The innovation conundrum

I have a newfound respect for organisations that don’t claim to be innovative. It’s not that innovation doesn’t excite me; it’s just that the really innovative companies just don’t bother saying it.

SE Innovation Iluust

It must be the most overused word in housing. I’ve contributed to it, having the dreaded word in my job title for the past twelve months.

I think people have said the word innovation to me more in the past year that they’ve said ‘hello’. This shouldn’t be surprising; lone innovators are rarely popular people within their organisations.

This is undoubtedly the problem. Innovation projects, teams and individuals in the housing sector are nearly always supplementary, isolated, on the fringe. As unpopular as David Gauke in a Job Centre.

You could have an educated guess at where to look for innovation inspiration. Google, Amazon or Apple would be a good place to start; but what many people don’t know is that much of Apple’s success can be attributed to a British Designer, Sir Jony Ive.

Up until the late 1990s, Apple were almost entirely led by their engineers. Jony and his small team would be tasked with skinning a product designed by the engineering team. Apple no longer function this way.

Their transition to a design-led organisation has granted Sir Jony Ive and his team an incredible amount of influence.

They are at the heart of Apple – the now most profitable company in the World. In early November they announced quarterly earnings of $52.6b – with little or no mention of the word innovation.

The trouble is that if this is the blueprint for driving innovation, then not everyone is listening. Whilst Apple have a completely autonomous, influential design team at the highest levels, there are other design-led companies that function very differently.

Google, for example, have a recognised design language throughout their whole business. Airbnb have have individuals tasked with design on each and every project.

Google continue to innovate and Airbnb have massively disrupted the world of travel. They do it differently to Apple, but that doesn’t mean incorrectly.

I’m likening the principles of design-led companies to innovation in UK housing. They’re not exactly the same, but the underlying principles apply.

Here’s the thing, in my twelve months as Leader of Innovation, I can probably tell you better the instances where innovation will fail than give you a recipe for success.

If Apple, Google and Airbnb are unable to agree on how to drive design-led innovation, then it’s unlikely I have the silver bullet, either.

Coincidentally, that happens to be the second most used phrase in housing.

I believe however, that I hold the key to taking the first step to becoming a truly innovative company. Never, under any circumstances, tell people that you’re innovative. Nobody who is ever does.