Is this technological boom a threat or opportunity for the workplace? Why?
To me they are the same thing. A threat, if you spin it around is an opportunity and an opportunity you do nothing with is a threat because you’ve not acted upon it. So, the way I see it is there has always been a technology boom, just at the moment it’s focused on computers. If you look back to the industrial revolution, technology meant something different. What it is causing now, however, is a levelling of the playing field. Anybody with a computer can be a potential competitor or a potential partner; so it’s an explosion in that way. Because of this, and the development of tech, the speed of change is continuing to increase. What that means, more than anything else, is that you no longer can lead your business world, or even your own world, as “that’s what I’ve always done” and there’s no point in changing. So, what this technological focus has brought about is the necessity of change; the need for innovation and what we need it to do as a result.
What role does technology have in innovation?
My approach to innovation is that innovation is around solving problems, big or small. And one of the ways on solving those problems is using technology. What can happen sometimes, though, is people can look at technology as THE answer. Sometimes the ease of access, through technology, means something gets done without actually understanding the problem it’s trying to solve. For me, innovation is always about people; solving people’s problems. That’s what you have to remember. So while technology can have a very positive effect, giving you answers that maybe a while ago we didn’t have, you need to be cautious because some people may look to it first rather than identifying how to resolve a challenge in a better, more useful way.
Should leaders operate any differently within this world of technology-led innovation?
Leadership is really important in innovation. As leaders, you need to identify the problem to solve and then use technology to, potentially, to solve that problem. Sometimes we can get blinded by the latest technology and instead think, “we have this cool thing, now what shall we do?” But you can’t fit a problem to the technology you have. So, in my experience, leaders need to be giving very clear direction around what they want innovation to be, and that helps people to develop or use technology in the way they need to do it. The other thing to also bear in mind with technology-led innovation, is that anyone with a computer can be a competitor or partner. So, it doesn’t mean that because you were the leader, you still are. So, in summary, leaders need to be setting their own direction. They need to be aware of their own biases and also cannot be complacent.
Uncertainty is our new normal, is it wise to innovate during these times?
For me, innovation means change in some shape or fashion and so when you talk about uncertainty, when you don’t know the future, you’ve almost got to have a lot more options available to you. But while the certainty of direction has gone the need to innovate has only increased. But you need to take very small steps; like you’re walking in fog, making progress though not always knowing which direction to walk in. And what that means is you sometimes need to take a step back, find out where you are and then decide on your next move. You can’t normally choose a “that’s where I’m going to be” and in five years’ time be there. It’s got to be, what’s the next step, maybe with an idea, but not be holding on so tightly onto the goal that you can’t take the opportunity as things reveal themselves. It’s around planning both for today and tomorrow. What needs to happen today, but not ignoring what could happen tomorrow. You have to invest in the future, whether that’s considering what the future might be or inputting more financially, so that when the future does come, you are not surprised and have some ability to adapt and survive.
What’s your one piece of advice for any business looking to release the creative energies of its people?
Just one?! Leaders must allow people to fail. With any successful innovation or project, you always get things that don’t go as perfectly as you may have hoped. But if you don’t make those steps forward, you’re never going to get better and you’re never going to learn. Progression is not made by being perfect. You have to make mistakes to actually improve. And so, leaders need to find a way of encouraging failure, or learning, in a way it doesn’t destroy the business but instead builds a future. Find ways of rewarding failure, celebrate people who are exploring and finding out new things. And look at how you encourage this curiosity within your organisation. If you don’t do that then people will not want to be creative because they fear getting it wrong. You’ll kill any creativity which may have been trying to grow.