Photograph of Meike BeckfordThis is the first in what will hopefully be a short series where I share some ideas from my Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) with the aim of introducing you to some new ideas, questions and perspectives to help you develop yourself and your organisation and to challenge me to summarise what I have actually learnt!

First up, innovation: A few things stood out for me which I wanted to share with you.


What are innovation and entrepreneurship? Not what you first think!

It’s not just the one big new idea. You’re not only innovating if you create a new product or start-up; it is an attitude and approach that includes everyone and everything along the journey, whether or not you get to the (intended) destination. It can happen inside or outside an organisation and can be incremental (small) or disruptive (big). There are also different approaches, whether it’s the formal business case, or something much more emergent: using iterative design, testing with customers and developing organically. It is not the role of a particular department, job or (type of) person; a lot is down to attitude and culture, whether individually or across your company.


Triggers for innovation

What circumstances or challenges are ripe for innovation? There are many things internally and externally that create opportunities for innovation (with thanks to Peter Drucker’s sources of innovation):

1) Unexpected success or failure – what new things can you learn?

2) The incongruity between reality and expectation – if reality doesn’t match what you want or need, how can you influence that?

3) Process need – if something’s not working right, do you need a different approach?

4) Changes in industry or market structure – what worked well 10 years ago, might not be so great now. Competitors, customers and the environment you work in constantly change, so you must too.

5) Demographic changes – what is happening around you and in the wider society that might change demands and your potential customers?

6) Changes in perception, mood and meaning – do you have your ear to the ground for changing social trends, new ideas and expectations?

7) New knowledge – the classic domain of R&D departments, but something you can source more widely too, reading industry trends and even this leadership pack.


Models of innovation

Innovation can be triggered by something new, or by something lacking – ‘a resilient mindset can transform scarcity into opportunity’ (Radjou et al 2012) This idea has given rise to ‘Jugaad innovation’, the idea that you can think flexibly, do more with less and seek opportunity in adversity – try this TED talk to learn more.


Another approach is to adopt open innovation. A concept developed by Henry Chesbrough (which he explains in this video) based on the idea that, no matter how good your organisation, you can’t have a monopoly on all the good people and ideas! It encourages you to bring the outside in and let the inside out: so look around at what others are doing and use it, but also share what you’re doing so others can take it off in new directions.


Openness to innovation

All these ideas took me to thinking about how open we are to innovation. It can be a term that turns people off or that they actively resist, if it is seen as a synonym for cuts, the latest fad or the preserve of Silicon Valley. That is a particular risk in my own industry of social care, where it can be further held back by risk-aversion, a lack of collaboration and a blame culture that stops people wanting to try anything new. But it can be something for everyone.


So, how do you foster innovation? For me, a lot comes back to culture and organisational structure.

  • Look at the triggers for innovation – who is looking out for these?
  • Who raises problems and suggests solutions and where do they go?
  • Who is listening to what is happening outside the organisation?

The answer really should be everyone! If innovation only happens in the R&D department and new initiatives only come from the top, you’re missing a lot of opportunities. How are you fostering a resilient and creative team and organisation? Can people speak up, challenge and try new things with support and without blame?

As my organisation grows and develops, this is definitely something I will keep coming back to, so we don’t miss out on the talent we have throughout the team, or opportunities to partner and collaborate with those around us. Ultimately, it comes down to how you can lead your organisation to best develop and achieve its mission.


With thanks to Lancaster University Management School, Prof Magnus George and the whole Executive MBA team and cohort.

You can follow me on twitter @MeikeB88 and my organisation @DoshTweets