We’re Innovative! but…

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

I was having coffee with a client this week, and I heard it again. We sat down for coffee in a small cafe in London, we shook hands, exchanged the normal pleasantries, and both waited for our coffee to come to the table. And then the inevitable came once again.

“We are an innovative company, but…”

Every. Single. Time.

I’ve come to expect it. But it’s always a variation of the above. People know they need to innovate, to change, but… But it’s not enough, but we’re still doing the same thing, but the business is still similar to before, but we’re still not seeing results, but <competitor> still has us beat here, and here.

Innovation is like social media. Everyone knows how important it is. How they’ll be left behind if they don’t take advantage of these tools. And they do act upon it, but it’s not part of the culture, it’s not ingrained into them like it is into those ‘new’ companies.

When theses companies — many of them subsidiaries of the biggest companies in the world — think about innovation, they think about startups, about technology and iPads and open offices. They want quick wins. And so that’s what they focus on.

But there’s always that ‘but’. It never seems to be innovative enough. Especially in the construction industry. It’s always the same. Innovation is a project manager with a tablet instead of a clipboard. A smartphone and a mobile office. They want to start incubators and work with startups. But then when the startups offer a solution, it lasts for a bit and then dissapears. It (almost) never grows beyond a select few tests. It always come from up above, and not from the roots of the company.

Solutions don’t come from the top. Direction and leadership does. Solutions are what happen when management promotes trying new ideas, when systems and tools are put in place to quickly try new things.

I don’t have a solution, not yet. What I do know is that innovation is not any one thing, but it’s a willingness to be wrong. To challenge how things are done, and to try things a new way. To quantify the results and then try again. It’s more about giving your people the power to have an idea, and to try it out, instead of always looking outside for solutions.

A focus on innovation is a focus on culture. And companies are learning, but some industries are taking to it a bit slower than others.