Innovation. What if...?

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Been a big few weeks one way or another for exposure to innovation. In late September in Melbourne we hosted the ALPMA 2011 Summit the theme being "adapt innovate inspire". We heard from a number of speakers on what this means to them, how this applies to some firms and how some of it could possibly apply to your firm.

It was great to hear from the likes of Patty Keegan, on just how social media has transformed and will continue to transform the way most of us do business and network; John Petty on why quarterly rolling financial forecasting is so much more effective for firms than the old monthly/annual budget scenario; Bruce Ross's problem and opportunity trees; and Dr Ken Hudson had us all in the speed thinking zone. Not to forget John Dee the founder of Planet Ark and Director of Do Something reminding us all what we can and what we must do to save this planet of ours.

Then last Friday, my wife Karen & I attended for the first time a TEDx event in Melbourne. We have, as I assume many of you have, long been watchers of TED videos (if you are not, can I strongly recommend you subscribe now and watch at your leisure short videos of inspirational and riveting talks by remarkable people free) but this is the first time we had attended a TEDx speaking event live. Again the theme was innovation. It surpassed our expectations with some wonderful "home grown" speakers each of whom are innovators in their own right.

Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital proved there is room for at least one round peg in a square hole even in a traditional global accounting firm so long as you release creativity, not corral it; Evan Thornley CEO of Better Place Australia, technology entrepreneur and CEO of Goodstart the non profit consortium that has bought the ruined ABC childcare empire talked about his Golden Rectangle; the ever smiling creative thinker Dr Amantha Imber told us that scientific tests prove that it is more difficult to come up with creative ideas and improve your cognitive thinking with arms crossed and a frown on your face; Roger La Salle's of Matrix Thinking showed us why innovation is the essential turbulence that drives business growth and development. 28 year old former economist turned social entrepreneur Simon Griffiths wooed us with his vision for Shebeen a not for profit bar that will fund aid in developing countries and Who Gives A Crap, a toilet paper initiative that uses 50% of its profits to build toilets in the developing world. Lastly Annalie Killian from Catalyst for Magic had a sober message for us that maybe, just maybe, all this use of social media and virtual networking may actually make us a less innovative and action oriented generation.

They all agreed that in the right environment, with the right encouragement anyone is capable of creativity and innovation.

Next month there is a 2 day Conference again in Melbourne headed Creative Innovation with a star studded line up of 35 world class Australian and international speakers, leaders, artists and thought leaders including Dr Edward de Bono, Professor Stephen Heppell, Paddy Miller, Tan Le, Sir Gus Nossal AC and Mo Fox.

The day before the TEDx event we all heard the sad news of the passing of one of the world's truly great innovators, Steve Jobs. Perhaps we have all been saturated by the myriad of tributes to him but it is hard to imagine many other people in the last 20 years or so who have had such an effect on our world as we know it. You tube is full of Steve Jobs interviews and Apple bites but if you only watch one more clip watch this oldie.After returning to the company he both co founded and was sacked by, when launching Apple's "Think Different" campaign he pays tribute to the ".. the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently."

Even within the largely conservative confines of the professions we are seeing increasing evidence of innovation and threats to the traditional partnership/leverage based model bringing with it many more options for both consumers of professional services and the professionals themselves.

In the legal market Disruptors seem to be springing up like mushrooms, bringing with them new business models such as the online provision and purchasing of legal services (Rocket LawyerLegal Zoom); virtual law firms providing in-house/out-house counsel at a fraction of the cost of traditional law firms (Bespoke LawAdvent Lawyers); Legal Process Outsourcing; Cloud Computing allowing even the smallest of firms to have access to the same technology resources once only the preserve of large firms again at a fraction of the cost; the increase in the law firm consolidator model; non lawyers owning law firms; the public float of law firms (Slater & Gordonand of course the imminent move away from the most retrograde and sub optimal of all pricing models- time based costing (Slater & Gordon's family lawMarque LawyersBowen Buchbinder VilenskyLavan LegalHarwood AndrewsSnedden Hall & Gallop).

Added to all this of course is still the incredible war for talent, depressed and highly competitive markets, the commoditization of more and more areas of work, the globalisation and polarisation  of  the professions and other challenges I mention in a recent post.

Innovative firms do not benchmark themselves against their competition and then copy them- seeking to be the same as their competition. They seek to differ themselves from their competition. Innovative firms may not even ask their clients or customers what they want. Steve Jobs did not ask his customers if they wanted an iPad before he built it- none of us knew what an iPad was! Famously Henry Ford before he built his first motor car said "if I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses".

If you are not innovating you will not only not get better, you simply will not survive.

When was the last time your firm innovated? Last week? Last month? Last year?

What if............the late Steve Jobs, the late Henry Ford, Edward de Bono, Peter Williams, Evan Thornley or some other innovator was in your firm?

What if............you sent the young stars in your firm to innovation events?

What if..............you created an environment where innovation and dissent was encouraged and rewarded?

Would your firm be different do you think?

Finally the last word on this Blog belongs to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer when interviewed in 2007 about a new phone called an iPhone. He made similar comments about the iPad. Perhaps he should have gone to one of these innovation events?