We need to change how we teach innovation

Recent research clearly shows that innovation is crucial to organisational success. Chris Locke reviews the evidence and concludes that we need to properly develop these skills in our people.

Identified as a critical internal capability and skill set for business success, innovation is a powerful driver for growth.

Innovation continues to be recognised as the only sustainable way to grow your business, stay ahead of the competition and can be used to optimise your business. This is underlined in both The Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum and the Bloomberg job skills study, where each highlights the need and demand for innovation skills by organisations in every sector facing disruption.

Yet, despite this urgent need, a report on trends in digitisation found “87% of organisations know that digital disruption is happening to them, but only 44% feel that they are adequately prepared in terms of capabilities to deal with it successfully.”

Without companies continually innovating, growth will eventually plateau. And while a solid and competent innovation background has become one of the most sought-after skills to address this, finding suitable talent has continued to be a problem for many organisations.

Unfortunately, anyone looking to increase their capability or even decide to pursue innovation as a career will struggle to get the correct type of training.

Typically, many end up going down the traditional route of going back into the university or business school system, where the focus is on the theoretical as opposed to practical, delivered by a faculty that has little or no experience in actually applying what they are teaching in the environment in which their students are working.

The impact of this is a slew of professionals that are ill equipped to successfully lead innovation projects and programmes and miss the key skills and mindset required to run and manage this complex process, often being delivered within a highly political landscape.

Anyone looking to increase their capability or even decide to pursue innovation as a career will struggle to get the correct type of training

As a consequence, many projects fail, and we end up in the vicious cycle of innovation teams being culled and companies falling further behind as competitors and new entrants hit revenue and profit margins.

Without investing into developing these key skills and embedding a proven methodology to run a high impact strategically driven innovation team, companies will continue to fail to achieve their growth ambitions and end up creating a culture that stagnates innovation instead of accelerating it.

Statistics show that only 38% of organisations actively work on their entrepreneurial culture, and 35% are in the embryonic stages. But when 85% of all economic growth is down to innovation, it’s foolish not to be pursuing new avenues to instil innovation and entrepreneurship into your businesses.

To maximise the opportunity innovation offers companies, it’s critical to start investing in your people by creating a company-wide culture of innovation and entrepreneurship to drive growth by training critical skills and methodologies.

Providing upskilling and learn-by-doing opportunities to build in the acknowledged skills for intrapreneurship should become business as usual. You can’t expect one person to wear the innovation cap alone, and innovation can’t be a slogan or something that happens over there in that other department.

It’s time to equip teams with these identified skills and a deep understanding of the methodologies to drive healthy and effective innovation. But this can’t and shouldn’t be done by leveraging outdated approaches and time-consuming, slow, two years or more MBA programmes.

When 85% of all economic growth is down to innovation, it’s foolish not to be pursuing new avenues to instil innovation and entrepreneurship into your businesses

The process of training entrepreneurship and innovation needs innovative learning pathways to be successful.

  • Programmes need specialisation and educators who have the backgrounds and experiences of doing it themselves. You cannot truly teach innovation or entrepreneurism if you haven’t gone through the experience yourself.
  • Programmes need to adapt to the new world realities. Flexible working, mobile workforces and globalisation mean programmes can no longer reside onsite. Business must use technology combined with traditional teaching approaches to gain scale and meet the needs of evolving global workforces.
  • Mindset and soft skills are just as important in the process. LinkedIn found that 57% of senior leaders believe soft skills are more important than hard skills. We need to change perceptions as well as learn methodologies.
  • Mentoring and coaching can make all the difference to incorporating these new skills into the heart of a business. Unfortunately, humans are not great at remembering things and forget approximately 70% of new information within 24 hours. But when mentoring and coaching are combined into the process, the retention rates on new skills and learning can shoot up to over 75%.  

For innovation to be the corporate game-changer, you need to be continuously driving the mindset into the culture and processes of the business while instilling through training the tools and skills into your talent, so there is the internal capability for everyone to be part of your growth.

We need to skill the creative solution-focused employees of the future who can imagine and build the solutions of tomorrow.


About the author

Chris Locke is CEO of Aspire.


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