Good for business: Activating your inner innovator


In the latest edition of The Brief we speak with former host of ABC’s The New Inventors, James O’Loghlin, about ways in which companies can create a culture that encourages innovation.


Innovation is how we got from the world of 1791 to the world of today, and it’s how we get to the future.” These are the words of television and radio host, author and one of Australia’s most respected, entertaining and experienced corporate speakers, James O’Loghlin.


James describes innovation as “the force that drives human progress”.


From corporate and criminal lawyer to stand-up comedian and then media personality and presenter, James is best known as the host of more than 300 episodes of The New Inventors on ABC TV.


And it was this role that fuelled his interest in innovation, a subject upon which he now regularly gives keynote speeches. In them he shares practical techniques we can all use every day to become more innovative, and discusses ways in which companies can create a culture that encourages innovation.


When James started hosting The New Inventors he quickly became aware of the remarkable things Australians were creating.


“I wanted to find out how innovators were able to live in the same world as the rest of us, but when we see a problem, they see an opportunity. I discovered innovators come from all walks of life, and covered a huge range of jobs and personality types,” he said.


“I wanted to find out how they did it. The most important thing I learnt was that innovation is not a talent you either have or don’t have. It’s a skill anyone can learn.”


James said businesses needed to continually innovate or risk being left behind.


“Having met hundreds of inventors and innovators while hosting The New Inventors I can tell you that innovators are not a special, select breed. We all have the capacity to be one,” he said.


“Innovators think really hard about ways to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities. They turn their phones off, stare out the window and think. Not all day, but for a part of every day. And if they go three days without having an idea, they try again on the fourth. And eventually the ideas come.


“When they have ideas, they value them. No one knows whether an idea is any good at first. There only way to find out if it is any good is to grow it, nurture it, test it, and if it works, implement it.


“The greatest resource any organisation has is the space between the ears of its people, but many organisations don’t get anywhere near full value from it.


“No one knows more about your organisation than the people who work in it. Staff know what systems work well, and which need improvement.


“They know what customers love and what they hate. And yet many organisations, even those that understand innovation is important, don’t harvest the ideas of their people to improve the way they do things. Organisations that don’t ask their staff how to improve the business miss out on all that expertise.

“You just need to get your people into the habit of being innovative, and get them to see innovation as being a part of their job every day, rather than as something it would be nice to do if they ever had time after they have finished all their real work.”


Making it clear innovation was the work James said was the first step to building a culture of innovation within a business.


“Make it a KPI, not an optional extra, that everyone from the receptionist to the CEO has to have, and share, one new idea every month. It doesn’t have to be a great idea, it doesn’t have to work, but it does have to be something,” he said.


“Create a clear, credible and transparent system for harvesting, assessing and growing those ideas so you can find the best ones that will improve your business and implement them.


“Think of it as an innovation pipeline, like a sales pipeline. All the ideas go in the bottom, the best ones come out the top. You need to resource the pipeline and work out timelines, accountabilities and tests. Build it and it will pay dividends.”


Whether we believe it or not, innovation is something we can all do, and it’s something James said all workers should do.


“When we were kids, we were innovative all the time, making up games, inventing new adventures,” he said.


“Some of us may be out of practice at being innovative, but we all have the ability. Being motivated to be innovative isn’t enough. You need a method.


“There are a series of steps anyone can learn. The first is to look for opportunities for innovation. That means keeping your eyes open for anything that is not working perfectly in your business. Each time you find something imperfect, you’ve found an opportunity for innovation. The next step is to think of a way of making it a little bit better.”


James suggested, when vetting job candidates, recruiters should do two things to identify if someone had a hunger for innovation.


“Firstly, ask them to tell you one thing from their previous workplace that wasn’t perfect,” he said.


“Then ask them to tell you what could be done to improve the opportunity for innovation they just identified. Leave the room for a couple of minutes to give them a chance to think.


“I run workshops where I do exactly this. Thousands of people have attended these workshops over the years, and at the end of three or four minutes every one of them has, on their own, come up with an idea to improve their business.”


While James is adamant each and every one of us should be focusing more on innovation and improving our businesses, he said it was often the case that come the end of the year, for some reason, it just hadn’t happened.


So what went wrong? What factors stop us from being innovative, and how can we overcome them?

The most common excuse to a lack of innovation is a lack of time. James suggested devoting five minutes a day, every day, to innovation practice.


“Notice things that aren’t perfect, and work on ways to improve them,” he said.


Lack of confidence was another roadblock, but James insisted not everyone had to be a Steve Jobs.

“Everyone can be innovative. Identify problems, work on solutions. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. It’s a learned skill, not a talent,” he said.


“Getting so used to doing things one way that you forget there might be another better way is also a common issue.


“Regularly question everything you do and ask ‘is it possible there might be a better way of doing this?’ Often you’ll say no, but sometimes you’ll identify an opportunity for innovation.”


The value of innovation in Australia according to James is priceless. “Every part of the economy is built on innovation,” he said.


“Everything in the world that is person-made – buildings, kettles, phones, chairs, toothbrushes – is the result of human innovation. Without innovation, there wouldn’t be an economy.”


In 2021, innovation is especially important because the world is changing faster than ever before, and to keep up we need to keep working out better ways of doing things.”


“If your organisation is doing things as well as it can today, that’s great, but that is unlikely to cut it in 2023 or even 2051.


“If you are constantly looking for ways to do things better, then instead of being dumped by the next wave of disruption, you will be able to surf it. The status quo appears to be comfortable, but it’s dangerous because it won’t last. We know that change is now constant, and organisations have to keep changing to stay relevant.


“Innovation is good for your business. It can also be exciting and fun so go ahead and do it.”

To find out more about James visit www.jamesologhlin.com.

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