Future Fleet Forum 2018: Creating an innovation culture, by Richard Atkinson, CILT

Published:  10 March, 2018

The first email was sent in 1970. Today, there are more than two billion emails sent each day. The pace of change in the modern world is now so fast that innovation within organisations is essential, said Richard Atkinson, director of marketing and communications at CILT. His presentation focused on how to unlock the innovation culture within an organisation and harness the creativity of employees.

Innovation, he stressed, is not just about technology. It’s the creativity of children, professors, and thought leaders. It’s about imagination and great thinking, but also simple solutions, sharing ideas, new directions, and putting old next to new. It’s about coming up with ideas and implementing them. ‘Some organisations have forgotten how to do this, but they have invested a lot in technology.’

Don’t wait until the company is failing to innovate, urged Richard. It’s too late by this point. ‘Innovation is a continuum and we need to dedicate resources to it and use the creativity we were all born with. We all have super computers – our brains. How well do we use them?’

Fear of risk, of failure, of being laughed at – all these things stand in the way of innovation, reduce productivity and slow businesses down. For an innovation culture to thrive, a business requires a positive attitude, an environment that fosters creativity, space and time to think, a welcoming and inclusive community – including diversity of thought – and active listening. The first step as an organisation is an aspirational vision.

It might take a while to reintroduce these types of behaviours and organisations should expect to encounter different attitudes to the concept of an innovation culture, including resistance. ‘This won’t help. There needs to be room for looking to the future, horizon scanning, and celebrating success.’

There are three steps to innovation, said Richard: create space, resource it, and implement it. ‘We are all on competing timeless and deadlines. But this isn’t how quality work gets done. We all rush around on autopilot brain – part one brain. We learn things by rote so that we can reproduce them, but that’s not the way to come up with new solutions. We need to engage part two brain.

 ‘We have the power in our communities to unlock people, to get them included. They might not be managers or leaders, but they have ideas and they are in touch with reality, and they all have a super computer.’

It is also important, he added, to examine the quality of leadership within an organisation, and understand what makes a good leader. ‘A transformational leader is welcoming, inclusive and can be challenged. A self-affirming leader is someone who can’t be challenged and that won’t help. Being too hierarchical won’t help. But having good values is a good start.’

Most importantly, organisations should encourage divergent thinking and build an inclusive community. ‘This means respect for all, diversity of thought, and an environment that invites people to challenge ideas.’

And remember, even great innovators faced setbacks. James Dyson went through 5,037 prototypes before he got his hoover to work. The forefather of medical hygiene was carted off to an insane asylum for his ideas. It took seven years to get sliced bread to market. ‘So give ideas a chance. Nine out of ten might fail, but support them, encourage them and learn from them, because the tenth will be fantastic.’

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