For a long time now, I’ve had the view that we only have so much time to change an organisation before the organisation changes us. I’ve seen it happen with dynamic people that become subdued over time as they encounter obstacle after obstacle, resistance, red-tape and other forms of organisational resistance to change. Maintaining innovation, or rather the ability to innovate and to generate innovation in a client, is key with external consultants.
In reading this article today on Why Outsiders are the Most Innovative People adapted from work by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, I was reminded why it’s important to introduce a fresh perspective.
I’m independent in that I’m not tied to any company or organisation and I enjoy what that brings to both me and my corporate clients. Yes, I’m prepared to challenge what client staff have accepted as normal over time. It’s the response to that initial challenge of the status quo that gives me an idea of how well the planned change activity will progress, or at least how much commitment we should expect to receive from client staff.
A Definition of Innovation
I also remember a description of innovation being in the application of ideas from one business or industry sector into another that doesn’t yet use them. Now, I think that definition is too narrow in scope, e.g. innovation can generate new products or services that have never existed before, but we’ll use it for now since it does define a large subset of innovation. The information I take from that definition is the idea that we can introduce innovation into an organisation by introducing new people. They don’t have to be new employees, they could be new partners, new customers, new consultants, new company acquisitions, new mergers, new tools, new software, etc.
I’m fortunate to have worked across numerous industry sectors and many different clients. A number of years ago, I found myself educating public sector clients on how to do things the way that they’re done in telcos. That was interesting to see the message being listened to and, more importantly, followed. That particular client did improve its performance by following advice about another industry sector. That was innovation.
At every client since, I’ve had the same experience. The best experiences are when I’m not the only one contributing past methods or not the only educating. When we have more than one person bringing in ideas, we find that the solution is more tailored to the client and easier for them to accept. Watching a team embrace change with a positive attitude is a wonderful thing, especially when that team was previously underperforming, disgruntled and resistant to change.
A Bonus Exercise
Look back to the image I used at the beginning of the article. Nowadays, it’s a pretty common type of image, but how many innovations do you see in it? To start with I see the innovation of the technique. Someone realised/ discovered/calculated that they could track the star movement using a camera with a very slow shutter speed. Before that, someone else figured out the types of things you could do with a slow shutter speed. Before that, someone figured out that you could vary shutter speeds and so on. There’s a lot of innovation when you look around, even at the simplest of items.
The stand-off for me is between the combination of my values, newness of ideas and energy on side and the pace and status quo of the organisation I’m consulting for on the other side. I use many techniques to maintain a healthy level of independent thinking and other techniques to maintain the ability to generate fresh ideas while with long-term clients otherwise my value decreases since I’d become stale.