Making innovation part of the day job

Managers should be spending more time on innovation - but not at the expense of the day-to-day stuff.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A new survey of UK managers by the Chartered Management Institute has some interesting thoughts on innovation: 70% reckon the downturn has reinforced their focus on innovation, while one in four says that in the future, they’ll actually spend more time on innovation than the day job. Admittedly, when we look at exactly what they mean by this, lots of the characteristics they’re talking about sound like they should be part of the day job for good managers. But if the recession encourages them to think harder about how to foster innovation, that can only be a good thing...

The CMI report (published in conjunction with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, or NESTA to its friends), makes the entirely valid point that companies need to be recruiting/ developing employees with the capacity to innovate. After all, as CMI boss Ruth Spellman puts it, ‘the ability to find and try something new or different is a critical differentiator for businesses in what is an increasingly competitive marketplace.’ (We suppose some might argue that the marketplace is actually less competitive than it was following our recent ‘correction’ – numerically, if not in price terms – but the basic point still holds).

But what does this mean, exactly? What makes an innovative manager? Well, according to this survey, it includes things like ‘openness to ideas’ (cited by 59%), ‘problem solving’ (50%) and ‘personal initiative’ (43%). All useful characteristics – though we can’t help feeling that every good manager will probably be utilising these skills on a day-to-day basis. So perhaps it’s slightly spurious to draw a distinction between innovation and the day job.

Perhaps the more interesting part of the report is the suggestion that innovation isn’t about individuals at all: it’s about teamwork. And the good news is that the managers surveyed seem to think that the recession has actually made their companies more collaborative, partly because it’s fostered an ‘in this together’ culture. Throwing people together like this can pay dividends – as Nesta’s Jonathan Rosenbaum points out, ‘it’s often the most unusual collaborations that spark the best new ideas.’

One thing’s for sure: few firms will be able to throw money at the problem at the moment. So managers need to be more inventive in finding ways to spark new ideas. Otherwise their company may be in danger of being left behind.

In today's bulletin:

Barack Obama slaps Wall Street with $90bn levy
DSG buzzing after electric Christmas sales
Waterstone's boss out in the cold as sales slump again
Making innovation part of the day job
Your Route to the Top: Seven ways to make a fresh start

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