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Put innovation at the top of your business agenda

By / / In Insight /
Entrepreneur Ian Hughes says businesses use many words when they talk about innovation and inspiring a successful culture of change within an organisation – agility, process, control, context. But the nub is all about finding a balance.

 Since ‘tis nature’s law to change, constancy alone is strange.

John Wilmot

For nearly 15 years, I have been lucky enough to be invited to visit companies, big and small, all over the world. I’ve seen incredible innovators and I have seen people frustrated by lack of innovation.

As an entrepreneur, my entire life is spent innovating. You try something and, if it works, then pour in as much energy as you can to make it amazing. If it doesn’t, then move on. Companies talk about ‘agile’ ways of working – I am always agile. Agile is my life, not something I go on a course to learn.

My company is small and I fully appreciate that the bigger you are, the tougher it is to change. In my travels to places like China, you get a strong sense that if you are going to organise a society with 2 billion people, you need to have some organisation, some process and control. You cannot just go ‘agile’ on that.

Innovation and the culture of changeinnovationinnovation

For me, the most important thing an organisation needs to do is to find a balance; between people and process, between loose and tight, between agile and waterfall. And the trick to this is creating a culture of change. For me, it is this culture that is the hardest battle for management to win.

Here are some things that help me with that balance. I hope they help you.

Firstly, sitting on my desk is a slide (pictured above left) that reminds me of my job as a leader. It reminds me that my job is to create Context, not Control. Context is strategy, metrics, assumptions, objectives, clearly-defined roles, knowledge of stakes and transparency around decision making. This comes as an alternative to Control, which is top-down decision making, management approval, committees, planning and process valued more than results.

Secondly, I want to share with you the eight themes from the 1982 book, In Search of Excellence.  The book might be old and many of their exemplar companies have since fallen from grace, but the themes will live with you and help you in your change:

  1. A bias for action – make a decision, act. Indecision is the enemy.
  2. Close to the customer – the mantra of my life, customers have all the answers.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – let your teams own it, foster their entrepreneurialism.
  4. Productivity through people – treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven – use values to drive the business, not as wall ornaments.
  6. Stick to the knitting – do what you do great and not something you don’t.
  7. Simple form, lean staff – focus your people on creating value, not on managing things.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – you need control as well as lightness.

Finally, I think you should watch, at least once a quarter (although once a week is also good) the video below. It is Steve Jobs giving the commencement address at Stanford.

Here are some of the key words from that speech, although it’s mostly genius.

  • Keep looking, don’t settle
  • What if today was the last day of your life, what would you do differently?
  • Sometimes, life is going to hit you in the head with a brick, don’t lose faith
  • The only way to do great work is to love what you do
  • Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life

Innovation and change are tough. Managing change is even tougher, but it is essential if you want to build a legacy.

What is a legacy? It is the change you have created in the world. If you want to create a legacy, you have to create a change.

Ian Hughes is speaking at the forthcoming MINT Global in Amsterdam (April 3-4, 2017): a conference that is unlike any other; offering delegates an unforgettable experience as well as top-level insight into the very latest marketing expertise. Places are limited, so book your seat now at this unique event and don’t miss the boat (which is a hefty clue about that ‘unforgettable experience’)!

Author: Ian Hughes
CEO at Consumer Intelligence |

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