Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of believes that organisations pay lip-service to innovation with most CEOs instead preferring to solve problems reactively.

Innovation in Business

Innovation is a fashionable term. A great deal of lip-service is given to 'innovation'. It is always easier to talk about such things than to do anything concrete about them.

All corporations want to be seen as 'innovative' because the opposite is 'stagnant' or, at least, complacent. There is always a need to progress and change, either because of new technology and possibilities or because of changes in the external world.

So 'innovation' is often used as a term to mean progressing and adapting to changed conditions. That is what it is intended to mean. That is excellent, and there is nothing wrong with that intention - provided it does go further than a mere intention.

Innovation always requires a readiness to do something new. Anything new is a risk. Anything new is a distraction from the normal routine. Anything new requires commitment of some resources.

For obvious reasons, many organisations do not like to try new things. Executives reach senior positions through being good at continuity and problem-solving. You do what you are supposed to do and solve problems that interfere with that doing. The readiness to try new things is not usually a factor in an executive's success and promotion.

Then there is the fear of failure. Something new that does not work out is a failure or a mistake. Language does not have a word for a 'fully justified venture which, for reasons beyond your control, did not work'. So anything which does not work out is a failure. It makes sense to avoid 'failures'.

If there is a readiness to try new things and the habit of exploring new possibilities, then innovation can happen. It is very hard to seek to create a climate of acceptance for every new possibility. The climate has to be there all the time. Maybe there is a need for a specific 'Innovation Officer' whose business it is to develop the innovation readiness.

The various sources of innovation have been listed above. Clearly there is a need for someone to be sensitive to what is happening elsewhere in the same field and to what is happening is the world around. There is a need for an 'opportunity scan'.

Many organisations work on the basis of 'osmosis'. If a new idea has been around for a long time and has been taken up by other organisations, then it becomes natural (and low risk) to adopt that innovation.
There are a lot of myths about creativity. For one thing, 'idea creativity' is quite different from artistic creativity - though the two may overlap in some areas.

Then there is the notion that creativity is a mysterious talent that some people have and others can only envy. Creativity is a thinking skill that anyone can learn and practise. Some people may be better than others, as with any skill - such as cooking, driving, tennis or skiing.

Innovation is the introduction of something new for that organisation. This may be obtained by copying someone else, by systematic logical design or through direct and deliberate creativity. There must, however, be a readiness to explore and implement new ideas. This is usually not the case, even when much lip-service is paid to innovation.

About the author
Edward de Bono is the world’s leading authority in the field of creative thinking and the teaching of thinking as a skill.