WA organisations as varied as Landgate, RAC and Bankwest are becoming case studies for corporate innovation.
The rapid and unexpected slide into irrelevance is the boogie monster in the boardroom of many businesses these days, with the likes of Kodak, Blockbuster, Blackberry, and Xerox all examples of where a lack of innovation can lead.
Today, many organisations are upping their investment in corporate innovation programs to avoid becoming the next case study of squandering today’s success through stasis and stagnation.
Faced with new forms of competition, changes in consumer preferences and accelerating technology, leaders are investing in innovation hubs, hackathons and idea portals to help their people adapt and respond.
While the desire to innovate is not new for many organisations, the innovation conversation has never been more pervasive.
Across the public sector, SMEs and ASX-listed companies, innovation is the talk of the town.
From artificial intelligence to blockchain, an increasing number of triggers require us to review our practices and change the way we think about our business.
In Western Australia, we have begun to see the emergence of case studies of corporate innovation leadership.
Spearheaded by recently departed CEO Jodi Cant, the Landgate innovation program is a leader on a national scale.
This year, the Australian Financial Review named Landgate the 19th most innovative company in Australia, and the most innovative government organisation overall.
This has been achieved over a 10-year process of investing in their people through hackdays and skill programs, as well as a deep engagement with industry and startup businesses.
Clearly, Landgate understands that some of the best answers can be found outside the organisation.
The Royal Automobile Club of WA, too, has upped its bet on innovation.
After public successes with world-first autonomous vehicle trials, the member-based mutual recently announced the next step in its innovation journey with a $3 million seed fund to support early-stage WA businesses (see page 4).
Even heavily regulated industries such as banking and utilities are taking action to future-proof their organisations.
Bankwest’s 18-month effort to realign its organisational structure and ways of working to ‘agile’ is a herculean task, but one critical to ensuring the bank is fast and able to respond to changing customer needs.
Meanwhile, Western Power is building its innovation muscle, having launched a series of hackathons this year to tap into the wisdom of the crowd to identify opportunities in the energy supply chain.
Nationally, Westpac is doubling down on bringing disruption into the bank by backing startups through its Reinventure fund.
Following 20 investments through two funds, it has committed a further $50 million to bring its total commitment to $150 million.
Innovation sceptics may choose to see this activity as theatre without any real substance, however, without experimentation and action, all organisations risk the increasingly short slide to irrelevance.
The trap of innovation theatre is one that all organisations seeking to invest in innovation need to be wary of.
Innovation theatre is activity that looks and smells a lot like innovation, but has no discernable influence on business objectives.
You can spot innovation theatre by programs that celebrate output over impact.
In order to future proof their business, while avoiding innovation theatre, organisations need to deeply understand what they mean by innovation.
The definition of what innovation actually is can vary widely. Often, the definition sits on a wide spectrum ranging from continuous improvement to transformative opportunities.
Even in a small leadership team there is often lack of consistency on where on this innovation spectrum the company should focus.
Leaders need to communicate with absolute clarity on what they’re trying to achieve with their innovation program and provide the right swim lanes to direct their organisation’s innovation efforts.
Innovation and culture change
The success of Landgate, RAC and countless other innovation programs come from their understanding that innovation is much more an exercise in culture change than technology or process transformation.
A true innovation program permeates through every role, not just in a skunkworks hub or specific business unit.
The most important part of any innovation program is to just do something.
While planning and consideration is an important part of the innovation process, having a bias to action and experimentation is critical.
It’s easier to protect our core business and do what we have always done than try something new; that’s what makes innovation so hard.
What we need to do is to roll up our sleeves, look toward an uncertain future with determination, and have a go.