Innovation: making sense of a messy business?

We are undoubtedly in an age of disruption where old rules no longer apply. Embracing this is the first step to harnessing innovation. What are the conditions that allow creative problem-solving?

Hand of businessman holding illuminated light bulb, New ideas, innovation and inspiration concepts.

Watch the video highlights from the Innovation Festival for Global Working

Organisations and workplaces are moving beyond Taylorism and its uniform workflows with their easily quantifiable outputs. Work is more knowledge-based and people-centred. In response, recruitment and retention, and total reward practices promote greater choice to match individual needs.Data as well as human judgement are now driving decisions. Still, in many organisations, these developments are constrained by old habits that dampen innovation and reduce competitiveness.

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Agility, inclusion and innovation

As the upcoming Innovation Festival of Global Working will explore, the essence of our evolving workplace is creating environments that enable people to flex the rules, capture efficiencies and innovate with their peers to ultimately raise productivity, service and customer satisfaction, as well as shareholder value and economic growth.True workplace inclusion is critical to this, as a raft of research shows.Agility is also vital. The focus now is on drawing down what agile and truly inclusive workplaces can deliver to scale up good ideas, shift the productivity curve and deliver life-changing products and services.A wealth of books and research describe this new workplace order and the shifts in organisational learning and development, leadership and skills needed to deliver.

Hacking as innovation

The Four Workarounds: Strategies from the World’s Scrappiest Organizations for Tackling Complex Problems (Flatiron Books, March 7, 2023), by University of Oxford professor Paulo Savaget of the university’s Engineering Sciences Department and the Saïd Business School is among them.Professor Savaget has worked internationally in the OECD and across Latin America and spoken to people from all walks of life as research for his book.‘Hacking’ has become popular shorthand for exactly the kind of innovation Professor Savaget examines. From life-hacks to workarounds, these grassroots short-cuts are the bedrock of innovation, and often overlooked in research and in practice in favour of a focus on large-scale systems thinking and design.In an interview with Mary Kate Crowe of McKinsey Global Publishing, former consultant Professor Savaget explains how the research itself was an act of approaching the context of innovation from another perspective.“I got this curiosity about hackers, computer hackers, because they break into computer systems and make change so quickly and so resourcefully,” he explains. “Could I understand hackers [enough] to create a framework, or a playbook, that could help organisations make impact more quickly and more resourcefully?”It was then that Professor Savaget noticed many organisations were already hacking, and that hacking is not limited to computer systems. “It applies to all kinds of systems, like education systems, sanitation, healthcare, financial systems; whichever system you can think of, you can hack. There were many organisations – these organisations that I call scrappy because they’re feisty, they’re resourceful, they operate in the margins of systems.He finds that by adopting unconventional approaches to problem-solving, it is possible to enable interventions with the potential for outsize impacts. Professor Savaget also debunks the old idea of visionary leaders driving success, again underscoring the necessity of positive workplace cultures and practices, and leaders equipped with the skills for the new age.“What we observe in entrepreneurship, including but not limited to workarounds, is that the most successful leaders are not necessarily visionary. They provide an environment where people can experiment, where they can test, where they can be flexible. It’s adaptive-management style that works really well.”

Digital-led innovation

The ever-increasing application of technology and AI across all sectors presents organisations and individuals with new vistas to co-create and innovate within, as well as challenges for leaders and managers.Data insights and evidence-based decision-making drive growth and create impact, especially in environments that allow practices and mindsets that support innovation to take root. All of this needs to be intentional.So, how can we set out innovation-friendly eco-systems and develop leadership styles that are flexible enough to nurture new ways of doing and being across international borders and teams, including with international remote and gig workers?This is one of the key themes of the upcoming Innovation Festival for Global Working and one that Dave Kesby, coach author of Extra-Dependent Teams: Realising the power of similarity, will unpack in a day designed to take leadership and innovation to the next level.Today’s flatter organisational and cross-border working frequently means teams of people with similar roles link with people outside their immediate team on different goals. Outsourced Global Mobility and client service managers are a case in point and just one example of the relevance of this thinking around how to drive innovation and growth.For leaders, “if you’re in charge of an extra-dependent team, you might think it’s like herding cats, but actually there’s huge latent potential,” he says. “If you could harness that, share that learning, create that identity, and then take that outside into the wider organisations, which is where the performance happens, it has a huge strategic effect.”

Watch the video highlights from the Innovation Festival for Global Working

Read more from the Innovation Festival for Global Working in the upcoming Summer issue of Think Global People magazine and about this year's winners of Relocate and Think Global People Awards in the special supplement. Reserve your copy here.

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