Friday, 17 April 2015


There are such roles as Innovation Manager now in the world! I had the pleasure of listening to two such pioneers describe what they do; Rowena Morrow (pictured), Innovation Leader at the City of Booroondara and Rick Bottiglieri, City of Yarra spoke at the LGPro Annual Conference in Melbourne.

They characterised innovation as leadership, but the locus of that leadership varied markedly between the two. Rowena was tasked by her CEO to 'subvert' the order to change processes - outcomes were not specified. Rick took more of a leadership down tack, focusing on activities to generate new ideas at the top. I will focus on the bottom up approach here because I think that it is intrinsically more challenging for Managers to invite innovation from their subordinates, and this approach can potentially yield more results.

There was agreement, however, that important pre-conditions must be put in place for effective innovation - leadership and strategy. By this, they meant:
  • Clear understanding of the purpose, vision and goals of an organisation
  • Passion - managers must walk the talk
  • Innovation must be encouraged at all levels
  • Time (space) and resources must be set aside specifically to encourage innovation
  • Someone must be scanning for trends and potential areas for innovation by observing and reflecting on what others are doing and benchmarking the organisation against best practice; and
  • Opportunities must be provided to stakeholders (staff, customers) to give feedback on processes and results.
Further, to support innovation there must be trust. Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum:
  • There must be a mindset to empower and support people to bring innovative solutions to completion;
  • Organisations must build the agility to shift or obtain skills and resources to meet new and emerging needs and opportunities; and
  • Be prepared to make it quick - give change a try and be prepared to let some ideas fail quickly.
Rowena Wallace told us that at Booroondara the innovation initiative started with a few premises:
  • Make space for new ideas;
  • Subvert the hierarchy - anyone can have great ideas; and
  • Talk about challenges, not problems  - what can innovation do for you?
The first step was to allow people to allocate time and space to innovate. For example, there was:
  • The 'Crazy Ideas Group', which focused on users and stakeholders and encouraged diverse input; and how about the....
  • 'Randon Acts of Coffee' iniitative, where people were given coffee breaks with people outside their work teams to encourage them to get to know other parts of the business and build connections; 
  • The 'Ideas Portal ', which invited people to submit ideas online for consideration; 
  • Newsletter stories were published internally about what was possible;
  • Unusual open office layouts were implemented (including some hot-desking) to get away from the physical (and by implication) mental delineation of roles in the workplace; 
  • Ideation Teams - team volunteers invited to look at ideas, experiment with them and evaluate their practical implementation in projects; and
  • Design It Challenges were held where teams of 2-3 people drawn from across the organisation were invited to deliver a report and potentially see it adopted.
The focus was squarely on learning from doing and trying to convert ideas to projects. To this end the following framework was provided to us to illustrate the approach:

It was clearly recognised that engaging staff was the key to making innovation work, so 'Innovation Temperature' surveys were conducted to see where staff rated Council's innovation were conducted at the beginning of the project and progressively thereafter. (By the way, these showed progress!)

This session certainly had me thinking and any medium to large scale organisation could probably find something in these ideas that could be of benefit in their workplace.

Friday, 10 April 2015


At the recent LGPro Annual Conference - #LGPRO15 - for local government in Melbourne there were four advertised themes - leadership, empowered communities, A Better Self (AKA personal development) and 'New Thinking' - but the focus in each session was something else again - innovation. It was thought provoking to take one concept and dice it so many ways...

To get to the heart of the matter, sometimes it's worth asking the dumb questions - why do we innovate?

The text book definition of innovation cited was 'changing or creating more effective processes, products and ideas'. Hard to argue with the merit of that!

We've all heard about when Kodak made a spectacularly bad call when they decided to ignore digital photography - and how they foundered as a result. In these sessions we also heard a number of accounts of what large corporations are doing to encourage innovation - and there's the rub - despite their obvious advantages in skill, technology and scale, the advantages of larger scale of these organisations poses another challenge - inertia. It's relatively straight-forward for small businesses led by an entrepeneur to be innovative. Start ups and smaller companies live by their wits and have to overcome challenges like lack of scale, people, systems, resources constantly.

With larger organisations, the very systems, hierarchies and people told to perform a role in particular ways - combined with human nature - can kill innovation stone dead. Some people will defend the status quo for various reasons, like..
  •  Things suit me now
  • I find it hard to keep up with constant change
  • This is my world, my role is my status, 
  • This is the procedure I was told to follow, 
  • I don't make the rules here and
  • Pecking order rivalries
The unspoken theme of this conference was how do we recognise this inertia to do the same things all the time, and how do we tap into the creativity of our people?

Having asked the dumb questions, stand by for some posts touching on some answers.