Innovation divisions are a waste of time, according to Fons Trompenaars, renowned organisational theorist and management consultant.
Innovation divisions are a waste of time, according to Fons Trompenaars, renowned organisational theorist, management consultant and expert in cross-cultural communication. Instead he believes companies should embed the idea of innovation into every aspect of their operations.
“The main competence of a leader in an organisation is dilemma reconciliation,” Trompenaars explains. In other words, diverse viewpoints must come together — and that is the source of true innovation. Great businesses emerge when organisations can “combine values that are not easily joined, therefore are scarce and therefore profitable.”
Innovation is not a programme or an investment, then. It’s a cultural phenomenon. But that doesn’t make it nebulous or instinctive. You can develop leadership and organisational techniques to engineer innovation.
“At the first level, it’s the individual — you test recruits for their creativity,” says Trompenaars. At the team level, behavioural tests such as the Belbin Team Inventory tell you the roles you need to fill to promote innovation. “But at the third level, of organisational culture, most companies are built not to be innovative.”
For Trompenaars, the crucial stage for many mature businesses is so-called “exnovation — going outside the company, combining the strengths of different industries.” That’s not just objectivity. It’s taking the outsider’s viewpoints and weaving them into your thinking. The secret to innovation, then, is not always a flash of inspiration. It’s often simply combining existing, often opposite, concepts in a novel way.