Being innovative is a really bad idea in most situations. In most situations relying on tried and tested is best.
I accept entirely that if you had been on Apollo 13, running out of air, but with a cardboard tube and some chewing gum, then that would have been a very good time to be innovative. However, if you find yourself in months to come in a meeting room on floor 13, a bit bored and with only Post-it notes and a transformation consultant for company, you do not need to be innovative.
The myth of innovation is that is it always a good thing, but it isn’t.
Again, I accept that if you have just invented a vaccine for Covid then this is super cool innovation because otherwise we might all die. However, if you are in a legal team spending months figuring out a way to automate a document nobody reads and carries a risk rating a notch under “that would be a bit irritating”, you are not being innovative.
The often oppressive requirement in performance indicators, appraisals and in procurement processes for individuals, teams and suppliers to “be more innovative” has wasted more time and caused more anxiety than any other three-word phrase in the history of corporate bullshit bingo. It is lazy FOMO.
I am convinced that there would be much more innovation if we all told our colleagues “look, whatever you do, don’t be innovative”. Why? Because we like to feel confident about what we do, we like to feel motivated to do stuff, and we want to do our jobs well. Frankly, when that is how we feel, that is when innovation is more likely to happen.
I was reminded this week of some wise words my granny told me when we were on a day trip to the seaside, circa 1968. I was a painfully skinny child with pipe-cleaner legs and ill-equipped to embrace the Baltic weather that gripped the near deserted beach. I reluctantly paddled in freezing ankle-deep water in my hand-knitted swimming trunks, but Granny could see I wasn’t really enjoying myself and came down to the water’s edge to reassure me. She told me “if you want to get wet, jump in. If you want to tit about on the edge, carry on as you are.”
It has made me wonder about the relative importance we put on innovation and decisiveness.
Management mandated innovation is characterised by its near guaranteed baked-in pointlessness. Innovation is needed when we have to make do and mend; or when we are together in unchartered territory. Innovation therefore comes from living with a compelling necessity. However, in a world where you can hire consultants for £3k a day to massage the corporate ego, and take comfort breaks to buy cappuccino, innovation becomes just another way for businesses with more money than morals to incur expenses that reduce their tax bills.
Decisiveness on the other hand is such a crucial skill to practice. It speaks of our competence, humanity and moral compass. To be decisive is to exercise judgment. If we can do this applying our years of individual and collective wisdom, by analysing the available facts, consulting with those impacted and reflecting on what is the right thing to do, then that surely is worth investing in and developing.
The next time someone’s bright idea is that we all need to be more innovative, please think of my granny and the more useful need for us to be more decisive instead.
Take care. Paul xx