In two conversations with senior executives last week the challenges of running large organisations arose.
One commented that his 11 hour day hardly gives him time to stuff a sandwich in his mouth, let alone room for reflection. The other noted - with some irritation - the continued mantra of infusing the organisation with an entrepreneurial spirit to kick start innovation, while noting that nothing in their current set up imitated what an entrepreneur really does (tries and fails, driven by an ever-impending fiscal cliff concentrating the mind).
The latter conversation especially reminded me of the great quote from Peter Drucker:
“The search for innovation needs to be organisationally separate and outside of the on-going managerial business. Innovative organisations realise that one cannot simultaneously create the new and take care of what one already has.
They also realise that maintenance of the present business is far too big a task for the people in it to have much time for creating the new, the different business for tomorrow. And they also realise that taking care of tomorrow is far too big and difficult a task to be diluted with concern of today. Both tasks have to be done, But they are different.
Innovative organisations, therefore, put the new into separate organisational components concerned with the creation of the new.”
However, is it enough to merely put the new in an incubator and expect it to succeed? While ‘putting the new into separate organisational components’ is a necessary step, it’s not sufficient in itself. ‘Innovation labs’ also need the right mandate, mindsets and ‘manpower’. Merely replicating the current in a ring-fenced corner of the office only produces incremental improvements as perspectives (and incentives) are still shaped by the current.
Some other shift is needed
The conversation with the executive without time to even eat made me think of the principles of agile - coming out of the software development industry but increasingly being adapted to other industries - and whether they can be a guide for those aware enough that things as they currently stand are not quite right.
Agile principles are simple. What I’ve added below are some explanation about how they might be thought about to become applicable in other business environments: