Innovative thinking: Are you doing the identical and expecting different?

Innovative Thinking

Planning is comfortable and easy, anyone can do it, and everyone does. But strategy is tricky, requiring a leader to confront the uncomfortable problems facing the company.

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“Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results” is a thought often attributed to Albert Einstein.

Kenyan market leaders of tomorrow, that will rival today's success of Safaricom and Equity Bank, will come from the most unexpected places. Bright ideas that can lead to profitable innovations, exist at the fuzzy edges of organisations.

History suggests that the unrecognised start-up misfits of today, often disrupt the value chain to become the market leaders of tomorrow.

In the rare cases, where struggling companies, come out of a corporate coma, they do it by injecting organisational DNA in the form of ‘thinking different’.

While not the popular ‘group think’ it’s usually an individual who comes in to drive that change, forming a small guiding coalition, that creates the business turn around.

How does a company break free of the sameness and comfort of planning, often leading down the rabbit hole of mediocrity? Often placed together, strategy and planning are two completely different things.

Planning is comfortable and easy, anyone can do it, and everyone does. But strategy is tricky, requiring a leader to confront the uncomfortable problems facing the company. And, tapping into pools of data and information, coming up with an imaginative approach that addresses customer needs.

Have simple measurable time bound key results

Mechanics of making these good things happen relies on managers having 3 to 5 clear tangible objectives. If the goals are handed down from above, which is the case with most organisations, staff in the trenches have a binary choice - follow or you’re out. Problem is this approach does not recognise the unique knowledge and abilities staff, down the corporate totem-pole have, usually missed by senior management.

More innovative companies couple the top-down cascading goals with those generated by individuals, including factoring in their personal goals. Author of the bestseller Measure What Matters, venture capitalist John Doerr, champion of OKRs [objectives and key results] observes “innovation tends to dwell less at the centre of an organisation than at its edges”.

Its important that the people at the margins are empowered to reflect, setting their own goals which best suit their approach to solving a problem, or an opportunity that, for the moment, only they can see.

Plant the seeds of diversity

Rule of thumb is that effective goal setting should have no more than 70 percent goals cascading from the top and the rest emerging from the trenches, where staff spend most of their time. These goals offer the required variation to the organisation, seeding new ways of thinking, better work ethics, and may even result into a new type of an organisation.

Example of this is Marc Benioff, one of the youngest vice presidents at Oracle who couldn’t pursue CEO’s Larry Ellison tech thinking, eventually leading to the formation of Oracle’s biggest rival Same for Bill Gates, who admitted that his biggest mistake ever was on losing out on the opportunity of Android, a company Google gobbled up in 2007 to turn it into a multi-billion-dollar mobile phenomenon.

It’s likely that someone down the Microsoft hierarchy would have thought about the possibility of an open-source operating system for mobiles. But it was ignored, as it did not fit with Microsoft’s practice of trying not to give away things for free.

Leading edge organisations know that value addition can come from anywhere

By design, it is sane business practice to create free time for staff to take up hobby projects, that go beyond the immediate deliverables, engage outside their work setting, and come back with richer insights. The famed 15 percent time-off at 3M, or the 20 percent at Google, are classic cases of what may appear sub-optimal utilisation of staff time. Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt commented, “The most valuable result of 20 percent time isn’t the products and features that get created, it’s the things that people learn when they try something new.”

David is a director at aCatalyst Consulting | [email protected]

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.