Australia has a way to go if it is to match the prime minister’s rhetoric on technology and innovation.
In the days after he took the nation’s leadership, Malcolm Turnbull pitched his credentials as a man of vision, saying that the “Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative”.
While the statement may be accurate, achieving the goal will be a tall order, with the federal government currently budgeting historic lows for R&D (less than 1 per cent of GDP) which has resulted in Australia being ranked 18th out of 20 OECD countries. With an economy that is barely moving, the nation and the organisations that drive it economically need to turn innovation from a preferred capability into a necessity if we are to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised world.
Despite the link between innovation and improved financial performance, organisations still struggle with managing their innovation. Recent research in innovation shows that the time to develop or market an idea, often caused by layers of bureaucracy, is the biggest inhibitor of innovation.
Not surprisingly, strong leadership of internal corporate innovation programs is strongly related to building a successful innovation program. The most successful corporate innovation programs take a holistic approach, equip their people internally with the right level of skills to develop their ideas, and devote the necessary resources to achieve successful outcomes.
Empowering individuals at all levels to embrace innovation and harness their creativity requires a disciplined and focused approach. This is achieved by nurturing ideas to a point of commercialisation, which sometimes requires spinning-off new ventures and setting up new entities. These ‘new’ organisations are unencumbered with bureaucracy and are nimble and highly focused. This provides a fertile culture that allows innovation to flourish.
Several innovative organisations have devised innovation programs to incorporate the practice of innovating within employees’ roles. Google and 3M provide 15-20 per cent innovation time to allow staff to work on a project of their choosing
Recently, Australian software developer Atlassian implemented a similar program and is reporting success by allowing staff freedom to be creative and resources to build on their ideas. Likewise Atlassian inspired ‘FedEx days’, which encourage staff to work on an idea during their allotted work time and deliver overnight a presentation to senior management.
Internationally, Adobe recently rolled-out a Kickstart program that is available to all staff. KickBox, at the core of this program, contains a prepaid credit card to the value of $1,000 for the innovator to spend on developing their idea. In addition, potential innovators attend a two-day workshop, have mentoring and learn how to present their innovation to senior management.
The keys to these successful initiatives are: few rules and limits on who can be innovative; fewer restrictions on where and when to innovate; and the ability of staff to focus on developing their ideas in a culture that is supportive and recognises the need for innovation. All of these elements are prevalent in small start-up firms and the corporate world is beginning to realise that to innovate effectively requires adopting what successful small and nimble operators do well out of necessity.
While the idea of business accelerators is certainly not new in the start-up community, the application of these concepts to larger commercial environments is gaining traction. Known as ‘corporate accelerators’ these intensive, boot camp-like sessions generally run a couple of days and focus intently on a very limited number of ideas or issues.
Like most successful innovation, these in-house corporate accelerators are initiated to deal with a problem issue. As a result, new product or service development is not the only positive outcome to emerge from these intensive ‘problem solving’ sessions. Some companies set up investment funds and invite people and companies to focus on problems or products that they require. This is often described as outsourcing innovation.
With Jon Bilson, and Jonah Cacioppe