Monthly Archives: July 2017
How does innovation occur?

When does innovation occur? Rarely, I would suggest. Most organisations don’t innovate unless they are threatened, out of necessity. If things are going along well why innovate?

The theory of the S Curve (or innovation curve) suggests that the performance of a product, or an organisation improves over time as you refine and get better at it. But then decay begins, followed by a rapid decline. We see examples of this all the time. Once great organisations disappear (think Kodak).

More often than not organisations fail to see the tipping point, the point at which their product reaches the end of its time in the spot light. Only when they realise that they are in decline (falling sales, falling enrolments, poor product reviews, etc.) do they realise that they have to innovate or perish.

The good organisations realise that they have to innovate before their current product reaches its pinnacle.

So how does innovation occur?

The secret is in your people.

When groups work well the result is usually a product of more than the sum of individual achievements.

Organisations that rely on the ‘hero’ CEO, or leader will only ever be as good as that single individual. The ideas that he/she generates will only be as great as that person’s imagination.

The role of the leader then, is not to generate the ideas, but to create the conditions for innovation to occur. Those conditions are simple. They have nothing to do with ‘innovation camps’, innovation hack-a-thons, programs or professional development, and everything to do with trust.

Humans are naturally creative beings. We all have imaginations. We love to dream. But when we come to work we leave the dreaming for lunchtime and get on with the business of our job. The boundaries for our work are put in place and reinforced with KPIs, accountability measures and deadlines (and for schools, league tables).

For innovation to occur the leader has to let go of control and allow people to dream, to ponder on the ‘what if’, and take risks with ideas that could at first glance, appear contrary to the organisation’s key objectives. Essentially, the leader has to create a culture of trust.

It is mind-blowing when the leader does this successfully. In high trust cultures people will willingly put in the extra effort. They will work harder. They will do their set job and generate new ideas and solutions. They do this because people love to create. They love to know that what they are doing is making a difference. They are naturally loyal, particularly to places that value and trust them.

How does innovation occur? It occurs when people are allowed to think, dream, take risks, try new things, collaborate and learn. When organisations realise that it is as simple as trusting their staff they will become amazing.

When trust is gone

What do you see? A kind face, a gentle man with a radiant smile?

When you see this man what do you see? A bum? Someone who has wasted their life, addicted to drugs?

Which of these men would you trust? Who would you leave your son or daughter with?

Suspend your judgement for a moment and listen.

Listen to their story.

Listen to their whole story.

Listen to their whole story first.

Suspend your judgement until you have.

The first man, the kind looking gentleman—his is the face of evil, the source of immeasurable shame, suffering and pain. Did you see it?

The other man is a person destroyed by trauma, an act of evil committed against him when he was a child. Did you see it or were you so afraid and repulsed that you didn’t stop for a moment?

Who would you trust now?

As I sat in the back row of an empty tram in Adelaide the derelict boarded. A dishevelled, unshaven, filthy man carrying a small backpack. As he boarded his eyes locked onto mine.

He took decisive strides towards me.

Please don’t sit near me.

But he did, right next to me.

He was looking for conversation. He is studying ‘human ion transfer’. His mind filled with conspiracy theories. The government is tracking him because he has uncovered their secrets, secrets of how they control the population.

“I smoke a far bit of pot you know,” said Anthony.

Suspend my judgement.

He loves studying.

He left school in Year 7.

He’s been living on the streets for years, travelling from place to place to study ‘human ion transfer’.

What happened to this man that he never finished school, that he became addicted to pot?

I look into his eyes, beyond the manic behaviour and see the deep sadness he carries. But as I see it, that hollow emptiness where joy once resided, my reaction is “mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere try to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched” (A Little Life).

I see in this man the same I see in the lives of so many others I have met. The impact of trauma on a child; trauma that permanently altered their path to a life filled with joy and flourishing.

I have seen it in the man who has been drinking since he was 14, who now has full time carers because he cannot function on his own. I have seen it in the eyes of the man obsessed with his career but has lost everything else important to him.

I have seen what happens when a child is robbed of their innocence. When the evil selfish desires of an adult manifests itself as a heinous crime against life itself.

I have seen what happens when a person is robbed of their willingness to trust others, their deep human need to be in relationship with each other and with their creator.

Suspend your judgement.


Listen to the whole story.

Trust in the goodness of humanity, but more so, trust in the Grace of God.

Life can so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.

Christ is the only place we can find it.



I have worked in schools for my whole career. There is an annual cycle in the life of a school, probably not unlike any corporation (end-of-financial-year, sales, etc.). There are patterns, peaks and troughs in the work cycles and the subsequent stress that goes with them.

Teachers work incredibly hard. At the end of each term people can start to ‘fray around the edges’ as they enter and work through the peak times. Normal behaviours are replaced with shorter tempers, anxiety and stress.

A leader’s role shifts during this time. Listening comes into its own. People will want to ‘unload’ or debrief. They invariably want to raise issues that until now they have been able to manage on their own.

‘Putting out fires’ is an expression that has been used on more than one occasion during these peak times.

It can be hard during these periods not to be drawn into the perception of a looming crisis and remain calm. You can lose a sense of perspective and forget that the same cycle happens each year.

It is a sense of calm that staff need most at this time. They need someone to listen and to assure them that it will be ok; that this period will pass and things will return to normal. And of course there may be some adjustments to the work flow that have to be made to ensure people are looked after.

The best a leader can do during these times is to know yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. If you are being drawn into the ‘looming crisis’, and the symptoms of stress are taking hold, you will be in no place to listen with empathy and provide the sense of stillness that will be the reassurance people need.

When you are stressed, tired and feeling exhausted you are also in no fit state to make good decisions.

There are a few things you can to do look after yourself and get yourself back on an even keel.

If you can, leave a little earlier than normal, block out time in your diary to ensure you can. Get regular exercise to help clear the head. Eat well and ensure you are in bed at a reasonable time.

If this is not possible, then ensure that you have prepared well in advance of the peak time by getting sleep, exercise and eating well. During the peak period you may have to forego the exercise and some sleep, but you can still ensure you eat properly.

Find someone outside of work to debrief with so you aren’t bottling up issues. This will help you relieve the pressure that will be building up.

And if none of these things are helping you then step back from decision-making and ask someone to make them on your behalf, or seek the wise council of a mentor outside the organisation.

Good leaders are able to management themselves effectively, always ensuring that they remain calm and level-head, even under significant pressure.