The themes of innovation and people with new ideas ran through my day yesterday. Columnist Mike Altendorf and I were in Manchester to interview The Cooperative Group CIO Andy Haywood and to meet his new apprenticeship leadership team by day and then we swung by the Innovation is pointless event put on by CIO UK collaborators Fluxx in London in the evening.
The two conversations linked in theme; organisations need new ideas, yet the UK has a youth unemployment issue and from the conversations we had yesterday, it looks like the policies of Michael Gove and his predecessors will give the UK an innovation problem in the future.
A pair of presentations at the Fluxx event demonstrated that innovation is often found within the organisation from the people and skills already employed. Diversely opposite as The Royal Opera House and insurance firm RSA may seem, both showed great achievements and plans created by their existing teams.
Fluxx rightly pointed out that good ideas are just one piece in the innovation puzzle and an organisation must have the skills to turn a bright idea into an outcome. Research by Fluxx showed that music retailer HMV has in its history had all the right ideas in traditional and online retail, but as we know all too well, of late it has failed to capitalise on them.
So the concern is that the UK will not have the ideas in the future, or will have the ideas, but other nations will take those ideas and really make them work, neither of which will build a sustainable business environment. From the conversations we had with the Cooperative team this scenario is not too far off and is the result of society creating a generation of youth who are ill prepared for the world of work. The Cooperative has to put its apprentices through a boot camp that teaches entrants to its workforce the basics of how to dress and behave at work.
It is my impression from the discussions I had that the focus on results right through the education system through league tables, exams and a proliferation of ill thought out university programmes has created a results culture. With demand by society for results, has created a results manufacturing process. This has led to employees that cannot think for themselves, that lack independence and they are used to being force fed or led to the result. Such a scenario cannot deliver the innovation, which relies on free thinking and risk taking that organisations thrive on and that gives companies like RSA an advantage.
Organisations too have, as I have said in this blog before, too focused on financial results of the here and now. This is of course a typical scenario for a listed company, but is also very prevalent in private companies. The end result is too much navel gazing and too little focus on the longer term picture, which damages opportunities for innovation for all.