Innovation leadership: Sustain or short sharp shock?

The world moves more and more quickly. The Stone Age lasted 48,000 years and came to an end with the innovation of how to create iron. The Iron Age and the Industrial Revolution changed the world at a rate so rapid that one could propose that it did as much damage as quickly as it delivered benefits. The Age of Plastic impacted on every element of the world! Now it is suggested that we are in the Age of Zeros and Ones.

The difference between the Plastic Age and today is as large a cosmic shift as there was between the Iron Age and Stone Age. Imagine a man of the mid Plastic Age jumping in his TARDIS and coming to see us in the early stages of the Age of Zeros and Ones, what would this Don Draper make of Google Glass? If you take the comparison still further, compare today’s innovation to the Industrial Revolution. I would suggest we are still playing with the early stage wheel in our new Age of Zeros and Ones!

The discussion about what is disruption and how it should be managed is one that is covered a great deal. What is considered to be the best leadership style for truly innovative organisations? Should we sustain innovation and continue to develop or land innovation in short sharp shocks and then allow organisations and business to catch up? What is interesting is the word that describes the innovation leadership style itself, the ‘disruptive’ leader. I certainly didn’t want to be described as disruptive in my school report back to my mum but now many people use this as an endorsable skill on Linkedin. Not to mention the term ‘dis’, how many other words with ‘dis’ as the leader phrase end up being a positive describer of a leadership style.

But change leaders and the modern CIO have to be disruptive to enable their organisations to survive; sometimes that disruption is uncomfortable but necessary. Take a look at the Fortune 500 today. Only 10 organisations in that list existed in 1955, and look at how many of the names on that list would then be considered to be untouchable then. Innovation and the disruption that this brings enable organisations to evolve with the ages, without it the organisation could be considered as a short sharp shock, maybe!

So, applying this to my organisation, we can’t afford the waiting, long game, as the business needs to continue to innovate and evolve to maintain its position in the global market place of clinical research. But it is only slowly investing in sustaining a leadership quality that delivers innovation in the most measured of ways. So what is our culture? ‘Unbounded innovation’ isn’t on the cards. We have a process for innovation in the informatics arena that works, but does it stifle innovation, as soon as you apply a process? I worry it does, ultimately, and that every organisation needs to let the unbounded out of the bag for a period of time every so often or else it doesn’t disrupt and therefore may well fall out of that Fortune 500.

For us the next ‘Age” is the Delivery Age! We have lots of new systems, processes and cultural changes to apply and ensure benefit is gained, but personally I am already looking forward to letting it out of the bag and allow the off-process innovation to happen again and enable the ‘next practice’ not just support the ‘best practice’.

However, what is the answer to the question? Well I think that it is entirely reliant on the culture of the organisation and the will of the leader. Innovation can and will happen in the most unsuspecting of circumstances, if the organisation has a stable back bone then let it happen in as many elements of the benefit life cycle as possible and reap the rewards as an individual, a team and an organisation.