We need less talk about innovation and more about mediocrity

  “The only way to get mediocre is one step at a time. But you don’t have to settle. It’s a choice you get to make every day.” – Seth Godin


In my last post I named innovation as the most overused word of 2014.

It’s consistently misapplied to things that really aren’t innovative at all. Plus there’s now a surfeit of Labs , Accelerators and Hubs that have turned innovation into an industry all based around – umm –  being innovative.

But as self serving as the innovation industry is becoming there’s a much bigger problem.

Ever since I made THAT comment about drones – I’ve been asked more about the return on investment of innovation than I have in the past 10 years.

So what makes us question its value? Why do we apply scrutiny to people working in innovation in a way we don’t to other functions like Operations, IT, Communications, HR or Finance?

Maybe it’s human nature to pay a lot more attention to new things whilst ignoring the waste we build up around us.  When things have been around forever we stop noticing there are almost always better ways of doing things.

Here’s an example:

Something new:

Bromford announce an Innovation Lab with a fairly modest investment (four full time colleagues at a cost of less than 1% of total surplus). But despite only being a few months old we’ve had calls to externally publish our business plan, targets, costs and outcomes. The leadership of Bromford has been called into question for allowing such apparent waste.

Something old:

There are 1700 housing associations registered in the UK. So that’s 1700 CEOs. And probably about 5000 boards as each HA seems to have at least two or three. That simply cannot be efficient. But no one questions it.

Now expand that thinking.

Across the NHS, which is at breaking point even though it employs more people than the entire population of Estonia.

Across Local Government , care  , support and the welfare to work sector.

Now include the funders , think tanks and all the industry bodies.

Virtually all of them will have their own network of offices with their own IT, Communications, HR and Finance functions. Most were built with pre-digital thinking and with little thought about collaboration.

And if we looked closely at those hundreds of thousands of organisations with their billions of pounds of funding we’d be able to deduce three things:

  • One third would be excellent – and have a high capability and confidence when it comes to innovation.
  • One third would be average – although they think about innovation they only occasionally transform thought into action.
  • And one third would be absolute rubbish.

So I’ve a plan. Let’s continue to challenge the self proclaimed innovators.

They should publish their outcomes and their costs.

They need to lead the way when it comes to transparency.

But why let mediocrity off so lightly?

  • Let’s start questioning the organisations that exhibit no commitment to innovation.
  • Let’s challenge the publicly funded bodies where innovation is not addressed in their strategy or values.
  • Let’s see what resources organisations are allocating to disruptive thinking.

And let’s ask them whose responsibility it is to act upon bright ideas from the public and their staff – and ensure they get explored.

Mediocrity isn’t an accident. Let’s declare war on it.

Lessons in Digital Leadership (from South Korea and Uganda)

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 16.47.37

In case you missed it: the South Korean President , Park Geun-hye , issued a press release last week that sent reverberations around the globe.

Her Klout score had gone up.

Yes , the leader of one of the most digitally connected nations on the planet , saw fit to announce that her score had risen from 65 to 82 – reflecting the “effective and positive” role of Government in efforts to connect with the public. 

Surely a leader making a fuss about their social influence scores and the rise in number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans should be concentrating on more important things?

I’m not so sure. I think engagement through social media IS important for the modern leader. As is an understanding of online influence.

She seems like fun too. I can’t understand her tweets but certainly the images accompanying her feed look more interesting than those of David Cameron. Check this out:

David Cameron - Crime and Meetings
David Cameron – Statistics and Meetings
Park Geun-hye - Toys and Funny Dog pictures
Park Geun-hye – Toy Cats and Funny Dogs

And it’s not just South Korea where you get sociable leaders. Last week I was having a twitter chat when who should wander into the conversation but Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. He popped in to thank me for my comments about his active twitter presence. Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 13.51.18

Just reflect on that statistic for one minute. 96% of his tweets are replies to the public. That is an incredible level of responsiveness and engagement that puts not just elected representatives to shame but also many organisations and brands.

So what’s the point of this post?

Well , the other day I was talking with a friend and we both realised we weren’t sure of the names of our local Councillors. We both follow quite a few highly sociable Councillors from all over the UK – but when it came to where we actually live we didn’t have a clue. Our fault or theirs?

We did a check on the online presence of a sample. We googled and checked up on 46 people and these were the results:

  • 6 had Twitter accounts (13%)
  • 2 had Facebook profiles (3%)
  • 1 was on LinkedIn
  • 2 had blogs – but hadn’t yet posted anything on them.

Catherine Howe has written about how the digital and networked society will need more digital and networked councillors. In a great piece she argues “transforming local democracy is going to take more than simply getting politicians to use Twitter.” I agree completely.

Really this isn’t about social media. It’s not even about the lack of political engagement. It’s about what appears to be a digital fault line between local leaders and the communities they represent. 

Community leaders have to embrace this new way of participation – placing themselves at the heart of networks and reaching out to collaborate and even co-produce new services.

Online presence is just the start – a minimum requirement. Establishing a relationship that values more than consultation and the occasional vote is the true challenge.

It’s time for the UK to up its game.

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