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Off the Record: Innovation is a risky business

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This month’s issue of Fast Company carries its list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies and, lo and behold, Facebook and Twitter did not make the cut.

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. Facebook and Twitter have been working off the same model for years now and while they are admittedly models that work, it’s just not, what’s that word… innovative.

Over the past couple of months, one thing I’ve been hearing quite a bit about is how some companies are still holding on to old practices and policies because of “legacy”.

Yes, much like Facebook and Twitter, there isn’t anything wrong with not fixing what isn’t broken, but the world is moving at such a rapid pace that if you don’t keep up, you’re as good as done (read: Nokia).

This is not to say that you should conduct a complete overhaul of your processes and apply a structure that might have a high chance of backfiring. No. Keep the systems that are working, but don’t be a stickler and say, “Oh you know what, that’s it. It’s good, it’s running, let’s just keep it.”

There is absolutely no harm in keeping an open mind about making small tweaks to make your organisation run better. In the words of Daft Punk, do what you’re doing, but do it “harder, better, faster, stronger”.

Last August, I wrote a feature on employee innovation and for months leading up to it, I struggled with the concept of “employee innovation”. It’s easy to look at innovation from a product and services standpoint, but how do you get people to innovate themselves?

That requires not only a shift in culture but also an environment which supports such growth.

“Innovation is a philosophy, but it is also a process,” Professor Hervé Mathe, dean of ESSEC Asia Pacific, told me.

Innovation can be a scary process, I will admit that. Even in our offices, every time the bosses call for a town hall to discuss a slight change in operations, a bolt of fear runs down my spine.

But if I have learnt anything in the past couple of years, it is that sometimes the leap of faith pays off.

Mathe said the easiest way to kick off a more innovative culture is by adhering to the age old rule of allowing employees to make mistakes.

“If employees don’t take risks, they are not taking the risk of success. If people are to be adaptable to changes, they have to be reactive and creative, and they have to take risks,” he said.

As the first quarter of the year draws to a close (can you believe we’re a week into March?), it may be a good time to sit down with the team and see how the HR function within your organisation can make small but critical changes to help employees feel more comfortable with thinking outside the box.

We’ll be discussing more talent management strategies at Talent Management 2013 next week, held at the Novotel Clarke Quay on 12-13 March. Go to for more information.

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