Leading Change - speeding innovation

Leading Change - speeding innovation

How can innovation be promoted and speeded up?

Innovation will be required to adapt to life in a world of 9 billion people

“…we need an ‘industrial revolution’ for sustainability, starting now” (Schellnhuber, 2008)

What is innovation?

“…using new ideas or applying current thinking in fundamentally different ways that result in significant change” (IBM, 2006).
Crucially this may involve transfer of practices from one sector or geography to another.

Why do we do it like this?

Information and capacity restrict our ability to make rational decisions. As a result much practice is governed by routines of well understood processes and knowledge (Nelson and Winter, 1982). At a systems level, structural and social norms can create technology ‘lock-in’. Innovations must break through this to succeed.

The risk and credibility gap - “Can you guarantee it will work?”

Our sector has responsibilities for public and environmental safety. Failure costs lives and happens in public. Consequently we are (understandably) risk averse.
How can we innovate faster in this environment?

The shape of change:

The path of innovation from niche idea to standard practice can be idealised as an s-curve (Lowcarbonworks, 2009) In order to succeed, innovations must cross a credibility gap before achieving a critical first successful project, a mass of support, and the potential for widespread adoption.



Schellnhuber, J (19/11/2008) Chief Scientific Advisor to Angela Merkl, German Chancellor; quoted in Guardian, Ian McEwan
IBM Global Business Services (2006) People and Innovation: Getting ideas on the table Nelson and Winter (1982)


Collaborate, and experiment to challege the underlying system

Bridging the gap (Ainger, 2010)
The challenge is to persuade key stakeholders (managers/ regulators/consumers/financers etc) that an innovation could work. To improve the business case of an embryonic idea, consider:

  • ‘What if’ desk studies to test implications/outcomes cheaply and quickly
  • Small scale pilot projects to gain credibility or discover problems
  • Timing; take action on your idea at the right time in the project, economic and political cycles

Institutional space
In reality, individuals must work with or within corporate and public institutions. To foster innovation, these environments should be geared to provide space, funding and flexibility for their employees. They should reward success but not stigmatise failure.
Leadership (government and private) therefore has a significant role to play in developing innovation and creating planned opportunities for experiment. In less conducive environments, individuals may need a radically different approach.

… we must shift our thinking…away from particular technologies toward the complex system of which they are a part. (Lowcarbonworks, 2009)

Collaborate to redefine the scope of the problem

The MDGs are targeted at complex problems, spanning many sectors, continents and cultures. They will only be solved through collaboration to share risks and rewards. A transition away from fragmented thinking to a holistic, systems approach is needed.

Three levels of change

  1. Niche-innovations: gather credibility through learning, performance improvements and support from powerful groups.
  2. Shifting landscape: economic/social/political changes create pressure on the establishment.
  3. Change in establishment: provides opportunities for niche-innovations.
<(Geels and schot, 2007)


Lowcarbonworks (2009) Insider Voices: Human dimensions of low carbon technology
Ainger, C (2010) Inventing the future- a sustainability strategy for water, AWA Ozwater Conference Adapted from Geels and Schot (2007)