Learning Innovation from Others

I was in a meeting with a CEO the other day who is confronting the possibility that what sustained the business for the last few decades is probably not going to deliver growth for the future. Tim and I have been working with him for over a year and we both rate him very highly as a manager and strategist. What impressed me in his thinking about the future of the business was how willing he was to look outside his industry for examples of innovation and business models.

Not only was he looking for new ideas on how to respond to emerging competitive threats, he also wanted business analogies so he could explain to his senior management team where he wanted to take the company. Analogies are powerful tools for thinking and learning. It’s easy to dimiss an idea because it comes from a different context but looking outside your industry is one of the best ways to break out of the dominant logic that constrains so many organizations.

Last year we launched the Brisbane Innovation Scorecard in collaboration with Brisbane Marketing, Brisbane Marketing, Deloitte and Queensland Government. The main idea of the project was that we would track the innovation performance of the Brisbane econonmy. Almost as an afterthought, we included case studies of firms that were using innovation to compete in industries where we don’t usually look for innovation. These included meat processing, boat building and heavy engineering. All of these examples had lessons that I continued to use in the classroom throughout the year.

I wasn’t the only one who found valuable insights in these cases and the feedback from many people was that the cases helped them to see how they could be innovative in their business, even though they were often dismissed as being in a ‘low-tech’ area. Most of the cases showed that the division between high-tech and low-tech was meaningless with the manufacturing and food processing businesses developing several smart teachnologies to improve the final product.

The Brisbane Innovation Scorecard 2011 will be launched on the 21st of July and tickets are still available. We use a survey developed at Cambridge University as part of a transnational innovation study of the UK, Australia and New Zealand to measure the innovation performance of the Brisbane business community but the real stars of the launch are the case studies. These organizations show that innovation matters to all organizations and is essential for meeting the challenges of the current business environment.