It is not widely known that most people, before the advent of the Industrial Revolution around 1800, tended to go to sleep shortly after nightfall but then get up around midnight for several hours before going back to sleep until dawn. Modern lab experiments have been able to reproduce this ancient, two-sleep pattern. Furthermore, there is separate anecdotal evidence that a number of people currently practice divided sleep as a natural habit, without the prompting of an experiment. Some of these people, in turn, use their nighttime wakefulness period for creative thought, writing and problem solving. The divided sleep phenomenon fits in very well with the dualistic and holistic principles of East Asian philosophy. One should ideally integrate work, thought and sleep with the natural light cycle in order to maximize the potential for individual creativity over the course of a full day and night.
At the start of the twenty first century the innovation buzz has become deafening. It commands the attention of everything - from the popular media to scientific journals. Innovation is claimed to be the driver of economies and the competitive edge of companies. With innovation being the core of many new management styles, one question still remains for the enthusiastic manager; what are the concrete tools for my employees to build our revolutionary innovations?
The mantra of ideas being worthless can be heard from all corners of the globe. Venture capitalists back founders and not ideas. In 2009, the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin got the nine of his alternate MBA students to come up with 111 ideas each to create 999 business concepts (Godin 2009). The point? To prove that “Ideas are a dime a dozen. The money is in the execution.” But is this correct? Your gut feeling demands that your best insights are worth more than nothing, right? Right.
For most startups, the biggest question haunting them today is not money but scale. According to Forbes magazine, the number one cause of startup death is premature scaling (Furr 2011). So the question on every entrepreneurs’ lips is: How quickly and when to scale? But before you answers that, I’d like to ask you why no-one seems to be concerned with the even bigger question, what is scaling all about? And what is so different now that small groups of people can create billion dollar businesses on their own?
What do non-consumption, organizational friction and market failure have in common? These days, everyone is “innovating” to find the next big thing. But where do you start? One way is to try and think of innovation as having mass, and therefore it cannot be created from truly nothing. Innovation must start somewhere, and it must start with something that already exists.
Innovation initiatives have a habit of causing excitement and expectation; the organisation is trying something different and wanting to do new things. Senior management are anticipating the brand new shiny ideas, and front-line employees can’t wait to be rid of their daily frustrations. So what could go wrong? However, in all this excitement, there’s a group that is usually neglected in the engagement strategy – the middle managers. Often it’s assumed that these managers will support all the company initiatives. It’s their role to toe the line and make sure others do. They’ll buy in surely? Actually, they don’t.
Surfing the crowd has hit the mainstream…Young, agile firms have always been known for their disruptive ideas. Increasingly, enterprises are keen to foster a similar innovation culture so that great concepts can surface even in a company with thousands of employees. The challenge comes when there are many layers of management and frontline workers are struggling to navigate the corporate hierarchy so their ideas are heard by the leadership team. In a bid to transform its business, Microsoft recently announced it would cut thousands of middle management jobs to ease the flow of information and decision making, ‘no longer respecting tradition but only innovation’.
They say variety is “the spice of life” – but in our working lives, it’s the spice, ingredients and a good portion of the kitchen equipment too. In striving to build comprehensive and sustainable enterprise innovation programs however, too often I see companies then ignoring the need for diversity – both in the reach and composition of their programmes. We are long past the days where a company’s growth can be sustained with innovation from a few solitary individuals in a lab or conference room. Innovation nowadays needs to be a singular mindset across the entire company – with executives not just asking, but instead requiring collaborative input from across the organisation as they look to solve the strategic and tactical problems that stand in the way of progress.
Implementing open innovation requires a shift in mindset and a change in culture. It requires individuals to be open for external ideas and to share knowledge. This is not the way innovation is managed traditionally. For individuals to behave in a way that fosters open innovation, support from the top management seems to be crucial. Is this really the case? Or are top executives too far away from the action when it comes to innovation and open innovation?