Innovation - Without the Eye Rolls

Everyone is talking about innovation. From giant global corporations to the local coffee shop, it seems that everyone's an innovator. A visionary. Challenging the status quo. It's all getting a bit, you know, uuughh. 

The thing is, innovation is great. And it's more important than ever, because the democratization of technology has meant that just about anyone with an idea can be a disruptor. Bigger businesses face a genuine challenge from millennials with good broadband. But it's all become so cliched, and if organizations want their people to embrace different ways of doing things, they need to hold back a rising tide of scepticism.

We think that this means putting the humanity back into innovation. And the best way to express our humanity is through stories.

Here we talk about how you can use different types of storytelling to make innovation exciting again, and to start creating a culture that embraces risk, failure and change.

Disruption and the rise of the little guy

10 years ago I’d left the law and started my career as a management consultant with a 'Big 4' firm. It was the peak of the Australian mining boom, and while the conditions weren’t exactly Wolf of Wall Street, work was plentiful, salaries were good and the martinis were definitely flowing. We felt young, smart, almost invincible. 

Then came the crash of 2008, and while Australia (and the firm) were fairly insulated, the crash brought an unexpected change that would shake up almost every industry across the globe.

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Fast forward 10 years and I found myself at a different Big 4 firm once again, this time in London, working in communications.

In the intervening period, while the corporate world was dealing with its moment of reckoning, small companies were emerging from parental basements and setting up shop in Silicone Valley. They had their eyes on the prize, and the prize was shaking up traditional industries beyond recognition. Uber. Netflix. Instagram. 

These early disruptors heralded the start of a trend, and today no industry is immune from having its revenue snared by previously unheard-of companies with new, better, and, let’s face it, more exciting ways of doing things. 

My firm was early amongst ‘traditional’ organizations to recognize both the threat and opportunity of disruption to the professional services market. With competitors circling, it made innovation a key pillar of its strategy, not just in its service offering but in the way things were done internally.

But people were sceptical. They didn't believe that such a behemoth, risk-conscious organization move quickly enough to counter agile start-ups, and with so many management fads coming and going, they wanted to see evidence that things could be done differently.

Innovate your communications to communicate your innovations

Scepticism is healthy. Critical questioning drives innovation, but it's up to organizations to prove to their people that they truly can innovate, and to help their people embrace doing things differently. If they don't, scepticism will turn into stagnation.

So how do you get past the eye-rolls and convince your people that you’re ready to compete in a fast-moving age of disruption? 

Show, don’t tell

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When it comes to innovation, being able to prove that you're walking the talk matters above all else.

Let people in your organization see that things are changing. Perhaps you've invested in cutting edge technology: why not let employees get hands-on and see it in action? Maybe you want to create a culture of experimentation, so you change performance metrics to give people the courage to try new things.

Whatever it is, making bold changes, even small ones, will show people that you are committed to doing things in new ways, and that they should be too. And yes, communicate the steps that you're taking, but innovate your language at the same time. If you stay away from terms that have become cliches (see para 1), your people will be less inclined to think you're full of it.

Here's a way to get some innovation bonus points. Can you find an innovative way to communicate your innovative culture? Something like a cardboard virtual reality viewer left on every desk, with a link to download an experience? It's the ultimate way to show AND tell.

Use storytelling to praise failure

James Dyson developed 5,126 prototypes for his bagless vacuum cleaner, and nearly went broke before he hit on a design that worked.  

A culture of innovation must see failure as a stepping stone to success, but this requires a step-change in attitudes. Employees who are used to being held to incredibly high standards of account won’t easily trust a message that mistakes are OK. So tell them stories from within your organization about failure. Get the CEO and the leadership team to talk about times they’ve failed. Share the positive message that failure leads to new approaches and doing things better. 

If you're after some inspiration, here's a story about an Australian school that held a 'Failure Week'.

Meet Dianne from Finance

We all love an underdog story. In this digital age, we’ve become used to seeing small organizations take on the giants, but there are always people inside big companies, making a big difference in small ways. Find the people without fancy titles in your organization, who are quietly innovating. Is there someone in IT who’s developed an app to improve internal service? Has the finance team made it easier to submit expense claims? Small examples build a big picture of an organization that values new ways of doing things. 

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Failure to plan and all that....

Innovation doesn't just happen. It takes people, and those people have to believe it's possible.

While it's tempting to think that disruption blows in with the wind, it's going to succeed far better when it's thought through, and happens as part of a strategic approach.

An innovation strategy is essential, and part of this must be an innovation communication strategy. It’s people who have amazing ideas, who change cultures, and who will share your success stories passionately - if you talk to them the right way. 

Oh, and that big, risk-averse firm? They're now at the forefront of blockchain technology, developing innovative crowd-sourcing solutions and adopting bold ideas that come from their own people.

How can we help?

Can we help you create your innovation communication strategy, or talk to your people about innovation? Talk to us today about how we can support your innovation agenda.