Stop Stressing About Innovation, Just Continuously Improve


By Chris Gandy

Executive coaching in the cause-based sector is such a rewarding and stimulating activity on so many levels. One deals with highly motivated, talented and dedicated people who are mostly focused on bettering themselves so that they can deliver better outcomes for the people they serve. A byproduct of this is that as a coach you quickly gain a sense of the priority issues facing senior executives  – as these are the matters they are seeking help with. And if executives Cause and Effective coaches’ are a representative sample one of the major challenges facing this group involves the matter of innovation.

Innovation is really In

To say that Innovation is a hot management topic at the moment is somewhat of an understatement. A quick check of Google Trends reveals “innovation” has consistently been mentioned in news headlines since 2005. In Australia it has been reasonably steady over the period. In the US, however, the trend data show even higher usage and it has been progressively increasing year in year out.  Politicians on both sides of the Pacific, not wanting to appear to out of step with their electors are doing their bits in keeping the “Innovation Drums” beating.  Prime Minister Gillard’s reform agenda for the Australian not-for-profit sector announced  during her 2010 election campaign stridently emphasised the need for the sector to innovate and subsequent Budgets announced initiatives to support this. Then in July 2012 her Government published a paper entitled “Strength Innovation and Growth – the future of Australia’s not-for-profit sector”  containing a number of policy initiatives. Not to be outdone, on the other side of the Pacific,  President Obama used the word 6 times during his 2012 State of the Union Address (and threw in “ingenuity” on two other occasions for good measure).

This constant reference to innovation seems to be having a perverse effect. Executives now seem to intuitively know they should be innovating. Yet the more we talk about it the harder it seems to achieve! Why is this?

Well, my take on it is that the constant reference to Innovation as some sort of “holy grail” has given the concept almost celebrity status. And the result is similar to our experience when dealing with celebrity. Many of us are fascinated by and often aspire to the lifestyle and achievements of our favorite celebrities. But, in reality the closest we get is wearing an item of clothing they have endorsed or reading a book or article they supposedly wrote. And you know what, for most of us we are happy with this. I think a similar thing exists with Innovation. Organisation’s aspire to Innovate – after all the media is screaming at them saying this is what all successful organisations do. Our political leaders push the patriotic buttons and exclaim we need to Innovate for the common good. So what is our organisational response? Well usually it is to insert the term into someones Position Description or KPI’s. In some cases it may even make it into someones title and if a CEO really goes overboard with all this jingoism, they may even set up an Innovation Department (consisting of one or two people – no more mind you!)

Making Innovation “Unspecial”

Lets’s for a moment take a step back and look at what the term Innovation actually means – it is “The act of introducing something new” .

Does this sound vaguely familiar?

Since W. Edwards Deming first hit the scene, most successful organisations, in some form or another,  have embraced the Continuous Improvement mantra of Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control (DMAIC). They also understand that for these processes to be effective they must we carried out  in a systematic and repeatable way. Each time your organisation changes and improves a process as a result of these steps, you are innovating! You are in the act  introducing new things or methods. OK you may not have cured cancer or stopped the ageing process, but you are innovating.

As a leader, if you ensure DMAIC becomes the “way we do things around here”, you will be well on the way to establishing, maintaining and growing an innovation culture within your organisation.

Put simply, if your organisation maintains a continuous improvement program you will continuously innovate. Fail to DMAIC and you will stagnate – and that’s the time to start stressing.

About the author: Chris Gandy MAPS is a Director of Cause and Effective ( a provider of Coaching and Consultation services to cause-based organisations.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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