Sunday, February 20, 2011

leadership and innovation

I am musing about something;  something that concerns me about our public service. There was an article in the Economist about changes to our wireless world.  The article spoke about what various companies are up to, mentioning Verizon which is about to launch the next wireless technology, called LTE, that will make wireless connectivity so much easier.  And you can bet that Verizon is not content to focus on LTE.  Undoubtedly, they are already thinking about and planning for what comes after LTE.  It is all about a relentless quest to innovate.  Of course, driven by a desire for increased market share.

And it makes me wonder about our public service.  Where is OUR relentless drive to innovate, to make things better?  Do we even think about what happens beyond next week, next month?  We are so driven by the now.  And we are driven by our tiny preoccupations, in our respective divisions.

What if our motivation was to continuously improve our service offerings to Canadians, while driving down the costs of those offerings?

Can innovation only occur when there is a profit motive?  Are there other ways to spur creativity and innovation in the public sector?

I worry that we are too big, too bloated and too complacent.  Things are working "okay", so there is no real impetus for change.  It reminds me a bit of our conversations in Argentina.  They too have a reasonable standard of living in a beautiful country, and so they are content to muddle along.

I am going to take a look at my sector, and what we are responsible for, and I am going to put my question to my team.  How can we continuously improve what we do, for the benefit of Canadians, while driving down our costs of doing it.

Should be an interesting conversation!


  1. I couldn't agree more. I try to challenge my team everyday - how can we do things better or differently? To question what we do what we do and why? Is there a better way? Can we stop doing things that don't contribute to results? And for employees to challenge managers and the status quo... And i also suggest that these are the questions that should be the focus of the performance reviews as well as the setting of objectives for the coming year!

  2. The initial impetus for innovation isn't - in my view - solely monetary. It is about "doing the right thing" or making what we have "better" that drives innovators. It is only after the eureka moment do we all start thinking about cash.

    Continually having this conversation is an excellent way of reminding ourselves that mediocrity is what we have - not necessarily what we need.

  3. But what makes us settle? is it fear? It is hard to stick your neck out in our public is so easy to get your head chopped off! We say we want to encourage risk-taking, but heaven forbid that anyone should fail. But some of the greatest developments grow out of failure. Is there an acceptable level of failure? What should we be prepared to tolerate in the interest of innovation?

  4. Courage...informed courage that is, otherwise it is just reckless. Informed courage is courage founded on good solid risk management principles. Change agents know this well. But when you look at change agents, you say "Wow! They are risk takers". But actually, change agents are risk averse...they are just really good at doing risk assessments and implementing approaches to mitigate risks. Sometimes, the best innovations take years, even decades. So patience is another virtue to sticking your neck out. Once I had an idea to use actors in the workplace to teach. The idea sat there waiting to pounce for almost 7 years. Finally I met a Second City Actor/comedian and together we developed a people skills development workshop using improvisation as the tool. The idea got traction with my boss but only after a few years of socializing it…then, we got to do these workshops across North America and we even got noticed by Fortune magazine who did a story. That was fun, risky (because we were teaching bean counters), and innovative. But it took years of brewing, stirring the pot, and finally, the guts to stick our necks out.