The MemberWise Network is introducing a new monthly feature called Network Views – an opinion piece on a set monthly theme.
The purpose of this new feature is to give a voice to the thought leaders of the membership and association sector and acknowledge and celebrate their wealth of knowledge and experience. The theme for November/December is innovative ideas and practice and I am delighted to introduce Lee Davies, Chief Executive at The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA). Let’s hear Lee’s thoughts on this topic du jour.
Innovation for innovation’s sake is not innovation
(Opinion Piece by Lee Davies)
Innovation is everywhere. Or at least the word is. Books on innovation. Courses on innovation. Webinars and seminars on innovation. Blogs on innovation. Yes, blogs on innovation, just like this one. I have even seen an innovative online tool to help businesses be more innovative. Innovation innovation. You really could not make it up. But somebody did and that, for me, is the difficulty.
Innovation for innovation’s sake is not innovation.
True innovation comes from identifying any of the day-to-day challenges we face as membership organisations and testing novel solutions. True innovation comes from owning the problems associations encounter and being brave enough to try something new and different. Innovation is a disruptive act which improves the world we live in and no one has ever improved the world by allowing it to remain exactly the same.
We are in grave danger of overusing the word innovation. It is not helped by the marketing fad of joining rhyming words to create an ostensibly new way of thinking and the fact that –ation has maximum rhyming potential. Innovation nation. Innovation station. Innovation application. If we are not careful innovation exaggeration will create innovation frustration and quickly lead to innovation constipation.
I want membership bodies/associations to be truly innovative. I certainly want my organisation to be innovative but innovative organisations need problems to solve and defining the challenges an association faces must be a factor of leadership. The very best leaders of organisations in the membership space must be as good at creating or identifying problems as the people around them are at problem solving.
How often have you heard the management speak ‘do not bring me problems, bring me solutions’? It has entered the lexicon of leadership and I am sure that when most people say it they earnestly believe that they are empowering their people to be problem solvers. They are not. They are encouraging employees to forget the seemingly insurmountable challenges which almost certainly require innovative approaches and only come forward with quick fixes for innocuous problems. Leaders in innovative organisations will say ‘bring me your problems, all of them, however trivial or serious, and together we will prioritise and innovate’. In this way, the leader is aware of all of the issues, minor and major, faced by the association and is best placed to direct the creative energies of staff and volunteers.
To be truly innovative an association needs a culture of continuous improvement and continuous improvement needs continuous problems to solve. Show me a leader of an association who thinks that there are no problems to solve and I will show you a culture of stagnation, devoid of innovation. I am surrounded by problems, lots of problems. Some appear huge. Some appear small. All are potential hubs of innovation and I want the people who work with me to be free to identify problems and work together to solve them as creatively and innovatively as they can.
Really innovative associations do not limit reward only to those who are capable of identifying both the problem and its solution. Of course it is important to celebrate creative problem solving, but it is equally important to recognise the individual who spots that something is wrong and who has the ability to come forward and describe the problem even if they do not yet know the solution.
At CIPA we receive countless enquiries from the public on a daily basis, all looking for advice on protecting intellectual property rights. We are not allowed to point the public towards particular patent attorneys, instead we have an online directory. When callers are directed to the website, they often ring back to say they cannot find the directory, despite a clear and obvious link on the home page. The problem: how to reduce the time spent by staff on the phone helping the public to find a patent attorney and also improve our service to the public. The solution: buy ‘findapatentattorney.com’ and its derivatives and link it directly to the directory. Not only are calls from members of the public shorter, they are fewer in number?
Simple? Perhaps. Obvious? Maybe, but it had evaded us for years. Innovative? I think so, it has certainly changed our world for the better.
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