Where does real innovation come from?


Innovation has been heralded as the solution to sustainability in our current VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) global business environment. As a result, everyone is coming up with consulting approaches and training courses designed to instill a culture of innovation and produce more innovative thinking and  outcomes.

Stanford University’s Center for Professional Development has an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate (8 courses required). MIT Advanced Management Program has numerous innovation courses, as does IE Business School in Madrid.  Mega-consulting firms KPMG and IBM have linked innovation with technology and big data as a way to drive new insights and innovative thinking. And many global organizations are beefing up their R&D functions and investing heavily in new ideas and new products.  Innovation is all about creating new ways to deliver greater value.

Institutionalized Innovation?


When it comes to societal and business advancement and value creation, I tend to look not at the big, institutionalized functions or activities, but instead search for those few individuals who, as Steve Jobs says, “get it”.  But what does “get it” really mean?  Are they geniuses with ideas popping out of their head every minute of every day? Are they deep thinkers who put multiple bits of data together in new and innovative ways?

Let me offer a different approach to developing more innovation and delivering greater business and social value?

I believe innovation comes from individuals who are profoundly dissatisfied with the way things are and are willing to take action to make improvements.

Here is a simple example.  We all know the oceans are in trouble. Overfishing, pesticides and fertilizers entering the oceans via streams and rivers, and one of the biggest problems, trash in the oceans that not only wash up onto beaches and ruin the tourism economies, and plastics in the oceans that kill fish and birds and damage the ocean ecosystems with absorbed pesticides and small pieces of micro-plastics. And one of the biggest ocean ecological problems is the growing floating garbage patches found now in 5 major ocean locations where currents form circular patterns called “gyres”.

Everyone associated with businesses and economies that rely on the oceans know about and are concerned about these massive floating garbage gyres.


So?  A growing ecological problem, but to most companies, this fits into the “too hard” category, which really means in business terms, too costly to do anything about and with no real return on investment for decades.  Something Wall Street is not interested investing in.

Yet one dissatisfied young man is bringing innovative thinking to the problem and even if his ideas are not fully implementable yet, he is furthering the debate.  His name is Boyan Slat and here is his TED-X talk.

Where does innovation really come from?  

I believe innovation begins with dissatisfied individuals who have a mindset of accountability (make a difference) instead of a victim mindset (nothing I can do). The trick is to find those individuals, fan their dissatisfaction while at the same time supporting them with resources.  And I believe every business is populated with several of these unique individuals.  We just aren’t looking for them.

Here is a simple template I often use to help companies find those nascent innovators.

Accountability Innovation

When you find those who are both dissatisfied and have a mindset of accountability, I suggest you do your best to channel them into productive and innovative endeavours. They will spark others and soon you will have a “center of innovation” working hard inside your organization to deliver real value for the future.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  ― Margaret Mead

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!



About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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