Management gurus often use The Art of War (written by Sun Tzu, published 5th Century BC) as an example of Leadership or to extract valuable Leadership lessons. Well are there any ancient texts, or at least people that we can learn from regarding how to be an Innovator?
Well I’m not sure about texts and I’m pretty sure that the word ‘Innovation’ was not around at the time (Hannibal lived 247-182 BC), however Hannibal did some pretty amazing things with the resources that he had available. You can read all about his exploits. Just Google the fellow, but a brief summary of his exploits provides some useful insights for innovators.
First of all Hannibal used an entirely new tool within his marketplace. He had at his disposal a number of highly trained elephants that could strike fear into his enemies (they made an incredible noise and had sharpened tusks) and upon which could be mounted soldiers. In effect these were ancient battle tanks.
Apart from his elephants, Hannibal chose to come at his enemy (competitors) from a completely new and unexpected direction. Although it was cold and very dangerous, he took his army across the Alps and shocked his enemy by ending up in northern Italy without using the normal route. Why not take a leaf out of Hannibal’s book and take a different route to your customers, one that is more direct and more effective than your competitors?
Like most modern businessmen, Hannibal was an astute strategist and tactician. He managed to forge alliances (how much networking do you do?) and manage his supply chain exceedingly well (he supplied his vast armies whilst a long way from home for some considerable time). He also walked the talk, actually leading his armies across the Alps not just directing them from afar.
In summary Hannibal teaches us:
- To develop new products, services and business tools to keep us ahead of the competition
- To find new ways of getting to our customers that might bypass the cometition
- To network effectively
- To roll our sleeves up and get stuck in
What do we mean?
Engineering Innovation is a deliberately ambiguous title. Does it mean that Innovation can be engineered or is it highlighting Innovation for Engineers? The answer is actually yes to both.
For a long time I have been promoting a system that can measure Innovation potential. The aim is to help develop an Innovation blueprint for organisations in any sector. Now it is time to focus on engineering and manufacturing. In the current economic climate there are organisations that will sadly fail. There are organisations that are doing well both in terms of Innovation and long term sustainability. For a good example based here in the UK take a look at Gripple Limited, a Sheffield based company. It is both innovative in its leadership, products, structure and the adoption of shared ownership.
Many businesses would like to copy Gripple but cannot, why? The reason is simple. We can copy buildings, products and manuals but we cannot copy what is inside the heads of employees. Truly innovative companies share certain traits but the sharing of knowledge, the creation of ideas and the frameworks that help to make up company culture are different.
Can Innovation be engineered?
For this very reason I have created Engineering Innovation in order to help businesses in the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors to work in ways similar to Gripple. The aim is to create businesses that are truly innovative and sustainable using concepts that are reasonably familiar to to those who work in these sectors. The programme is based on three principles – Understand, Model and Build. The first principle provides a framework for understanding the innovation process, what is possible, becoming used to living with ambiguity and defining the scope and resources for the journey. The second builds a model that shows where a business is in terms of its ability to innovate, identifying what it is good at, the quick wins needed to help generate buy in, and where scarce resources are best targeted. Finally we build the organisation that will create new products, services and processes based upon the work done so far. Note we do not destroy, merely transform and enhance to produce ‘total innovation’ that pervades every part of the organisation.
Why is this approach unique? For an in depth answer please get in touch. But in a nutshell, Innovation is a strategy based on humans, their behaviour and the way they communicate and interact and is very little to do with shiny gizmos and gadgets. It can be defined in terms of outputs with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but is much better modelled using drivers for human behaviour such as those that promote, creativity, good leadership etc. This is what I have done and this soft engineering approach appears to be unique. Does it work? Yes!
A major research institution, specialising in the subject of Management Science, has today announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known. This new element has been tentatively named “Administratium.”
Administratium has 1 neutron and 12 assistant neutrons. There are also 75 deputy neutrons and 111 assistant deputy neutrons. This gives an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons. These are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.
Since Administratium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Administratium causes one reaction to take over 4 days to complete. Normally this would take less than a second.
Administratium has a normal half-life of 3 years; it does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganisation. A portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Administratium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation causes some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.
This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Administratium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as “Critical Morass”.
Today NOT Tomorrow
Entropreneurship is a term that I have invented to describe the qualities and behaviours required for the type of leader that all organisations need NOW. This is why I strongly believe that in calling it Leadership for TODAY not tomorrow. Who wants to wait for something that is going to improve the fortunes of their organisation?
So what are we talking about? Borrowing Entropy from the second law of thermodynamics we have the concept of chaos or randomness which always increases. I am not suggesting that we make our organisations become ever more chaotic. I would like to give you two ideas to think about for now.
Increase The Temperature
Firstly, you may remember a science experiment at school that introduced you to Brownian motion. Particles within smoke were shown to dart around like the lottery balls on a Saturday night Lotto draw. We also know that when people are allowed to interact then ideas tend to be created, modified and come to life. By increasing the ‘organisational temperature’ we can increase the likelihood of of people interacting (rather like our smoke particles). This means more ideas (and also an improved culture).
Create A Rocket
Secondly, we cannot let chaos or ambiguity increase indefinitely, nor should we waste our time trying to control it completely. Let us use another metaphor here. Imagine we have a flammable material in a barrel with no openings in the barrel. Once ignited, the barrel will explode unless we spend more and more energy trying to contain the fire/explosion. What if we do try and contain the flammable material but leave an opening for combustible gases. We are not now expending so much energy but we have now built a rocket!!
Metaphor is the best way to express the ideas but they do translate readily into business. We do not want traditional constraints (managers) but want visionary leaders who will allow a certain degree of organised, focused and healthy chaos. The leaders will set the direction but the organisation will actually be run by those at the sharp end.
Is there an ideal workplace?
Despite all of the predictions of a futuristic workplace we all seem to inhabit vastly different offices and factories. So will there ever be a workplace where everything is ideal? What actually will the workplace of tomorrow look and feel like? The answer is probably not because of the compromises that must exist. But it is likely to offer flexibility and empowerment to the people that work within it. Such a place must try to accommodate the requirements of the business (usually in line with commercial stakeholders) and those of employees (and social stakeholders).
These fall into 3 main areas:
1. The organisation, Leaders and Managers
3. Working environment
Roles will change
Leaders and Managers will find their roles changing. They will be the ‘senior citizens’ of the organisation and will no longer exert influence through power and hierarchies. Influence will be through their experience, knowledge, wisdom and vision for the future. These senior citizens may very well have portfolio careers (a term used often by Charles Handy). They may work for more than one organisation. They will exert influence but with less cost than the full time management of old.
Employees are the citizens, still able to contribute knowledge and experience but not to such an extent. Contracts of employment may very well be zero hour i.e. employees will not be contracted for a minimum period of employment per week. Instead, their efforts will be summoned on demand. Perhaps 30 hours one week and 40 the next (or none). This will give businesses flexibility but could also leave employees some freedom to create valuable IPR in their time off as a trade off for the new contracts.
The working environment
The working environment is perhaps the thing that we are currently closest to. Efficiency dictates some sort of hot desking, perhaps hot desking with feeling so that the immediate working environment is not sanitised and can be decorated or personalised. With a distributed workforce, a certain amount of sickness absence and site visits, we no longer need the amount of office space that we did in the past. Making such environments ‘modular’ also means that we can add or subtract capacity easily.
The name of the game in the future is compromise and flexibility on the part of all parties.