It's Tough to Innovate, When You're Thinking Like an Industrialist

The industrialised era produced cheap stuff for consumption by the masses. Reducing vast human capability down to a task specific cog defined the era.

Our education systems were structured to support the model; we were taught to listen and conform and were rewarded for doing so. At an early stage, we were streamed into doers,  leaders, and outcasts - and nurtured  (or ostracised) accordingly.

But as technical solutions have reduced barriers to entry across industries, and competitors are appearing faster than dandelions in springtime, CEO's are directing their organisations to innovate.

If only it were that easy.

While technology is a critical enabler, innovation requires a human ability to understand, explore, think and create. Technology on its own is not innovative. Clever application of technology can be. In most cases those aren’t the skills that have been nurtured, rewarded and developed.

Unfortunately the modern workplace has adopted more of an industrialised mindset over the past few decades than a creative one. Activities are expected to be predictable and controllable. Every task proceduralised. Every question must have an answer.

We're in a transitional period.

The industrially influenced workforce that have been rewarded to conform are now being asked to conform and create, standardise and explore, comply and think, follow and lead.

The rules have changed. The workforce needs to be retrained and reoriented to succeed in the age of innovation.

The path to innovation isn't an offshoot of the industrialised one. It's a whole new journey. It requires a new way of thinking.

So, how do you make this journey when from the ages of 5 to 65, everything you've been taught and rewarded for is deeply rooted in industrialised thinking?

Many organisations desperately grasp at approaches like Ideation Sessions and Idea Management Systems to kick start innovation. But, you can’t put a great idea as a raw ingredient into the same old machinery and expect something new and different to come out the other end.

The barrier to innovation isn't a lack of ideas; it's a close-mindedness to new possibilities. Many people can't figure out how to fit new ideas into their well-developed mental models of industrialisation.

So they reject them.

Fortunately, the main ingredients for innovation lie within each organisation - within each individual: human judgement and intuition.

The very traits that have grown less desirable over time:  trouble-makers and dreamers. It’s time to bring those human gifts back to centre stage; and be more tolerant of the imperfection that comes with leveraging them.

We can start by looking to the younger generation for guidance. While the education system they're immersed in is indeed more suffocating than ever, they have access to a much wider world than generations prior. They use their vast human capabilities to figure things out on their own.

With an app for everything from bread-baking to finger painting and piano playing the set of creative tools they have at their disposal is seemingly endless.

Unlike generations before, they don't depend on the classroom, mainstream media - or even parents to shape their perceptions of the world. They let their own curiosity and passion drive their journey.

The signs of change abound: schools and banks are being challenged not by suits sitting in boardrooms, but by a generation questioning the need for them at all. Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending and YouTube inspired educational models are all rapidly changing our world.

If you're part of the industrialised generation, don’t sit back and watch the next generation lead. Open up the pathways to allow innovation to flow.

Stop the assembly line and say “What are we really trying to accomplish? Is there a better way to achieve the same thing?” Forget about how you've always done it.

De-industrialising the workplace is not an incremental change. It's not a tweak of the machinery.

It's about turning old notions on their head.

It's time to stop building people machines. And start innovating.