Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of argues that the techniques of lateral thinking should be used even when no problem exists.

Innovation and Risk

My definition of innovation is 'putting into effect something new for your organisation'. There could be many sources for what is ‘new’.

1. It could be something borrowed or copied from another organisation. For instance, an insurance idea from India may be introduced into Canada (or the other way around). There is a certain amount of risk because cultures and conditions differ. Nevertheless, you would only wish to copy successful ideas, so the risk may not be great. It is ‘new’ for your organisation, but not new in the true meaning of the word.

2. There might be a logical reaction to information and research data. If you find that 60-year-olds are going to the cinema on an increasing basis, you may want to make films for that age group. There might be a logical reaction to changes in the law. There could be a logical reaction to the low cost of production in China, so you set up factories in China. All these things are both new and logical and so are part of innovation.

3. There could also be a logical design that puts something new forward. For instance, cost-cutting and outsourcing may be driven entirely by logic, but are still innovations. The design of new products and new services might also come about through a logical design process.

4. Finally, there are innovations produced directly by the exercise of creativity. These types of innovations are original and neither copied nor the result of logical progression. Direct creativity of this kind may be a higher risk than the other sources of innovation - but the rewards can also be much higher.

A readiness to do something new is a requirement of innovation. There is always a risk to anything. Something new is a distraction from the normal routine. Something new requires commitment of some resources.

Obviously, many organisations do not like to try new things. Executives get to senior positions by being good at continuity and problem-solving. You do what you are meant to do and solve problems that interfere with that doing. The readiness to try new things is rarely a factor in an executive’s success and promotion.

There is also the fear of failure. Something new that does not work out is classed as a mistake or failure. There is no word for a ‘fully justified venture which, for reasons beyond your control, did not work’. Therefore, anything which does not work out is a failure. It makes sense to avoid ‘failures’.

If there is a readiness to try new things and the habit of seeking new possibilities, then innovation can happen. It is very difficult to seek to create a culture of acceptance for every new possibility. Perhaps there is a need for a specific ‘Innovation Officer’ whose business it is to develop the innovation readiness.

Clearly there is a need for someone who is sensitive to what is happening elsewhere in the same market and to what is happening in the world around. An ‘opportunity scan’ is necessary.

Plenty of organisations work on the basis of ‘osmosis’. If a new idea has been around for some time and has been taken up by other organisations, then it becomes natural, and low risk, to adopt that innovation.

Doctors become aware of new advances in medicine in this way. If something is ‘around’, eventually you get to hear of it. This is not a very proactive approach. It is more a matter of following the market than leading the market. You do not want to be left behind, but you do not want to take the risk of being first.

There has to be a readiness to explore and implement new ideas. Too often, this is not the case, even when much lip-service is paid to innovation.

About the author
Edward de Bono is the world's leading authority in the field of creative thinking and the teaching of thinking as a skill.

  Edward de Bono