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Two words that stifle business innovation #WCIT2012MTL

Earlier this week, Roger Martin wrapped up the WCIT 2012 conference in Montreal with his usual flair, and left us with a compelling call to action.

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The design thinking guru and acclaimed author was ranked #6 in the 2011 Thinkers50, and is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

His topic, “Overcoming The Business Innovation Challenge” was provocative, and resonated loudly with the Canadians in the audience.  In 2011, research conducted by Martin and others at the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity highlighted the prosperity gap between Canada and the US, and proved that the prosperity gap is a productivity gap.  And it’s widely believed that this productivity gap is an innovation gap.

So why aren’t Canadian businesses innovating their way to global competitiveness and prosperity? Is it our conservative culture? our regulatory environment? brain drain? 

According to Martin’s WCIT talk, the answer is this (and it’s not specific to Canada):  business has become too scientific.

It’s not that businesses aren’t trying to innovate, but Martin asserts that it’s almost impossible to get decisions approved unless the innovator can prove scientifically that what he’s saying is true.  Business has gotten very good at analysis, because analytical thinking leads to reliability and predictability, which is rewarded by the stock market.  But analyzing the past to predict the future only works to the extent that the future looks a lot like the past.

We are killing innovation with two words:  prove it.”  Martin’s call to action is that we expunge this term from our vocabulary. 

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Martin walked through his Knowledge Funnel talk, which I won’t replicate here.  To paraphrase: the key to success in the “century of innovation” is to combine the best of analytical thinking with the best of intuitive thinking.

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It’s interesting to note that Martin’s research on Canada’s productivity highlights a significant under-investment in ICT in Canada, and specifically software (vs. the USA).  For example, Ontario businesses spend only 60% of what US counterparts invest in software.  Now I’ll point out that I work for a software company, so of course this is interesting for me!  But to the extent that it may help to enable innovation for your business, I encourage you to engage with a trusted partner and explore the opportunities for competitive advantage.

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