‘You Need to Sit on the Edge of Chaos’


Ian Wong, founder of Eruditus, says any form of innovation must have a purpose.

By Lauren Arena

Pick up any book on business management or sustainable growth, and there’s one word you’ll read over and over: Innovation. So, how can we innovate? And how can innovation be encouraged in the workplace?

Innovation will be among the topics tackled at next month’s Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME)  in Melbourne. During the Knowledge Exchange on the first day of the 18-20 Feb. event, Ian Wong and Catherine King will lead a session titledThriving in a Culture of Innovation.”

King, co-founder and managing partner of The Romantics, an Australian think tank, said she believes innovation can be found between chaos and curiosity.

“The challenge is that successful businesses each run off well-oiled algorithms that depend on efficiency and productivity and these cultures typically kill off anything new or threatening,” King said. “Innovation has a tough time surviving because it’s often unpredictable, uncomfortable, and unknown. It’s designed to create tomorrow and you need a different mindset, away from productivity to open curiosity. You need to sit on the edge of chaos, however, any hint of chaos tends to inspire a touch of terror in the minds of managers.”

King, who is a consultant to the World Bank and previously held senior creative positions with companies including Sony, Microsoft, Nestlé, and Tourism Australia, said businesses should start on the innovation path by asking themselves the following questions:

  • Who should design our future?
  • What working environments do we need for these people to thrive?
  • What kind of innovation do we want?
  • How should we measure the success of innovation?
  • And how do we connect this to the way that we currently operate?

Wong, who is the founder and principal consultant at Eruditus — which provides services, including innovation strategy, to small businesses — says any form of innovation must have a purpose.

“Too many organisations are chasing innovation for innovation’s sake without asking the key question of why they should innovate,” he said. “It is crucial to understand the strategic question that they are attempting to answer before determining that innovation is the answer.”

Wong, a former partner within IBM’s consulting business in Australia and New Zealand, said he believes innovation (including product, process, market, technology, and business model innovation) should solve “wicked problems.”

“We need to develop a new and novel way to address the problem by combining and adapting existing methods, approaches, and tools, and even creating new ones,” he explained. “In order to do this, we quickly come to realise that we don’t know which specific skillsets and experiences will be required from the people who will attempt to solve this problem.

“This gives us a clue of the type of culture required for innovation in the workplace. Curiosity, diversity, resilience, vulnerability, and openness are all characteristics required from the teams required to solve these problems.”

Wong added: “The leaders of tomorrow will need to be able to understand the nuances and context of their industry and organisation, and to manage the duality of optimising the business of the present whilst creating the business of the future.

“As such, building a culture of innovation requires that the leader not only creates an environment where innovation can occur, but fosters an environment where the innovation can be introduced and accepted into standard operations of an organisation,” he added.

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