Learning, Reflection and Innovation - The Third Element

Whilst it is often hard to argue with the innovative imperative, we often struggle with actually making it happen.  The good news is that we know a lot about this.”

Professor John Bessant (University of Exeter)

Watch euwin’s video on employment driven innovation  featuring four very different organisations, all of which create spaces in where people can step back from their day-to-day tasks to generate ideas for improvement and innovation. 

Great organisations understand that a continual stream of ideas is a vital resource for improvement and innovation. They create times and spaces where people can discuss ideas with their co-workers or in their team meetings. They set up buzz boards where ideas can be shared and dedicated spaces where people can think in different ways together. They encourage meetings in cafés, a creative time away from the immediate pressures of the workplace. They enable ad hoc teams, awaydays, and times when people who otherwise wouldn’t meet are mixed together, a pool of dialogue and creativity.

It can be as simple as establishing regular forums that enable staff at all levels of an organisation to leave job titles and hierarchies behind, and to explore new ideas through open and free-thinking discussion. In Devon and Cornwall Police these forums have generated great ideas for improving the service at a time of financial stringency. Electric bicycles, for example, are a great way of improving visibility while ensuring that officers can cover enough territory in remote rural areas. Likewise opportunities such as Down Tools Week at Red Gate Software enable staff to step back from the day job to develop their own ideas for new products and ways of working. 

Ideas for improving the business should also be part of the day job. Innocent encourages staff at every level to think continuously about ideas for improvement and innovation. Being 70% sure that an idea will work is sufficient to get the support needed to take it forward. The Met Office argues strongly that new ideas can come from anyone. A network of volunteers recruited from every level of the organisation is gradually establishing a culture of innovation in ways that break down silos and release new waves of creativity.

John Bessant is one of Europe’s leading experts on employee involvement and innovation. Here he discusses the important role that employees play in innovation with euwin’s Peter Totterdill:

When considering employee driven innovation (EDI), John Bessant’s starting point is a conviction that every single human being is immensely creative. But how do we mobilise that innate creativity?

John says: “We know that individual innovation amplified across the whole organisation will make a difference but we have to manage how people understand the potential of EDI and how it can be implemented.

“We need to create enabling infrastructures and strategic direction to make EDI happen as well as nurturing an understanding that it is a long term, continuous and evolving process and not a magic wand intervention, although technological advance means participation can be instantaneous – intranets and social media help employees add to others’ ideas enhancing the reach and richness of innovative thinking.

“If organisations don’t change what they offer and the ways they create and deliver that offering, their products and services and the processes that drive them will get left behind.  Smart organisations think about it ahead of the crisis.”

The challenge of implementation is twofold.  Firstly managers responsible for organisational outcomes, including quality and productivity, must be persuaded that the need to involve employees in innovation and improvement does not mean they have been doing a bad job.  Secondly, senior managers must actively and vocally support employee involvement in innovation and provide the strategic direction required to make it happen.

Learning, Reflection and Innovation

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