Monday, 12 September 2011

The Unseen Rip

The enemy of innovation lurks just beneath

Last week three things have reminded me how important it is to fight against the unseen rips that can drag us out to sea, rendering us incapable of changing direction.

On Monday I attended the launch of my friend Carne Ross’s latest book ‘The Leaderless Revolution’.  He’s the guy who left a high flying post at the British Foreign Office over the WMD debacle that preceded events in Iraq.  He talks about needing that feeling of ‘falling off a cliff’ in the months that followed his departure.  This self imposed no-mans land gave him the perspicacity to set up Independent Diplomat; a unique service offering counsel to groups and governments marginalised by the international system and rated by Harvard Business Review as one of the top ten global innovations of 2010. 

Tuesday night I had a farewell drink with a colleague who is launching herself into a completely new career as a market gardener – the strategy is summarised as: “I haven't worked out exactly what I’m going to do yet, my brain is 150% engaged when I’m at work, so first I need to create space to explore”.

Thursday morning I swapped notes with a colleague about a session we are involved in next week – the project called ‘Round Pound’ is sponsored by the UK Government and its aim is to spread novel forms of giving. We are part of the Round Pound team because my co founding partner at ?What If!, Dave Allan and I had an idea that for most transactions, retailers could round the total up and donate the balance to charity.  We explored the idea and trade marked the name about 10 years ago, but we got caught in the inevitable currents of life and never realised the idea.  Fortunately today, Alison Hutchinson, an ex-client of ours who is CEO of The Pennies Foundation, a UK based charity had the same idea simultaneously, but unlike us she made a brave choice, quit a great job and in the 10 months since going live, their brand Pennies, the electronic charity box has had 750,000 round pound donations raising £175,000 for 20 charities.

These are three innovation stories and for me poignant.  They don't tell me the only answer to an unrequited idea is to chuck it all in, but I think they’re great reminders that ideas are easy to come by.  Battling them to market requires incredible resolve and focus.  I think that's why my head drops when I hear clients allocate people on a part time basis to new initiatives.  If it’s that important, invest in dedicated, passionate, even obsessive people.  Allow them the space and give them the tools to break free of the current. The Emerging Technology Group in Cisco have a neat turn of phrase arguing that innovation needs to be protected in pockets away from the mother-ship where there’s too much money, too many people, too much love and too much hate.

You might want to check out Carnes fascinating story:
And the good work at Pennies: