Accelerating Innovation in Small and Medium-sized Business

Accelerating Innovation in Small and Medium-sized BusinessIn a previous Innovation Excellence post on innovation for small business I encouraged thinking about how a culture of innovation can be created within a business, where creative change could be made and what actions could be taken to encourage innovation and arrive at specific new ideas. I have taken a lot of inspiration from a lecture by Professor Costas Markides from the London Business School, hosted by the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I’d like to summarise some of his most pertinent points to which I have added my own thoughts. Hopefully they will be helpful to those of you looking to accelerate innovation in your own organisations.

  1. Innovation will only be achieved in an organisation that has in place the culture to support it. Costas Markides stresses that small firms have the skills and competences for discovery in abundance (playful cultures, no bureaucracy, freedom to experiment etc). So if you are a smaller business you are already in a great place to begin your innovation journey – what can you do to create that culture and inspire innovation?
  2. Begin simply by writing down 20 ideas that you think will help to promote a culture of innovation and set about making them happen.
  3. But be clear about who has responsibility for leading the innovation agenda and provide them with the support to do it. Costas Markides provides an amusing anecdote about how too often leadership teams proclaim that we must be innovative yet they fail to define who we is. An absence of any activity and ‘social loafing’ is the outcome, the notion that somebody else will do it.
  4. Remember that innovation isn’t about inventing the next iPod or Smartphone. Recognise that there are many different types of innovation such as product innovation, process innovation, technological innovation and business model innovation. There are also different levels of innovation such as radical, disruptive and incremental. Be clear where it is that you and your team are looking to focus.
  5. The tenet of any good strategy, focus and be action-specific. The challenge is to translate the general goal into tangible actions. Identify owners, responsibilities and timescales then progress can be tracked and evaluated.

Costas Markides is clear that creativity is only one (important) stage of innovation (implementation being another highly important stage). But here is a final nugget of information that he shared which marvellously illustrates the simplicity of the human thinking. In the 1960s, NASA asked creativity researcher Dr. George Land to develop a way to assess the creativity of its engineers. This is he did and decided afterwards to undertake the same assessment on children. Testing the children at 5 year intervals, this is what he found:

  • At 3-5 years of age, 98% of children ranked as creative geniuses
  • At 8-10 years of age, 32% of children ranked as creative geniuses
  • At 13-15 years of age this figure fell to just 10%
  • By the time the children had reached 25 and above, only 2% of them ranked as creative geniuses

Wow, I think you’ll agree that is startling. But why such pronounced results? For Costas Markides it is because we are, as human beings, brought up to conform but young children have not yet had conformity hardwired into their brains. So conformity stifles innovation, but it is the easy option. How will you and your business be different?

Dr. George Land relays the full story below in a video that I would really encourage you to watch:

I’d like to thank Professor Costas Markides and Deloitte for providing the inspiration for this post. If you ever get the opportunity to listen to Costas Markides speak then make sure you do – he is highly informed, engaging and amusing all at the same time!

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    What Does Innovation Mean for Smaller Business? Richard Hughes-Jones is an experienced management consultant, having spent most of his career with Deloitte UK and working in a senior management role for Her Majesty’s Treasury. He now works with ambitious startups, established businesses and social enterprises that are pursuing sustainable high growth, bringing strategic business thinking and helping them to formulate and execute their ideas through innovative but realistic and coordinated approaches. Richard blogs about a range of business issues at and is on Twitter @FireLDN

This entry was posted in Build Capability, Creativity, Entrepreneurship, Innovation Perspectives, People & Skills, Strategy, Uncategorized, culture. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Accelerating Innovation in Small and Medium-sized Business

  1. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Accelerating Innovation...

  2. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Accelerating Innovation...

  3. Dear all,

    I just wanted to add one little but important comment:

    In an SME what it has 50% of the importance is the support and attitude from the top managers. If they really believe in innovation, there are possibilities. Otherwise the failure is near.

    Bernat Recasens Vert

  4. Pingback: TEDxTucson George Land The Failure Of Success (by… | Photo Stupid

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