We Need Less Talk of Innovation and More Evidence of Impact


In my last post I looked at why change fails and how most corporate programmes are destined for failure. Year on year, huge resources are invested in them. Yet we somehow hope for a different outcome. 

The biggest reason change fails is employee resistance. Indeed – it’s the downfall of nearly 40% of programmes.

However, this isn’t employees trying to block change – rather they never thought it necessary in the first place. It’s a solution to a problem that they don’t recognise.

One of the big lessons I’ve learned from working in innovation is pretty much everyone thinks their idea needs attention. In reality almost always there’s a need for a more detailed problem definition before we run off changing things.

Lack of clarity about the problem we are trying to fix can lead to the Unholy Trinity:

  • Corporate Initiative-itis: The condition of equating innovation with being busy – whilst forgetting about scrutiny and evaluation.
  • Vanity Projects: Things that only got pushed through because of seniority, overly generous funding or organisational arrogance.
  • Walking Dead: Projects that look good on paper but don’t actually solve anyone’s problem – whilst costing a lot of (usually someone else’s) money.

All three are the result of ill defined objectives or poor impact evaluation.

To learn more we need to look at how successful change adoption really happens.

What the invention of the tea bag teaches us about change

The tea bag was originally intended as a non-consumer item. It was a way to provide restaurants with small samples of leaves before they placed orders. Tea leaves were packed and sown into small silk bags with instructions to slit open the bag with a knife, pour the leaves out, and put them into a sieve and brew.

But instead of opening the bags, potential customers found that it was faster to just throw the bag into a cup and pour boiling water directly over it.

This unintended innovation solved three problems:

  • No more messy leaves going all over the place.
  • The elimination of a complex brewing process.
  • A form of easy disposal – just throw the bag in the bin.

The fact it solved multiple problems made it relatively easy to market teabags. Customers recommended to other customers as it made their lives easier. The change went viral.  

But most corporate initiatives aren’t tea bags. They often don’t solve ANY problem, never mind three at once. And rarely is the change introduced anywhere other than from the top. 

Change for change’s sake doesn’t always result in progress.

Start with the problem

A good starting point is this:Change.001

Just being new isn’t good enough anymore.

We don’t have the luxury of unlimited resources. Public trust in innovation is no longer implicit.  We know from the Edelman Trust Barometer that innovation on its own is not perceived as an inherent demonstration of forward progress, despite the near reverence for the term.

51% of people think the pace of change is too great , with many ‘innovations’ appearing untested and unproven.

All across the social sector we are in for a tough decade. With the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills facing cuts between 25 to 40%, the good times are well and truly over for innovation types.

Show Me The Data

It’s time innovation and change demonstrates impactImpact is the less sexy , geekier twin of Innovation – but they need each other to survive.

Today – it’s the execution and impact of innovation and change that really matters. Not the relentless cheerleading.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 20.35.30

It’s a micro sample admittedly. But a quick Twitter poll shows over 80% of people feel there’s room for improvement in how we evidence impact.

Storytelling is great , but now is the time for evidence.

Every change programme. Every organisation, lab, hub, funder and think tank must show:

  • How we solve problems for people.
  • How we realise savings.
  • How we make the world a better place.

We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate a new model of achieving change. We just need to prove it.

[Footnote: We’ve got a long way to go at Bromford – but here’s our latest social value report. Current tests and pilots are listed on the Bromford Lab Trello Board where evaluations will appear in due course. Please note we are currently updating the site so if information is hard to find – let me know.)