How Long Will It Take?

I’ve been cleaning out my file cabinets to get ready for an upcoming move to a new building.  Buried in a long-forgotten file folder, I found a 1999 “Innovation Survey” by Price Waterhouse Coopers.  Many readers of my blog already know that just about every consulting firm now publishes an annual innovation survey; the best known are Boston Consulting Group (published in connection with Business Week magazine) and Booz Allen Hamilton (published in their own magazine, Strategy+Business).  The amazing thing about the 1999 PWC report is that it is right on the money.  Remember my blog posting from last week, about Gary Hamel’s “Inventing the Future of Innovation” conference?  Just about every recommendation that we came up with was already in this 1999 report.  Here’s a sampling:

* The critical role of knowledge management in gathering, discussing, and disseminating new ideas from both inside and outside the firm

* Innovation can’t be limited to a separate group, like an R&D lab; it has to be everyone’s responsibility and be built into everyday ways of working

* Diverse teams generate better ideas

* The most critical element of an innovative culture is trust between people that will enable them to share ideas freely

* Survey respondents fall into two management styles: managed (planned, systemic) and open (radical, discontinous initiatives that have no obvious connection with past successes; balancing the consensual and the anarchic).  Of the top 20% of performers in their survey, 75% displayed the open style; of the top 5%, all displayed the open style.

If you’ve read my book GROUP GENIUS, you know that I wasn’t surprised by any of this.  But what is surprising is that this knowledge has been around for so long, for at least ten years, and the majority of companies still aren’t paying attention.  If we all get together in ten more years for another “future of management” conference, it would be pretty depressing if nothing in the corporate world has changed.

Expert consultants to the report included: Mark Brown and Dominic Swords of Henley Management College; Scott Isaksen, Brian Dorval, and Ken Lauer of the Creative Problem Solving Group at Buffalo; Gerard Puccio of the Center for Studies in Creativity; and Chris Dewberry of Birkbeck College.  The report originated in the U.K. and has a distinctly U.K. flavor (or “flavour”?) but the findings are valid in every region.

2 thoughts on “How Long Will It Take?

  1. Keith,
    I was not surprised that the PWC survey had found the same things ten years ago that had come up in your meeting/forum. I’ve worked as a consultant for over two decades on communication, culture change and process improvement and more recently innovative thinking. Many of the same ideas are recycled after a number of years into new packaging. Companies, and I want to be careful not to make this an all or nothing statement, may start to practice new ways of doing things but they frequently do not get woven into the permanent infrastructure of the organization so fade away or a new boss comes in who wants credit for starting something new so a new program is added, the very definition of which means it will end. Or perhaps the next generation comes on board and they were not schooled in the issues of say, trust, so things revert to the old way. I’ve just begun reading your book so I’m on shaky ground but, one of the ideas behind teams over the past decade was to obtain the power of many minds through collaboration. Sometimes it worked well and sometimes it didn’t. I’m looking forward to reading new ideas on this effort, and about improvisation. I heard Debbie Kimmet speak, previously of Second City, and what she learned in working with highly competitive comedic individuals who had to play off and work with each other to make improvisation a success. Thanks for your columns, I’ve enjoyed them.

  2. Thank you for your comment! I should add that I absolutely believe that management scholars have discovered new things about organizational innovation in the years since 1999. At the “Inventing the Future of Management” conference, we collectively came up with 25 key recommendations; the ten PWC recommendations are a subset of those. And, in some cases, some of our similar ideas, even though they are recognizable in the PWC list, are subtly different now, but even though subtle the newer view is more likely to result in success.

    Managers have had almost 10 years to learn about and implement the 10 PWC recommendations, and yet very few companies have even gotten started. The recommendations obviously weren’t just a management fad, because our group of experts still found them to be true, almost ten years later.

    What we’re hoping is that the high reputations of the powerhouse gurus in the group will get more managers to start listening. The first step will be to post everything on the Management Lab web site; they’re working on it right now.

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