Brave March - Mechanics of Inspiration

What links Procter & Gamble, Haruki Murakami and Hyper Island? They helped us this month in thinking about how to get onto a new trajectory of innovation.

Inspiration can come to you in funny ways. The question for most organisations is then: how do we capture it without killing it?

This is a question we think about all the time, but really came into focus last week in an interview we did for a film for the business innovation educators, Hyper Island.

Here’s what that made us think of…

Consider Procter & Gamble (sorry to pick on you, we’re sure it could be many others!). Criticised recently for dumping brands rather than changing their business model, this formerly great innovator is said to need a change in how they innovate.

How on earth might they do that? It’s not like they’re suddenly going to go and start acting like a tiny start-up. Their current model is an incumbent, with huge organisational inertia.

Yet they’re as much part of the future of innovation as the latest Silicon Valley/Roundabout start-up. They’re just going to have to go about it a different way.

We’re skeptical that this involves going to the ‘innovation shop’ to buy in some innovation. Without cultural change, it seems unlikely that it will stick. No idea, but perhaps trying this (and failing?) is what lies beneath the issues raised by Bloomberg.

So, that does a little (but not much) to narrow down what the model change would end up like. It would indicate that the answer must be all encompassing.

But how do you get thousands of people, trained to a very high standard in a group of methodologies, to break out of that same training? And how do you do it in such a way that they don’t lose the parts that are still good for the P&G of the future?

Here’s where Murakami helped us towards an answer. In his new, long-awaited, instant-cult novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage we come across a character who made his fortune out of training employees never to think for themselves.

We’re convinced you can do the same in reverse – train people to be more innovative. It’s not magic, but painstaking. It involves creating a complex adaptive social system on the fly, a system where models and work habits can re-innovate themselves according to present need.

It’s not the whole solution. You need to make sure that the existing structures don’t prevent adaptive behaviours, for example. However, if you’re going to have a crack at changing an international behemoth it seems way more likely to work than simply changing the inputs to an existing, unwieldy, outdated model.

Sound like hard work? Sure, it will be. But you have to start somewhere, unless you just want to keep hacking bits off…but then what happens when there’s nothing left to hack?

Adam Blue Steel Crop

Adam Papaphilippopoulos, Chief Operations Officer