled me to do was to move up in the organisation. Eventually those who are willing to learn the new way of thinking and applying it could end up being in charge of that leader who is unwilling to learn or to change.