Threat of ideas: how to survive the innovation age, p13, Australian Financial Review, Jan 2-4. Michael Smith suggests fear of competition will prompt change at many companies but the panic may be overdone. Google’s Australian head engineer says that completion is just one click away. Google’s Australian HQ is designed to promote mixing of staff and collaboration so as to stimulate new ideas. He says that companies cannot reply on their cash cow for fear of impacting on their current business. However, if they don’t do it someone else will. Google is aware that two young people could come out of a garage with a really cool idea that could disrupt their business, because that’s how Google started. Schumpeter’s ‘creative disruption’ concept was cited as a key concept. David Whiteing, the Commonwealth Bank’s CIO went with CBA’s whole Board to Silicon Valley to look at areas of potential change. Whiteing was dazzled by ‘the combination of a highly entrepreneurial and collaborative environment with the discipline that venture capital brings to a business.’ They key for the CBA group was that ‘it was not about the technology per se but the but about the capability you have in your team and the value and culture you are going to promote’. The CBA has an ‘innovation lab’, where staff work in open plan environments to test new products. Westpac has a similar ‘innovation incubator’. Whiteing speaks of being ‘paranoid and responding fast to stay ahead of competition. However, the CBA realises they have to keep the majority of their staff, who are not involved in change, motivated.
There is much debate around large companies and academia about how disruptive change can be. However, change can be rapid, the company Uber is now a US$40B company operating in 250 cities in just five years. Uber (and Airbnb) is about making better use of assets you already have. However, its not just new start-ups that are doing new things, Rio Tinto is using big data analysis on how to better manage its 15 iron ore mines in the Pilbara in WA. The speed with which new products can be accepted is an issue. Facebook took five years to get 50M customers. However, the new computer game Angry Birds took only 15 days to get 50M customers. They key message from the many executives interviewed for this article said that the answer lies somewhere in the field of culture and having the right staff in place rather than the technology itself. Google’s chief engineer for Australia summed it up by saying ‘I’ve been a technologist all my life but I’ve just learned that people and culture are ultimately what drives innovation.’
However, you still need to keep an eye on the technology. The SBS program on the Battle of Bannockburn in Scotland in 1314 (7 30 pm, Sundays 4 and 11 January) showed how the Scots developed massed spearmen to fight the English knights. The Swiss developed the same fighting system. All worked well for 200 years until metallurgy allowed the development of cannons. At the Battle of Flodden in 1513, English cannons smashed the Scottish spearmen. Nasty.
The team and the culture for innovation…..
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