Inside business: Set them free to innovate

INNOVATION and enterprise have lately become not just watchwords for managers of increasingly hard-pressed corporations, they have also spilled over into the lexicon of the politician. And no one more so than Gordon Brown, whose recent pre-Budget report was full of this sort of language.

The problem, as any manager will tell you and Mr Brown will doubtless soon discover, is that it is a lot easier to talk about it than to make it happen.

Now, we all know about this government's fondness for reviews; there have been so many in the past year or so that most people have lost count. But the last thing we need is a study of what needs to be done to make British industry more innovative and enterprising - and so better able to plug the productivity gap that those nice people at McKinsey have discovered.

Given a few moments, many people could come up with the answers to that one, and they are included in numerous reports on the private sector over the years.

Sure, there are tools and techniques for improving creative thinking. But, mostly, it comes down to culture. And this in itself is problematic. Because, as Jerry Hirshberg, famed founder of Nissan Design International, writes in his book The Creative Priority (Penguin, pounds 18.99): "Current organisational models revolving around productivity and efficiency at any cost produce a corporate culture hardly conducive to thinking - much less innovative thinking."

But it is not just a lack of time. Employees in organisations that are noted for their innovation are not exactly lazing around; it is just that their efforts are better directed and, more important, they tend to know where their work fits into the scheme of things.

Even more important, they work in places where the fear of making a mistake is not paramount. Everybody is familiar with the notion of "command and control" and how it has supposedly been largely replaced by "empowerment" and localised decision making.

This is largely a myth. Even if senior executives have formally abandoned their "we know best" approach, their underlings have been so imbued with the spirit of it that it might as well be still in place.

It is still not hard to find employees filling out requisition slips in triplicate, largely because that is the way that things have always been done and it presumably feels a lot more businesslike than just going and getting what is required. This is the true challenge for business and the Government: finding a way to persuade companies and their employees that it really is more efficient to shake off the traditional restraints on operating.

Certainly, there will be risks and - as William McKnight, architect of the modern 3M, said - mistakes will be made. But the benefits should far outweigh the losses.

The difficulty, of course, is that changing the way in which you - whether chief executive or junior employee - behave is all about culture: that soft, squidgy thing with which companies have so much trouble.

This problem is compounded by the frequent suggestion that there is only one way of going about that. We are, for example, constantly told that change must come from the top. Or, as Leveraged Innovation, a book by a trio of academics just published by Macmillan, claims - "successful co-operation is the key to innovation".

Both are true, but so are many other edicts. For example, that trust, respect and environment are prerequisites. The truth is that this is a highly complex area and that what - above all - is required is an openness of mind.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

£55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor