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Quo Vadis: Where does an innovative company go next?

David Straker

 

-- Introduction -- Level 1 -- Level 2 -- Level 3 -- Level 4 -- Level 5 -- Limitations/future -- References --

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Level 3: Encouraged

 

Level no Level name Management style Individual approach Critical domain
3 Encouraged Supporting Analytic / intuition Process

 

At the level of Encouraged innovation, the creative skills of most people in the organisation are actively sought as the viewpoint around innovation has expanded from a primarily product focus to wider work processes.

 

Many companies reached this level in the late 80s and early to mid 90s, when the recession of the time, along with increasing need to offer quality as a basic, essential forced serious work in changing the culture to a more humanistic, empowered environment. Total Quality Management12 was the ‘fad’ that triggered many such change efforts. It really was a great effort for many organisations as they tried to vault directly from a Suppressed organisation to the Encouraged level of maturity.

 

Innovation at this level often follows analytic work. The classic quality improvement project involves measuring the process, analysing to find root causes and then finding an innovative solution to fix the underlying problem (for example as in Straker13).

 

The primary tool that is commonly used here is classic Brainstorming–which is often used incorrectly, typically collecting a few logical ideas, rather than being a wide-ranging exploration of creative possibilities. Few people who use or facilitate brainstorming have ever read Alex Osborn’s original work14, and fewer still abide by his rules. It also comes as a surprise to many people that Brainstorming as is commonly practised can be less efficient than individual critical thinking.

 

"An extensive body of research shows that for both quality and creativity, brainstorming groups seldom are more effective, and certainly less efficient than individuals–even when redundant ideas by individuals are not counted."15

 

Still, the TQM activity has resulted in major gains for a significant number of companies (although there has also been the usual crop of casualties along the path of change). The dilemma that many of these companies now face is that they have done the easy work, having picked the low-hanging fruit amongst their business problems. They are now left with difficult problems and short-lived advantage as global competition continues to escalate.

 

“The workplace is demanding more innovation and creativity. That’s a fundamental shift from five years ago, when the focus was on reengineering and efficiency.” 16

 

In some ways, it is possible for this level to become a retrogressive step from the previous level, if the intrinsic motivation of the Enabled organisation is replaced by reward for improvements made. Well-meaning compensation of a proportion of costs saved has resulted in large payouts and a focus on the immediate reward rather than the longer-term and whole-company benefits.

 

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