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Innovation: The next big thing

Tim Mendham | April 15, 2013
Nobody knows anything. These were the first words in American novelist, playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman's book, Adventures in the Screen Trade."

Nobody knows anything. These were the first words in American novelist, playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman's book, Adventures in the Screen Trade."

Goldman was referring to the concept of picking winners: "Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess -- and, if you're lucky, an educated one." If Universal Studios knocked back the original concept for Star Wars, several record companies decided the Beatles would never be a success, and 12 publishing houses passed up the opportunity to publish the Harry Potter books, then you wonder how anyone can decide "what's going to work" and what won't.

And what applies to the movie, music and literary businesses can easily apply to commercial business management. Just as business leaders can miss out on the next big thing, then IT departments too are not immune. Even when the potentially lucrative innovation comes from within, recognising a good idea is not a given.

Far from it.

And thereby hangs the problem: CIOs are expected to be innovative, despite around 70 per cent of their time being spent on the steady-as-she-goes, business-as-usual putting out the bushfires (and other such clichés).

A recent report by IT industry analysts IDC, Australia IT Services 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis, suggests, "The top priority of the C-suite, as businesses continue to operate in volatility, is to build a successful and sustainable organisation with a culture that is intrinsically based on innovation and customer centricity."

It goes on to say that "C-suite expectations from the CIO and their team are drastically changing. CIOs are therefore increasingly under pressure to not only keep the lights on [another well-used cliché] with regard to maintaining and supporting IT operations but are now expected to proactively drive the enterprise IT innovation agenda."

There is the old business maxim that says: "If you're not going forward, you're going backwards." This not only applies to profit growth but also to productivity, and that often draws on innovation in products, processes and services.

A survey by Deloitte of 5000 young leaders -- "millennials"-- at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, revealed that 78 per cent of "the world's future business leaders" regard innovation as one of the top three 'purposes' of business, the other two being driving profit and benefiting society.

"Millennials surveyed pinpoint creativity as the characteristic that will mark out future innovators, followed by academic ability, technical skills and, most tellingly, the ability to challenge," says Deloitte Australia's chief strategy officer, Gerhard Vorster.

The sticking point is that, despite the three-quarters who say that innovation is a priority, just over half believe they actually work for an innovative organisation, and even fewer -- 26 per cent -- feel that their organisation's business leaders are doing enough to encourage practices that foster innovation.

 

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