Saturday, October 03, 2009

Innovation – what terrorists can teach us

Much has been made of the latest terrible development in suicide bombings were bombers now carry explosives inside themselves. This development could be called ‘innovative’ but what is more important are the thought processes involved. Consider the following two scenarios.

Scenario one – a terrorist thinks to himself “I will try experimenting with putting explosives in different places and see what happens”. This is experimentation or play. The output is almost entirely random but in amongst those random thoughts are some ideas worth pursuing. The problem is undefined and the solutions will therefore be extremely random. The results may or may not work.

Scenario two – a terrorist thinks to himself “What sort of checks do the army and police have and where could I hide explosives to avoid these checks?”. This is innovation in action. The problem is reasonably well defined thus leaving the terrorist with the simple task of generating and evaluating ideas. The results are possibly devastating.

Now consider the other side of the equation. Lets try and outfox the terrorist. If we assume the terrorist is not very clever (a big mistake) then we think of a possible large number of methods of attack which we cannot possibly deal with (as in scenario one). If we assume that the terrorist is clever then he will try and find weak points, no matter how unlikely they are.

So which ‘route to market’ is the best for terrorist and which is best for the anti terrorist? For both, a degree of focus (scenario two) is important. The terrorist analogy does, however, go much deeper than this.

Let us consider high level enablers/barriers to Innovation such as vision, attitude to risk, empowerment of staff, knowing how to win, team working, culture, light touch management etc. Taking all of these into account, we can take a strategic snapshot of an innovative organisation such as 3M or Google and also of a known terrorist organisation. Comparing the two, we find that the ‘make up’ of a successful innovative organisation is very similar to that of a terrorist organisation. The major difference is of course ideology or vision.

So if you like your job, there is a strong vision, the culture suits you, you are stretched to your full potential, your organisation is fully aware of its competitive environment and is willing to take on a reasonable amount of risk – just exactly who are you working for?

Using such an analogy takes a bit of getting used to but try it, you might be amazed.

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