Saturday, January 12, 2008

Risk averse innovation

A number of research surveys including this report in Management Issues highlight the link between risk and innovation.
The ability to think new thoughts, try new things and innovate requires that we break out from the thinking and practices of now. There is a saying
If you always do what you've always done you always get what you always got.
in other words if you want something different you have to do and think different things. The issue here is that in order to do something different takes nerve. To do and think like everyone else, as we have before, may give comfort and make us feel safe, part of the pack. However if we want innovation we have to risk being different, not part of the crowd.
Part of the report mentioned above quotes George Davie, a Managing Director of The Hazelton Group, an Archstone Consulting company:
The survey also found that having a culture that does not foster risk taking was the biggest impediment to innovation.
Basically innovation requires risk taking, the ability to stand out, to think, be and look for difference. Risk averse attitudes brings at best adaption and slow change, making sure that every step is thought through and makes 'sense' - by the thinking of now.
How many organisations reward difference? How many leaders promote real risk taking? How many managers expect and are happy to allow errors and mistakes to be made? Deciding that we need innovation means opening the doors to errors. As any innovation is new there is no knowing what will come up and whether any particular innovation will work or what effect it will have. Indeed many don't, at first at least and need to be played with, tweaked and allowed to mature. For every successful innovation there are many, many ideas that never make it. People who want innovation must be or must become comfortable with ambiguity and risk. The mindset of minimising risk will reduce the appetite to trial and error, experimentation and will stifle innovation. In organisations around the globe the wish to 'just make sure' holds them back. In fast moving and ever changing markets and conditions playing safe is anything but.

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