This month's network
How to innovate
Almost every company follows a cycle that swings between expansion and contraction (Slice of Life, Training Magazine, June 2001). As night follows day, after a period of rationalisation, whether of systems or personnel, it wonders where the next round of growth is going to come from.
The next question is, why aren't our people more innovative?
The answer is that most big companies don't allow them to be. They are idea-killers, not generators. Bureaucratic decision processes, rigid budgets, reward systems that punish risk taking, likewise career structures, political infighting - any one of these can kill a good idea stone dead on the spot.
Small wonder that except in a very few cases entrepreneurs would run a mile rather than join a big firm. With this kind of energy deficit, a few brainstorming sessions are unlikely to provide useful answers.
Unless the company can turn itself into a "venture engine", in which generating ideas is part of its business model, periodic drives to boost entrepreneurial goals and innovation will yield little. People know from bitter experience that at the first sign of a slowdown, managers will revert to contraction mode, slashing budgets and head counts.
New projects and peripheral activities - where most innovation comes from - are the first casualties.
As this suggests, innovation is only secondarily a matter of inventing new products. It is, above all, an attitude of mind at top-management level.
Red tape binds MAs
The analysis on Modern Apprenticeships (Training Magazine, June 2001) highlighted some interesting concerns.
Within Birmingham City Council, the Department of Leisure and Culture has successfully trained and retained eight Modern Apprentices ranging from library assistants, to horticultural trainees and play workers, over the past three years. The support from both managers and trainers has been phenomenal, but what stops the department from carrying on this successful programme is the huge volume of paperwork that needs to be completed and the bureaucracy that exists when trying to access the funding.
We have all learnt so much from the process, but find the red tape both time-consuming and demotivating.
Personnel officer, Leis