Eddie Obeng works with companies, teaching them a management theory that’s all about adapting to change. And in this talk, he showed how businesses are approaching innovation wrong.

He starts by showing us that we assume things are the same as they’ve always been. The world has changed but we’re responding to it like it hasn’t. We’re rationally responding to things as if we’re living in a world that no longer exists.

Reward people if they fail while trying something completely newClick To Tweet

He says that if you search for books on “creativity” on Amazon, you get about 90,000 results (I just checked and it’s actually 34,430 – which is still huge!) When you Google “innovation + creativity” you get 30 million hits (32.6, if you want to be precise.) But only a tiny fraction of ideas are still delivering benefits after just 2 years. It doesn’t make sense.

Yet companies continue to get their expensive executives to spend their time preparing forecasts and budgets that are out of date before they’re even published.

He talks about how Tim Brown of IDEO says that design has got to get big. But our corporate hierarchies create institutions that are the opposite of the collaborative, cross-functional structures that we need.

the pace of change has overtaken the pace of learning

He explains how the world of work has changed because of the speed, the scale and the density of interaction. We deal with it as if there was a correct answer because that’s the way we were raised. But the pace of change has overtaken the pace of learning. We’re solving last year’s problems without thinking about the future. As Eddie says: “If you haven’t understood the world you’re living in, it’s almost impossible to be absolutely certain that what you’re going to deliver fits.”

In the old world, getting stuff wrong was unacceptable

All the CEOs are wanting innovation. They say “Take risks and be creative!” but the by the time the words get to the ears of the employees, they hear “Do crazy things and then I’ll fire you.” Because, in the old world, getting stuff wrong was unacceptable. That meant you’d failed. And should probably be fired. The understanding has always been that it’s bad to do anything different. So when you ask people to do just that, it doesn’t work.

So Eddie proposes smart failure. It’s different from failing by doing an established process badly. Instead, it’s about rewarding people if they fail while trying something completely new. By encouraging people to try new approaches, you build an innovative culture into your organisation.

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Eddie Obeng works with companies, teaching them a management theory that’s all about adapting to change. And in this talk, he showed how businesses are approaching innovation wrong. He starts by showing us that we assume things are the same as they’ve always been. The world has changed but we’re...
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Staff Writer at Open for Ideas
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