My office full of boxes, no chairs but with plans about developing education, research and business engagement within an Enterprise and Innovation Lab at the School. Very soon I started teaching our MSc students: with an intake of around 100 students, it is good to see how popular entrepreneurship and innovation is.
1. Bradford Innovation Club
One of my first roles has been to become involved in the School’s Innovation Club – created by my predecessor in the School (Professor Nigel Lockett) and Victoria Tomlinson, our board member.
It brings together executives from around 20 businesses, public and third sector organisations who are innovation champions in our region. Our discussions provided some excellent examples of local best practice in innovative leadership behaviour. Below I will provide just a handful of examples (using the concept developed in an academic paper I am editing, alongside a summary of the points discussed in the Club).
These business leaders have been visiting each other’s businesses – the most recent being to Hallmark – and this triggered the discussions and debate on a number of issues.
2. Can you innovate too quickly?
One of the members of the Club remembered how he suggested a number of innovative solutions to a customer, only to be summarily dismissed because the customer could not recognise the problem! It was around a year later that the customer appreciated the challenges ahead and adopted the innovative solutions proposed.
3. Stimulating knowledge diffusion
There was a lot of discussion among members of the Club about how important it is for innovation to create supportive communications structures, and stimulate open and transparent communication. Knowledge diffusion helps keep employees enthused and energised.
4. Providing resources encourages innovation
Providing an environment that supports the people working in the company to think creatively and innovate. Hallmark provides common areas for creativity (where employees from different departments can interact) as well as bursaries to support creativity – for example a group of people travelled by train across Russia in order to develop new visual concepts. The only proviso was that the group had to diarise the whole journey and share what they had learned with colleagues when they returned.
5. The relationship between user-driven and supplier-driven innovation
To what extent does the business have to respond to the needs of its customers or try to stay ahead of the game by undertaking own research activity? A number of businesses talked about the need to be very close to customers, anticipating their needs and being able to respond to enquiries faster than competitors. This all leads to significant innovation.
6. Are you solving the right problem?
Systagenix Wound Management recalled how, a few years ago, experienced people in the business started asking for different size dressings – because dressings were not the correct size for chronic wounds. However, when they started questioning the customer (and in particular their own sales organisation) they found it wasn’t the dressing size that was the real issue – but the amount of absorbency and the speed at which the dressings absorbed. This lead to projects with a completely different focus and a far more strategic research into how wounds healed and coming up with dressings that have made a leap in helping to heal burns.
7. How to select the right people for your company?
The discussion came back again and again on the issue of people. Arena Group asks prospective employees about their family life in order to encourage openness and get a better understanding of the person in front of them.
Other issues were how to recruit people locally with very specialist skills so that the business becomes closely linked to local communities? And also how to keep people motivated: interested and driven in order to develop and implement new ideas?
8. Ideas for our next Innovation Club Activity
We also planned our next activity: ‘an ideas bus’ that facilitates the exchange of ideas between members of the Club by visiting a lot of businesses on one day, and also bringing in students from the School – the innovators of the future.
What question would you like to ask businesses on the ideas bus tour? Let me know and we will feedback.