Too often business leaders talk about the need for innovation but are stymied by “old think”—decisions based on knowledge gained from past events. “History is important, but basing future change on past results will only lead to small incremental changes, like adjusting the jib sail on a boat. In today’s turbulent business ecosystem, this is a recipe for disaster,” warns author Stephen Poloz.

According to business management consultant Gary Hamel, five things must happen to create the fertile ground necessary for innovative change:

1) Add new voices.

Include younger workers who might provide fresh insights.

2) Create new conversations.

  Facilitate conversations that cross functional and geographic boundaries and realize that true value comes from continuing dialogues. “Revolutionary change can’t be crammed into one planning afternoon.”

3) Promote new perspectives.

  Encourage people to see the world in a different way by job-swapping or taking on new responsibilities. Sometimes a stint as adjunct faculty at a nearby academic institution can help leaders bring fresh insight to old problems.

4) Establish shared passions.

Provide leadership that encourages workers to “buy into” the organization.

5) Encourage experimentation.

The route to a desired result is often circuitous. Do not be afraid to experiment—mistakes can be a good thing. And above all, stop focusing on innovation as a “thing,” and start thinking about the things that lead to innovation.

Business Edge 15 Apr 2004