Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Slow Innovation

Around fifteen years ago, the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was strolling past a new MacDonald's franchise in the centre of Rome and launched a major eating revolution. He paused and said: If this is fast food, why not have slow food? There have been other ‘slow’ movements such as ‘slow education’. In the business world there is huge pressure to deliver results ‘fast’, but do the changes we make, the consultants we employ, and the money we spend create a lasting difference to our businesses? We seem to make a constant stream of satisficing decisions that just get us by, until the next crisis that is.

In much the same way as the other ‘slow’ movements, I began thinking about ‘slow innovation’. Innovation has become a buzzword, if we just come up with some good ideas and do some market research then we are bound to get some new products into the market and ensure the future success of our organisation – right? Not necessarily.

What we have created, with our knee jerk reactions, is the fast business, driven by objectives that have not been thought through. What seems to matter is the outcome, not the process. In our quest to achieve a short term goal we have neglected the systems that should be put in place to properly manage ideas, to ‘un manage’ our employees, to create the right culture, ensure that our money is spent wisely and create a long term programme that will avoid a constant stream of (expensive) knee jerk interventions. As with fast food, these events are not pleasurable for our shareholders or staff. We will suffer from obesity (consultant overload), additives (things we do not need), hypertension (change fatigue) and of course an empty wallet. This is Taylor’s scientific management applied in the wrong context.

The route to slow innovation means savouring the flavours of diversity and learning, blending ideas and know how and ultimately becoming self sufficient. In our fast consumer society we can throw away what we grow tired of or find not to our taste. We cannot throw away our businesses and start again. Slow Innovation, the sustainable way, is surely a better way to create the business of the future.

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