12 years ago I wrote my MBA dissertation on the subject of disruptive innovation and the impact of new technologies. One of the observations related to the role of chance – many successful and innovative products are either accidents or result from accidental encounters.
In some cases after something failed in its original purpose it turned out to be great for something else. Post Its and Viagra are cases in point. The code that underpins Twitter was written in two weeks by Jack Dorsey for use in dispatch routing for taxi cabs but he thought it might be good to just put it out on the internet and see what happens. He is worth an estimated £1.6 billion now.
Alternatively technologies are sometimes released without knowing if or how they will be adopted at all – it is the end users themselves that define their use. Text messaging comes to mind.
The universal element in these examples is the “frog kissing” principle – if you kiss enough frogs, one will be a prince (or indeed a princess). We are not good at kissing frogs in local public services – we tend to only want to kiss one frog and it flipping well better be the prince. Failure is deemed as damning.
To stretch the analogy a bit, we also take absolutely ages to decide whether or not to kiss the frog and as a result it, metaphorically, hops off.
No doubt this chimes a chord – never before have we needed to be more creative in local public services. Simply applying the big stick and driving out waste to increase productivity is not going to be sufficient – look at any council’s “graph of doom”. The savings required are just too big. What’s needed are different ways of working with communities and businesses, and across the public sector as a whole. Ive written a short piece on this in our Q1 newsletter (http://inetwork.dns-systems.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/iNetwork-Q1-Newsletter.pdf)
Sadly we also know that the sector tends to need a push to be innovative. We need a touch of burning platform – to use Kotter’s label. The conundrum comes from the capacity impact of the budget constraints. By focusing on short term productivity gains within individual services we tend to reduce creativity and squeeze out the potential for exploring new ways of working.
We have mapped what a number of organisations are doing already to address this and will be doing more – drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy and to share ideas. There are also videos on our website from Paul Matthews, Chief Executive of Monmouthshire County Council, and Jason Gooding, Chief Executive of Carlisle City Council on this – see http://i-network.org.uk/resources/video-library-2/winter-conference-2013-delivering-whole-systems-change.
For those interested in the process of innovation, I dont think you can do much better that Charles Leadbetter’s superb TED talk from back in 2005: http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_leadbeater_on_innovation