Innovation – A Formula. Subandi Kamis

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“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Steve Jobs of Apple understood people and their wants and was able to orchestrate the creativity and design flair of those around him into innovative and highly desirable products such as the ipod, iphone, ipad and iwatch. But that capability came at a cost: Jobs could be a difficult person to work with. Walter Issacson – Jobs’ biographer described how brutally honest Jobs could be when confronted with designs, ideas or processes that were not up to his standards. Jobs was also not the type to “sugarcoat” shortcomings – doing away with niceness and coming across as abrasive instead to those who were ill prepared to deal with him.

Sir Jonathan Ive, Jobs’ longtime collaborator and Chief Design Officer at Apple can attest to the legacy that Jobs left behind when it comes to honesty. “We can be bitterly critical of our work. The personal issues of ego have long since faded.” said Ives in a Time magazine interview, referring to the process of giving honest feedback when going through the creative process.

Companies like Apple have a relatively closed creative process. Its innovation is achieved through a culture that utilises a pool of talented engineers and designers, and because the stakes are high and competition is stiff, product developments are shrouded in secrecy. “Innovation is the driving force behind every successful business,” said Max Messmer, the chairman and CEO of Robert Half International. “Managers should do their best to stretch and challenge their teams to combat complacency.

Messmer – also the author of Human Resources Kit for Dummies, lists six tips to get the innovation juice flowing in work teams:

• Engage the entire team
• Remove the red tape
• Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
• Do not filter the brainstorm
• Take a break
• Seek inspiration

According to Messmer, when employees are empowered, they will be more innovative and dedicated towards the organisation’s success. It comes as no surprise that in environments where the bureaucracy level is high, innovation becomes a difficult trick to pull off.

Within the organisation, a healthy balance between competition and collaboration is also essential to enable team members to contribute their suggestions and creations. Think of collaboration as a way to leverage the differences in the group: different strengths, different knowledge and different levels or posts. Instead of focusing on the differences, they can be utilised for the benefit of the task at hand. However, managing such varying traits can be difficult particularly in hierarchical organisations that favour position and seniority over knowledge and capability: allowing equal participation would be very challenging. In such situations, there is a need for a culture of innovation and a paradigm shift towards embracing that culture. Too many ideas that are potentially groundbreaking have often been discarded or pre-filtered when differences come into play. It is a good idea to introduce ground rules that give everyone his or her fair share of time to be heard. It is also a good idea to give employees a break once in a while as well, since overworked employees tend to do more harm than good.

This is where inspired leaders can come in and make a difference. Support from the top and setting of the right tone have been described in various situations as being vital for getting the rest of the organisation mobilised to a particular arrangement, standpoint, understanding, approach, perspective or even culture. Organisations come and go. However, the survivability and sustainability are also dependent on the ability of the organisation to reinvent itself. There are inherent risks associated in leading an organisation through difficult but necessary change. A lot of the time, it requires moving out of one’s comfort zone – made up of long held habits, perspectives and ways of working. However, in return for such sacrifices, one does get the possibility of a better future, which in itself is such a profound reason for achieving innovativeness in the first place.

This article was published in the Apr-Jun 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!


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Subandi Kamis is a Queen Elizabeth II Chevening Scholar with a Masters of Science in Information and Knowledge Management. He is an information technology professional who is currently working on an academic research project. He also sketches, plays the saxophone and is into Star Wars and Star Trek. He says that his diverse interests help him to balance his left-brain and right-brain modes of thinking