by Julian Goldsmith

My generation, our innovation

Aug 01, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

We have a lot of content devoted to innovation on CIO UK and it’s not bad thing to be thinking about at the moment, as the economy struggles to pull itself out of a double-dip recession.

It’s a time to be challenging accepted ideas about the way we do things.

On the high level, there is an excellent post from Stephanie Flanders at the BBC, following an interview with economist Lord Skidelsky, who claims we need to rethink our definitions of economic success and throw out the notion of growth as the only measure of a strong economy.

It’s big idea stuff, especially for CIOs, who are supposed to be positioning their organisations for growth.

Technology allows us to do things better, faster and with less fuss. It all adds up to giving the organisation the elbow-room it needs to expand in the market and dominate the rivals.

Is there another way? Economic trends steer business ideas, which in turn dictate IT strategy. It’s a question I’d like to leave hanging and focus on another post about innovation on a more practical level from Mark Evans, CFO at Telephonica UK, published by Management Today.

In it, he claims that one of the three ways to foster innovation within your organisation is to listen to the young digital natives because it’s their grasp of social networking and mobile gadgetry that will pull us out of recession. Their grounding in the digital world will offer you fresh ideas with which you can lift your organisation out of the economic pit.

This in itself is not a very fresh idea. More ominously, it’s quite a worrying one because it implies that anyone who ever played a vinyl record or went to the library is incapable of innovation. It’s a notion I would like to challenge.

I was young once, but I’m not any more so I don’t necessarily fight in their corner any more. Although I accept that people in their twenties have plenty of ideas, but I would like to think my generation still has a few up its sleeve too.

Here are a few reasons why I don’t think it’s a good idea to turn the future of your business entirely over to your newest recruits.

– Young people are ready to challenge established ideas, but it’s rather indiscriminate, throwing out the still-useful along with the now-irrelevant. – Young people are risk takers, but that is usually because they haven’t experienced the negative consequences of taking risks yet. This can lead to some reckless decision-making. – Young people are ready to try new things, but they have little knowledge of what didn’t work in the past. They can end up repeating history’s mistakes. – Young people lack the experience to turn fantastic ideas into fantastic realities. They don’t yet have the experience to take a project to its completion, overcoming all the barriers thrown up along the way. – Young people lack the emotional intelligence to bring other people with them on their wonderful ideas. Part of the attraction of the new is that the older people don’t like it. – Young people continually move on to the newest thing. Consolidation is for old people. Do we junk all of the ideas we’ve pulled out of the latest generation of employees in five years’ time, when the W-Generation comes onto the workforce?

I don’t have a problem with young enthusiastic people with fresh thinking, but for business innovation, that’s only half the story.

Awareness of the latest trend is important, but so is an awareness of the wider established environment and a sensitivity to the impact of change.

The adaptability to accept new things comfortably is the key to progress, but sustainable innovation is also about looking below the surface and taking a longer view of the situation.

Innovation is about perceiving the underlying problem and adapting technology to solve it. It is not about adapting your behaviour to fit new technology.

CIOs are managers who, more than others perhaps, are expected to foster a culture of innovation. The latest generation of recruits have a lot to contribute to that culture, but so do employees with some miles on the clock, because they have the maturity to come up with viable ideas that will benefit the business as a whole.