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Executive complacency blocks innovation

I heard it in two different conversations today and I’ve been thinking the same thing for awhile. In essence, the idea is expressed in a Tweet by Christian de Neef, (http://cdn.fasttrack.be ) a knowledge management consultant in Belgium: ”Innovation is an ongoing battle against apathy, complacency and laziness.”

It may not be totally the fault of those responsible for innovation. More often, I suspect, it is the fault of the money people – the senior executives, CEOs and board members who are too lazy to do the hard work of learning the details of innovations proposed by others. So they’re never pursued. As an advocate of education transformation, I am struck by the parallel between so-called “lazy” high school dropouts and complacent executives.

In my mind, the big issue with learning is motivation. Students are often de-motivated by under-funded and one-size-fits-all school systems and the prospect of limited opportunities, with or without a diploma, because the system is rigged and dehumanizing.

Executives are de-motivated because they’re complacent with their comfortable positions and remuneration. They’ve already got theirs so there’s no need to stretch their minds into new ways of thinking and working. It’s better to just play it safe, do what everyone else does and concentrate on what they know best. Unfortunately today, in most boardrooms that is financial management. Why bother innovating when we can ensure comfortable and even outrageous returns – for us – from mergers, acquisitions, political lobbying, and economic terrorism of our workers?

In fairness, if it can be called that, workers and politicians are too lazy to learn new ways of doing things as well. Things may be bad and getting worse, but for the moment 90% of people have got a job so they’re complacent. “Let’s leave innovation to the dreamers; all I want are my toys – my smart phones, my cars, my ….”

And executives hearing them say “Give the customers what they want because that’s the way to more wealth for us.” Round and round the circle goes. What little innovation that is funded is only marginal and incremental and in areas that don’t rock the boat. Disruptive operational innovation is admired when someone pulls it off but few try.

The tragedy is that there are so many dreamers – voices in the wilderness – with detailed proposals for systemic innovation that can deliver incredible value for vast numbers of people. But executives fail to understand because it takes real work to learn how to change the world. There are easier ways to get ahead. Drop outs are getting their message.

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