I am often asked to help organisations to innovate. The very notion of organising innovation appeals to the mischief-maker in me.
‘Improvement’ and ‘innovation’ are often confused. Improvement, to me, is a construction process, whereas innovation is a rebuilding process.
To rebuild something, you have to knock something down. And that is where the turkeys come in. The world is full of hierarchical organisations (or turkey farms, to maintain the analogy), managing virtually every facet of our lives.
For hierarchies to innovate, they have to consider how they are going to cease to exist. That just doesn’t come naturally to them unless there is a war or disaster, when turkey losses are acceptable.
There are so many wonderful world changing innovative ideas out there – yet these hierarchies can’t do it. They can’t vote for Christmas. They are just not wired that way.
Large successful organisations are good at improvement, but they often can’t innovate well. Small organisations and individuals can innovate more effectively because they are free to pursue what they want.
I feel sorry for people running big organisations and I feel as if I want to hand them a big cigar as consolation for the final moments. What they are building doesn’t really matter in the long term, since there will come a day when the ship sinks.
It’s hard to get a huge machine – like the Titanic – to change direction and respond quickly. They just can’t see the iceberg coming or do anything to effectively prevent it.
Think about it – your Prime Minister or President is in charge of a system conceived and designed in the days when travel and communication was effected on horseback. How can such systems survive in a world of increasing speed, information, transparency and accountability?
The Education system was designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution – providing factory fodder and those to manage men and machines. How can that system survive, when people are already recognising its failings to personalise modern learning, and are starting to deliver superior educations at home, for free?
And as for the banking system – how has that survived at all, considering the possible alternatives?
Hierarchies have held back innovation for decades, with rigid old structures that have stopped the growth of new green shoots of innovation. Knowing what we know today, if we were to start from a blank sheet of paper to redesign these systems, the solutions we could create would be unrecognisable, compared with what we have today.
We already have all the ideas we need to make massive progress. We just have old growth in the way that needs to be cut back to let the new shoots flourish.
One by one, all the old systems, structures, organisations and thinking will crumble and become obsolete as more and more technologically-enhanced human ecosystems begin to take their place. And I am afraid that does mean all of them! This is the evolutionary path we are all on.
I like to think that the future will be more ‘human’ than the past. As every day goes by, the opportunities for individuals gets greater and greater, and human capacity increases, too. In the future, we won’t need any big ‘things’ to get big things done. The need for large organisations to support us diminishes all the time. They will all fall. It is just a matter of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’.
Now, the primitive ‘lizard’ brain in each of us will have a problem with this future of mass uncertainty. Flight, fight and freeze will be its instantaneous responses. I would love it if we could just be OK with the fact that everything will fail and be replaced at some point. But that is just not the way our brains are designed to think.
There will be turmoil. There will be winners and losers. There will be heartache. But I believe in humanity’s ability to evolve into something better than it was before. That is the way evolution works. It is a chaotic improvement on the average.
So, I will let you into a little secret of mine – a rule of thumb I use. If something is within a hierarchy, it probably won’t be able to innovate. Well, not truly innovate, anyway. So I get ahead and steer clear of working within them.
If you want my advice, and you want to follow what I do, stop trying to change from within those systems and organisations that do not want to be changed – and look to rebuild from the outside. It will be much quicker to achieve, and you will get much further.
Call it a high-end time management technique, if you will. I have only one life and I want to make as much difference as possible in that time. As a result, I have no time to push water uphill. It’s so much easier to go with the flow, when it’s the free flow that takes you on the invigorating ride of your life.
There is much to be done outside the restrictions of hierarchical institutions, with their insular concerns. There are so many people in the world who need our help; who need our creativity and imagination – once we liberate ourselves from the structures and strictures that confine us.
There are already lots of great people who believe that same thing I believe. There are already people with nothing, who need something.
I am out there with my blank sheet of paper, finding them, and being the change that I want to see in the world.
You Cannot Get a Turkey to Innovate – Let Alone Vote for Christmas
I will leave the turkeys to work it out for themselves.
Life is too short.