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Is innovation just common sense?

Leadership

Very large organisations are vulnerable to those who think they know better, who think they can offer quick and simple solutions to complex and difficult issues. The NHS is one of the world’s largest organisations, and as such it is often considered an easy target for those who like to snipe from the sidelines.

Dean Royles, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, recently published an article in HR magazine drawing attention to this issue under the title “Common sense is not always right”. In it, he points out that armchair critics tend to focus single aspects of an issue – he uses the example of the way nursing is staffed and the ratio between senior staff and others, based on two (of several) recent reports.

The first was a report from the Royal College of Nursing about reductions in senior nursing posts. In effect the report said that, although there had been an increase in nursing numbers, there had been a reduction in senior nurses. This drew strong criticism from the Royal College of Nursing. The second report was from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, with its census of the NHS. Numbers of staff are generally up, yet many commentators said numbers were important, but so was a need for a nationally set ratio of nurses to patients.

Both those conclusions fit into the ‘common sense’ category, Royle noted. Fewer senior nurses is a bad thing and a national ratio of nurse to patients is a good thing. Right? The second (more nurses) is quite easy to achieve at the expense of fewer expensive nurses. So that’s alright then. Except of course, the reality is somewhat more complex when other factors are included.

While critics typically see one facet of a problem, the big picture often shows a very different story. Indeed, Royles, could have gone further with his title, using Voltaire’s sardonic comment: “Common sense is not so common”.

Moving on from the intricacies of the NHS, this ‘common sense’ question is one that arises frequently when businesses try to innovate. Discussion of new directions and solutions is often hampered by those who resist change reflexively (“That’s not how we do things around here” or “It’s always worked in the past”), or their expectation that complex issues can be resolved with a quick fix.

Innovation doesn’t exist in isolation. It might be fuelled by a positive search for a better outcome – as in the ‘build a better mousetrap’ illustration. Or it might be generated in response to a major problem or frustration. Either way, the path to innovation requires the following ingredients:

Recognition of the situation. At decision-making level, there must be awareness that there is a need for action based on analysis of the present scenario. This analysis should be objective, not emotional, and should lead to a planned course of action. While this may appear obvious, there are many examples in the commercial world where ‘innovation’ has been bolted on to existing practices without a game-plan, often in response to a crisis.

Commitment to innovation. Innovation needs to be embedded, which means that it must be driven throughout an organisation as a core principle. ‘Everyone an innovator’ is a creed in many of the world’s most innovative businesses: they recognise that everyone is a participant with a role to play.

Big picture vision. You can’t just stick a sign on a door saying ‘Innovation Department’ and expect results. Innovation begins with an over-arching vision, which progressively translates into practical outcomes.

As Henry ford, one of history’s great game-changers so acutely observed: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”

Photo Credit: phalinn via Compfight cc

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