Last week saw worrying figures about the UK’s productivity levels published, including the Financial Time’s front-page piece titled “Fresh economy alert raises fears for long-term growth prospects.”
As the CEO of a British company working closely with an array of other UK-based organisations, I read this with great interest. The figures don’t lie, whilst our customers are certainly embracing innovation, it seems the country overall has been struggling to embrace change – but why and what can we do to transform it?
Having worked closely with people and organisations from all around the world on innovation related initiatives, I believe that a significant driver of this innovation failure is attributable to culture. As business people us Brits are renowned for shying away from confrontation, sticking closely to formalities, and tried and tested methods. From a corporate standpoint, I’ve seen many organisations ‘punish’ employees if their best efforts don’t work out. It’s no wonder so many of us struggle to embrace new ways of thinking and working, particularly when as a nation we’re working longer hours than ever. We are risk adverse. The British government’s austerity drive continues to be proof of that and in many senses also exacerbates the tendency to risk aversion and a focus on short-term metrics and behaviours.
Risk, and the failure which often accompanies it, is essential to moving organisations and economies forward. Consider the success of Silicon Valley – arguably the world’s entrepreneurial hotspot, generating a seemingly endless supply of new technologies, new companies and huge wealth. In the words of Paul Saffo, Co-founder of Silicon Valley’s Discern Analytics (to name a few) “We know how to fail and we’ve been doing it for decades. Failure is what fuels and renews this place. Failure is the foundation for innovation.”
Much has already been said of what our technological entrepreneurs can learn from Silicon Valley and some of the world’s most innovative companies, but I think it’s time for us to consider what we can learn from it as an economically unstable nation.