Fueling Innovation

“Innovation” has become a buzzword in our business world. We all claim to embrace innovation – but is that true? Because the foundation of innovation is change, and change is one of the most threatening things that can happen to us as human beings. We do not like change.

I was intrigued by a Huffington Post blog by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D.; she’s the Associate Director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center.

Dr. Halvorson wrote, “If you are going to be an advocate for change, it might help you to start by understanding what you are up against, psychologically speaking.

“Change and innovation requires that we not only convince others that new can be good, but that we address their (often unconscious) assumption that what’s been around longer looks, works, and tastes better.”

If you – and your organization – are going to embrace innovation, you need to deal with the fear factor. First, fear of change. And, then, even for leaders who are convinced of the need to innovate, fear of failure.

But I want to suggest that we look at this in a new way. Innovation could, possibly, lead to failure – not every new idea brings success. Just look at the number of start-ups that crash and burn. That’s reality.

But the overriding reality is, failure to innovate will, without question, lead to failure. That’s 100 per cent certain.

Innovation is the best – the only – chance we have to survive and thrive in our ever-changing corporate world. In fact, innovation is our only chance in the world, period! If we don’t innovate for sustainability, all will be lost.

This is not easily done, because it involves change, with all the consequences I have mentioned. And it may be change at a very significant level – large organizations may, in fact, need to transform their entire business model in order to create the right environment for effective innovation.

Here at Siemens, we have taken our commitment to change and innovation right outside our normal business channels. Of course, we are innovating and changing at every level, but we’ve also created a new unit – next47 – to foster disruptive ideas more vigorously and to accelerate the development of new technologies. Through next47, Siemens becomes not only an innovator, but we are acting as a venture capitalist, a collaborator, a coach and an advisor to other innovators developing the next big thing in electrification, automation and digitalization.

Jerome S. Engel is an innovation expert and senior fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. He recently said, “There is still room for improvement in the open innovation model with regard to the interaction of large companies and recently established market participants. Large companies have to learn to operate ambidextrously, and continue to pursue their core areas of expertise while experimenting elsewhere.”

The future rests with intelligent, forward-thinking people. I’m proud that we have many such people within our Siemens organization, in Canada and internationally. But we don’t have all of them. Not even close. You have them, too, in established companies and brand-new start-ups.

We absolutely must look outside the box; we must support and collaborate with innovators, wherever we find them.