Unstructured thoughts from the front room …
I have spent a lot of time talking about innovation in healthcare with a good friend Simon Dodds who is a prominent Vascular Surgeon and a well known innovator in the National Health Service. I had not really thought about the relationship of teams and innovation before discussions with Simon but having now read a few things I have formed some opinions. So here goes.
There is something of a paradox about all this. I love team working and I love innovation but I am beginning to think the two are not happy bedfellows. Teams generally work towards a common goal. This could actually suppress innovation because in a sense we do not want people in our team – ‘to row the boat in the opposite direction’. Having said that, I think a well functioning team can accommodate a ‘loose cannon.’ The teams I think about are sporting teams. For instance Manchester United as a team were highly successful when George Best was their star player and yet George Best was very much a ‘loose cannon’ with enormous talent. He always did things differently to everyone else in the team. He contributed to the team ethos quite definitely but he was also known to be unpopular with some other players because he was so different. Any yet the team was highly successful. Fascinating!
I think there is a clear link between leadership and innovation.
I think the leader must give explicit permission for innovators to ‘make mistakes’ and not punish those mistakes. I see no point in any organisation or department to say in one breath they welcome innovation and then punish mistakes if things do not work. This ‘leadership’ may not only be from the very top in organisations – it can simply be the head of the department. I think if the Chief Executive - for instance - does set the tone with explicit statements like ‘we welcome change’ then innovation may happen. I suppose the test is the Chief Executive must support Innovators explicitly – even if it doesn’t work out.
Is innovation and ‘passion for your idea' the same thing?
My feeling is that innovation is often the sole possession of the founder of the innovation and that person needs to convince key players in the organisation first – then find allies and work tactically to change culture. I do not think the National Health Service is brave enough for a big bang culture change overnight. There is a political dimension that the innovator must be aware of and find ways of working with it – there is frankly not much point in denying the existence of politics in any organisational setting – the trick is to find ways of working with politics.