Monday, December 03, 2012

Chapter 2: Ideas Lost

There's no such thing as a free lunch...

You can download "Who Killed The Sparq?" as a free ebook.

As long as you promise to return and leave a comment below... or blog or tweet about it... or email

Click here...


"The dream is real, my friends. The failure to realize it is the only unreality"
Toni Cade Bambera

Chapter 2
Ideas Lost


Previous Chapters:

Chapter 1: The End

‘Should I stay indoors and work or should I go out, enjoy the sunshine, clear my head and perhaps come up with the breakthrough ideas I need to present tomorrow?’

It’s ridiculous. It’s Sunday. Worse, it’s a glorious warm, blue-sky, Sunday morning and here I am in my study, on my computer, preparing a PowerPoint presentation for Monday’s ExCo meeting to explain why, after yet another month, our new Growth Through Innovation process has so far failed to get any real results. They’ve graciously granted me 20 minutes out of a 5 hour meeting. Strange, how for an organisation which claims that ‘Innovation is our life-blood’ on this year’s annual report, our board actually dedicates so little time helping the blood to flow freely.

I reach for my cup of coffee. It’s very bitter, but worse, it’s gone cold. ‘I wish someone would invent a “self-hot-keeping” cup. I’d buy it,’ I say in a frustrated voice out loud to myself. So back to my GTI presentation. It’s three months since I was asked by John Troy to ‘lead our organisation’s transformation to deliver real growth by becoming the most innovative company in our sector.’ The truth is that after years of growing by acquiring other companies and really stretching to get the most out of our brands, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that our organisation isn’t inventing its own future fast enough in what is now a fast-changing and complex business environment.

This fact has been driven home by two things. First, by what we euphemistically call the BRIC1 Wall Challenge, the fact that competition from the East and South is easily matching us on quality of existing products and beating us on price, and can only get worse as eastern domestic demand grows and provides our new competitors with a solid base. And second, by what we have nicknamed the Economic Cliff. Not for jumping off but for standing at the bottom of and looking up at the fact that many previously industrialised countries have pre-spent over a decade’s worth of future income – so getting things moving again isn’t a mountain to climb, it’s a sheer vertical cliff.

I’ve been working flat out trying to support our growth targets by getting the organisation to innovate. It’s a far higher-pressure job than I’d anticipated. Pressure because our CEO has promised our investors that ‘our move to become “the most innovative company in our sector” is what will fuel substantial double digit real growth.’ He made that statement four months ago and now he is getting nervous and twitchy. He knows that in the past the financial returns from innovation projects haven’t been too strong. We had to scrap our last breakthrough offering last year after two months in the market and it was headline news. Pressure because everyone knows that as a result my predecessor was fired. And now even more pressure. We had only one good chance, our most promising new offer… but now… now that Mark has quit it’s probably dead.

The truth is that most of our people lack the ‘can do, especially new’ attitude we need and even where we do have great ideas we find it really hard to make our great ideas happen. For example, we came up with a market beater in terms of the customer support system, but guess what? We were third to market. Probably as a result, people leading any project or change which is labelled as ‘innovative’ change in the organisation, like Mark, end up exposed and lonely.

I haven’t been slow to get started. As soon as I took the job I did my homework and John Troy had just appointed the best regarded consultants in the field to establish what we needed to do to make innovation work. They said that what we lacked and needed urgently was a process for managing innovation. They explained how, without a systematic process, effort would be unfocused since it was important that people were encouraged to take risks and fail often. They argued articulately that the more clearly defined and benchmarked the process the better. The process we’ve started to implement is based on the analogy of an innovation pipeline. The more ideas we put in which we can sign-off the more results come out. Simple! We’ve taken their ideas about divergent and convergent thinking on board. We’ve started an open innovation and user-centred design web presence and much more. We’ve set out to recreate our key internal product development and marketing processes and we’ve explored our channel to market. So why is there so little to show? And why is Mark’s project dead?

For tomorrow’s meeting I’m creating a complex graphic of our ‘innovation pipeline process’ explaining the roles and accountabilities, the stage gating process and the frequency and composition of review board meetings.

We’ve run creativity workshops to get more ideas into the innovation pipeline. But I guess if I’m honest the depressing reality is that nothing ‘really good’ seems to come out of the workshops. People just end up putting forward the same-old, tired ‘hobby horses’ they’ve been banging on about for years. They were bad ideas the first time round and have putrefied with repetition.

The latest trend is that the senior managers announce that they will be joining meetings and workshops, and then pull out of attending at the very last minute because ‘There is a very important issue/ meeting/ customer response, etc., which has just come up.’ They want to been seen to be supporting the innovation initiative but it seems to me that they sense failure and are unwilling to put any more time into it. ‘We need to invest in internal communications to talk up the initiative, but there’s no budget for that,’ I think down-heartedly.

I rise to get a fresh cup of coffee, pausing only to save my work before I set off for the kitchen. I click on File then Save but instead of saving my file the entire screen turns blue and a Warning!!! Flashes up on my screen. It says:
EXPLORER caused a general protection fault in module USER>EXE at 0004:00005fdd
I have no idea at all what this means so I hit Esc several times but it’s frozen. Somewhere deep inside my chest a scream starts, primeval and throbbing. By the time it reaches my throat it sounds like a bass, grumbling roar. ‘Ararrrrghghrgha!’ My laptop’s crashed and I’ve lost the last two hours’ work. I’ve lost it all, all my ideas, all my colours.

All the innovation books I’ve ever read emphasise and re-emphasise the importance of failing, failing often and not being upset but wearing it as a medal of honour of having the right mind-set. Our consultants endorsed that view. Well, my computer’s failed so that should be excellent indeed. But I’ve had enough of failure. I slip on my old deck shoes and in a second I’m out in the garden.

This is taken from the manuscript of Prof Eddie Obeng's new book Who Killed the Sparq? We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Want to read more?

Chapter 3: Who Killed the Sparq?
Chapter 4: Mother of Invention
Chapter 5: If You Don't Mind, I'll Have Your Watch Please
Chapter 6: I Wouldn't Have Started from Here
Chapter 7: Weeding Out the Weaklings
Chapter 8: Still Hunting and Gathering

1 Brazil, Russia, India, China^


Post a Comment

<< Home