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If you want to innovate, you’ve got to set your people free

When we work with big companies, we see how they accumulate stuff like compulsive hoarders. They find it difficult to discard policies, processes and procedures. Like all compulsive disorders it's hard to shake off. But if you want your organisation to be innovative, that has to change.

In our latest research 75% of the most successful innovators we spoke to said they have a creative, open-minded culture - compared to 66% of the less successful organisations. So there's a strong argument for establishing the conditions for your people to think for themselves, use their ingenuity and not be perfect. You can do that by looking at three main areas of your organisation: your people, your processes and your technology.


Have you got the right people? And are they in the right place?

Leaders can stifle people's creativity. They're the ones that like the sense of control. In our survey 50% of respondents said they don't believe their leaders fully display the vision and passion needed to make innovation happen. So make sure you've got at least some people in management who aren't afraid to act and make decisions without a ton of data. And diversity is key: in terms of race and gender, thinking, mindset and experience. We found that 78% of the most successful innovators in our survey have executive and leadership teams with a diverse range of skills and professional backgrounds, compared with 66% of less successful organisations.

You don't necessarily need to look outside your organisation to change the way things work, to let in some fresh air. Giving people new roles and responsibilities could kick-start some new projects. Introducing people to new information, new thinking and new colleagues can boost innovative activity. It could be a quick way of injecting diversity. Which sounds useful given that 81% of the leader innovators in our survey said they're making good progress around diversity, compared with 66% of the less successful group.

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What could you simplify? Take a critical look at established processes and ask what they achieve. Take the processes around project management, for example. How many required steps and stage-gates are there just to give someone higher up the chance to intervene? How much time do they add – and how much easier would things be without them? With controls you really can't do without – those that relate to security and compliance, for example – maybe technology could relieve the burden.

For a growing number of organisations, the answer is to adapt the Agile methods pioneered in software development. It means putting together teams of people with different expertise and giving them focused tasks to work on with limited timescales. You can experiment and create things to a minimum standard to test them while they're still rough and ready. You encourage employees to challenge each other and experiment.


Could you take drudgery away? That's what automation is about – not replacing people with robots. By working alongside machines, getting technology to take care of the routine work, employees have time and space to use more intelligence and imagination. And there's an impact on productivity. Employees spend seven per cent of their working week on administrative tasks, at a cost to UK PLC of £1,932 per year. If you can bring in technology to automate just one of those wasted hours a week, it would save £690 per employee a year.

Creating a culture of innovation means cutting back on the things your organisation just doesn't need or finding a different way of doing things. As Steve Jobs told Macworld magazine, "The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay."

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