Slow Innovation

Around fifteen years ago, the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was strolling past a new MacDonald’s franchise in the centre of Rome and launched a major eating revolution. He paused and said: If this is fast food, why not have slow food? There have been other ‘slow’ movements such as ‘slow education’. In the business world there is huge pressure to deliver results ‘fast’, but do the changes we make, the consultants we employ, and the money we spend create a lasting difference to our businesses? We seem to make a constant stream of satisficing decisions that just get us by, until the next crisis that is.

In much the same way as the other ‘slow’ movements, I began thinking about ‘slow innovation’. Innovation has become a buzzword, if we just come up with some good ideas and do some market research then we are bound to get some new products into the market and ensure the future success of our organisation – right? Not necessarily.

What we have created, with our knee jerk reactions, is the fast business, driven by objectives that have not been thought through. What seems to matter is the outcome, not the process. In our quest to achieve a short term goal we have neglected the systems that should be put in place to properly manage ideas, to ‘un manage’ our employees, to create the right culture, ensure that our money is spent wisely and create a long term programme that will avoid a constant stream of (expensive) knee jerk interventions. As with fast food, these events are not pleasurable for our shareholders or staff. We will suffer from obesity (consultant overload), additives (things we do not need), hypertension (change fatigue) and of course an empty wallet. This is Taylor’s scientific management applied in the wrong context.

The route to slow innovation means savouring the flavours of diversity and learning, blending ideas and know how and ultimately becoming self sufficient. In our fast consumer society we can throw away what we grow tired of or find not to our taste. We cannot throw away our businesses and start again. Slow Innovation, the sustainable way, is surely a better way to create the business of the future.


Sun Tzu – ancient author or Leadership guru?

In the field of leadership and management we are being constantly bombarded by new fads, some useful and some not so useful. In recent years we have seen charismatic leadership, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, level five leadership, emotional intelligence (EQ) and now spirituality.

These are all useful models and without them we would be hard pressed to make sense of the complexities of modern organisations and the people that lead them. But where do these models come from? Do they emerge from some sort of primeval soup, do people sit down in their offices and carefully construct them, or have they all appeared somewhere before?

How far have we really come with Leadership Thinking? If we go back to Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War', a 2,500 year old book on military strategy, we find that much of its teaching is still relevant to us today.What we do not see there, are the patterns and cycles to tell us what is next. Could it be that the next 'great thing' is sitting there on page forty two or is something big coming that we cannot see?

If you are interested, you should read the book for yourself. In a nutshell it has thirteen chapters ranging from Making of Plans to Espionage, all set in an Oriental context, many years ago. We need to use metaphor to draw out the learning. For instance the chapter Empty and Full provides lessons on leading from the front and leadership qualities that look like charismatic leadership. If you look carefully you can also find links to emotional intelligence and spirituality. So what's next?

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