What Does Innovation Look Like?
July 28, 2016
Just having returned from China, I would like to share what I saw, heard and reflected on with the future of innovation in this country.
On my trip, I was always mindful of the fact that “innovative” is a key part of our purpose here at Kilmarnock Enterprise. I also wanted to come back armed with solid knowledge of what innovation really meant for us here and how we were applying it in our quest to be the best and most innovative service company to our industrial manufacturing clients.
The Chinese invented gunpowder, the compass, the waterwheel, paper money, long-distance banking, the civil service, and merit promotion. Until the 19th century, the Chinese economy was more open and market driven than the economies of Europe. Today, however, the general feeling is that China is a land of rule-bound rote learners where innovation is stifled by a communist-run regime who controls most organizations and fails to protect intellectual property rights.
Despite this, I saw brilliant examples of innovation where China has its own fair share of entrepreneurs and a government that can demonstrate its willingness to transform this unique culture into “an innovative society” by 2020.
Anyone that watched the Bejing Olympics in 2008, will recall seeing the Water Cube, the iconic 340,000 sq. ft. box framed in steel and covered with semi-transparent, eco-efficient blue bubbles. The goal was to build an iconic structure that reflected Chinese culture, integrated with the site, and minimized energy consumption – all on time and within budget.
The innovation that occurred here was not the actual product or engineering prowess but rather the “teaming” effort that saw project teams come together bridging dramatically different national, international, and occupational cultures. These collaborative teams came together in fluid groupings that emerged and dissolved in response to needs that were identified as the work progressed.
In this particular instance, teaming, rather than stable work groups, became the new norm, whereby project management (scoping the project, structuring the group, sorting interdependent tasks) and team leadership (emphasizing purpose, building psychological safety, embracing failure and conflict) became the critical principles of successful project outcome.
Teaming became a way to get work done while figuring out how to do it better. In this case, collaboration meant increased innovation by combining skills and perspectives, flexibility and agility, ability to meet changing customer needs, increased experimentation and project management leadership skills, as well as a deeper understanding of different cultures.
I reflected on our teams here at Kilmarnock and a statement that has resonated with me tremendously:
“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology…It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare”. Patrick Lencioni
The organizations that will become the household names of this century will be renowned for sustained, large-scale, efficient innovation due to highly collaborative teamwork.