Thursday, July 19, 2007

Innovation and Culture

Whilst talking to many people about innovation there is one question that they all ask. 'Do you have experience of of working in my industry sector?'. Quite often the answer is is 'no' and the conversation ends there as many people are risk averse. I have always maintained that the good innovation models (mine included of course!) can be used in any industry and any country.

The drivers for innovation, the support processes that need to be put in place and any other strategic concept are all transferable. What is not always transferable is the local detail e.g. how do you manage knowledge locally, impart ideas to those from a different culture or even run training courses. I always maintain that the greatest experts in any industry are the company themselves. They have the knowledge, they need a model. Why pay huge fees to buy often contradictory advice from a company or consultant that claims to have industry specific knowledge.

So buy my model please, it works! But what are the most common local differences you ask? Here is a short and definitely not a definitive list:

  • Time - Arab cultures have a very different model of time whilst many Latin American, Mediterranean and Far Eastern cultures are less precise than in the UK.
  • Risk - the same cultures who are less precise may also tend to be less risk averse and more playful.
  • Ideas - some cultures readily adopt well formed ideas and in some you will need to plant seeds and let them grow.
  • Business etiquette - no matter how creative you are, certain norms will need to be followed, not because they are part of business but because they are social and in many cultures business/social boundaries are blurred.
  • Groups - there are varying expectations as to how groups or teams form, what their purposes are and what is expected by/from them.

The list is not exhaustive and is based on my dealings with other cultures in the fields of creativity and innovation only. For in depth advice please consult an expert in your chosen culture.

Is it good to be lean?

Many people believe that lean 'everything' is good without knowing what it really means. Even the term 'Lean Innovation' has been used. How can a process that can potentially generate hundreds or thousands of new ideas by described as, or made lean? Could it be that we do not know what lean actually is?

I started thinking about 'lean' whilst on holiday. I booked a last minute break to Greece and was expecting the worst, only the sun could make up for the horrendous time I was expecting to have. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We did not have to pick up our tickets at the airport, we had brilliant transfers, we picked up our hire car in the middle of nowhere without signing any paperwork .... Hang on, you said ....Yes I know it sounds odd but it was just symptomatic of the way in which the holiday company, car hire company and all of the rest of the components were plugged together.

On our Greek island it would be impossible for a coach to visit all of the accommodation but we all had hire cars. The solution was to leave a line of hire cars by the side of the road, drop people off and let them drive to their villa and fill in the paperwork later and let the car hire company collect it in the evening. This was heaven compared to waiting for 2 hours in blazing sun in Majorca before picking up a car. Their answer was cold drinks but it still took 2 hours.

We still do not know how the excellent welcome hampers got from the local town to the holiday properties, everything seemed invisible and it worked like a dream. Creative it certainly was, lean it almost certainly was not. Other tour operators are lean - I know which I would prefer.

I also read a good book whilst in Greece, 'Stuart a life backwards' by Alistair Masters. The subject is fascinating but I was intrigued by the style. The book started in the present and then went backwards in time. This gave me an interesting thought. Many things work well forwards and in reverse, a bit like the Greek holiday machine but some things do not (remember your worn bicycle sprocket and chain from childhood). Even if your business process is not meant to work in reverse, try thinking about it in that way and any deficiencies will leap out at you. Fixing this will leave your process well oiled and maybe leaner.