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How to learn the innovation lessons from the past

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How to learn the innovation lessons from the past

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Yesterday I shared the story of William Sims and his struggles in convincing his bosses in the US Navy that a better gunning technique was available.  Many of the things in that story are as relevant today as they were over 100 years ago when Sims struggled to get his thoughts taken seriously.  That we are still facing many of these same problems suggests our abilities to either recognise or overcome these challenges are not so hot.  It might be a good point therefore, to explore what some of the obstacles are.

  1. In group/out group – To persuade people of an innovations potential, you have to be taken seriously by them in the first place.  Sims was an outsider to the core decision makers in the Navy, and was not really identified as ‘one of them’.  This was evident both in his thoughts and his behaviours.
  2. What’s the burning platform – It’s sadly all too prevalent that innovations don’t tend to take hold until there is literally no other alternative.  For the Navy, their gunning was already the best in the world, why therefore would they need something else?
  3. Think of the culture – I’ve touched on this issue a few times on this blog, but most organizations are setup to be efficient providers of their core service.  They’re not well designed for innovative things that disrupt that, especially if the innovation requires a shift not just in what you do, but how you do it.
  4. Are the skills there – Alongside the tradition of having this core expertise is the presence of deeply valued skills to support that expertise.  If your innovation disrupts the status quo, it may well invalidate those skills, or at least require new ones that no longer exist.
  5. Does it render your leader stupid – Leaders like to think they’re pretty smart, and in many instances, they like to think they’re the smartest people in the room.  Often, adopting a new innovation can imply that those leaders aren’t as smart as they think they are, either because they didn’t see this need to change themselves, or that the initial core expertise wasn’t all that.  That innovations can often emerge from someone quite junior only adds to the insult.

These barriers to innovation and change have proved pretty persistent over the past hundred years or so, and it seems likely that your own innovation efforts will encounter one or more of them.  Now you’re aware of some of these hurdles, I’ll look tomorrow at some of the things you can look out for to kick-start your own innovation efforts.

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