Creating a Culture of Innovation



In our Leaders on Leaders series, Karen Greenbaum explores today's top trends impacting global leadership with leaders from the world's top executive search and leadership advisory firms.

In this episode, Karen speaks with Alastair Paton, Managing Partner, UK, and Chair of the Global Board at Signium

Below is a brief excerpt.

KAREN: Alastair, welcome, and why don't we begin with you telling us about Signium?

ALASTAIR: Thanks, Karen, very much for the opportunity for this conversation. It's an interesting subject that we’re going to talk about, so I hope I can share some useful insights.

Signium is an executive search and leadership consulting firm with a global presence and a history dating back to Chicago in the 1950s when the search profession was evolving from management consultancy. We offer the scale, the reach, and the rigor of the largest global firms coupled with the passion, the client focus, and partner-related approach to the best local boutiques.

KAREN: What does creativity in business look like and how is it unleashed? How are creativity and innovation different?

ALASTAIR: Yes, I think many people confuse or think about the words differently and I’m not into semantics too much, but I do think creativity and innovation are very different. I think creativity is all about allowing your mind to conceive new ideas. It's potentially quite unstructured. It's messy. It's subjective and it's very hard to measure, so it can be uncomfortable, I think, at times that creative kind of environment to some people. It requires, as you mentioned, a wide range of people, a great diverse group with different ways of thinking, and you need the time and the space to explore new ideas without always judging them.

I think innovation, on the other hand, is very measurable. It's completely measurable. It's about bringing change to often quite stable systems or processes. I think innovation is really about applying the creative resources an organization has to design an effective solution, and then ideally to assess it and implement it to make a return on it. We see lots of businesses that we work with who, I think, are very creative. We see much fewer examples of businesses that are genuinely innovative, I think.

KAREN: You raised the issue of measurement and so let me probe on that with a question. What are some ways business leaders can measure innovation in their organization?

ALASTAIR: I think innovation is about being the tangible outcome of creativity, so it follows that it should be possible to measure an innovation. I think organizations have to set up their own measures depending on what they’re trying to assess, I suppose, but I think one of the things we see a lot of is just a simple focus on measuring products or services, or service lines that had been launched in a recent period – 12, 18 months – and look at the amount of profit or revenue that they’re generating compared to those products and services that have been around for longer.

In the organizations that I’ve worked with – Unilever, for example, for 15 years – our innovation cycles were very long and our assessment processes took a long time before we launched anything. Now, I think businesses have to do things much quicker, so when they measure innovation, it has to be done quickly and they have to assess it, amend it if they need to, and then continue with their products or services adapted moving forward.

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