UK Innovation Strike

Recently I responded to a discussion about a report from NESTA which pointed out that there appears to be an ‘Innovation Strike’ in the UK, with a £24bn slump in investment in innovation in the UK since 2008.  Re-reading this I thought that my thoughts are worth sharing here:

Short-termism:  too many organisations cut staff so much that there is too often not enough time to innovate. They often do this because of the short-term ‘need’ to show ‘productivity growth’ or cash savings. I think many companies will be well served by taking more people on at the bottom – I once worked with a Local Authority which was so proud of its ‘self-service’ admin system that they couldn’t see that it led to highly paid senior managers and directors spending time being administrators – they would have been better off employing a few junior clerks. The ‘innovation strike’ reminds me, in a way, of what happened in the late 1970s and early 1980s: in response to a deep recession (remember that one?) UK companies began to cut their apprenticeship schemes in order to save money to see them through the short term; other companies were forced to copy this strategy (or was it really a tactic?) in order to compete on price and so survive, and so we ended up with our then widespread apprenticeship system coming to an end – a situation we are now, 30 odd years on, regretting. Today, I suggest that companies are sitting on their cash piles and not investing in innovation because they need to get through the short-term before the long term arrives, and currently who really has much confidence that the long-term isn’t going to be the current short-term repeated for many years? So, the tactic (or is it strategy?) is to hold on to the cash you have because you think you are going to need it to survive in any form at all.

Help and Collaboration: I think that businesses need to look beyond their own organisational boundaries and get out talking to other people and businesses, and to get networking: but they often don’t have the time to do this, so lose out on potential collaborations and ideas. I have been working with a company which has spotted this and they do the networking for businesses which haven’t the time to do it themselves, looks out for good-fit collaborators and ensures that they are all fit and ready to work with each other. They can be found here:

Management: Too often we have poor quality management. Managers who can’t articulate what they want their staff to do, what they need to do, and how, and then let them get on with it and take responsibility. I have noticed over the years that I am seeing more and more managers doing the job below their grade rather than the job they should be doing. I can’t recall where it came from, but a recent survey found that something like 60% of employees ‘can’t be bothered’ to be engaged in their work – this is a failure of management and leadership! Too many firms are making appointments according to a template rather than what people are capable of – I think the ‘professionalisation’ of recruitment has made this worse and not better.  Career progression is also vital – and this applies to all technical experts as well as scientists. Too often, to get beyond a certain pay-grade you have to become a manager and move too far away from the thing you are good at and where your true value to the business is: I think this relates to the recruitment template point – ‘to get on you need to become one of us’.

And finally, to be successful a business (or organisation) needs to work together and be integrated, with everyone understanding that they are part of a team. This is the role of the senior management – to lead and inspire, and to get everyone working together, but too many don’t see this as their job.

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