Innovation has a long history and evolution in the existence human kind with academics tracing it back to the thirteenth century. Back then, according to Benoît Godin, the word ‘novation’ first appeared in law with a meaning of a renewal obligation by changing a contract for a new debtor. Benoît Godin traces the first theory of innovation to a French sociologist Gabriel Trade in the late nineteenth century. It is understood that an author by the name of H.G. Barnett developed a comprehensive theory of innovation and defined it as any thought, behavior, or thing that is new because it is qualitatively different from existing forms (Barnett, 1963). According to him, everyone is an innovator. Enough about history.
I was fortunate this year as I enrolled with the University of Stellenbosch Business School towards my Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management and Administration and one of the modules was Innovation Management. As part of fulfilling the requirements of the qualification, I had to conduct an innovation audit and for that exercise I chose the Western Cape Government (WCG) and the findings were quite interesting. Firstly I discovered that there is an Innovation Forum which I, and probably you, were not aware it existed. The audit questionnaire was answered by 6/13 departments, had 40 questions and focused on 5 dimensions which are strategy, processes, organisation, linkages and learning. Out of a score of 7, innovation strategy was 3/7, innovation processes came out as 2.6/7, organization was 3/7, innovation linkages showed an outcome of 3.3/7 and innovation learning was 3/7. The audit revealed some strong areas but I want to share the 5 top weaknesses that need attention, which I think Provincial Treasury can also benefit in, which are:
- Lack of mechanisms to detect and review new technological developments and what they mean for the organisation’s (WCG) strategy;
- Lack of effective mechanisms for managing innovations from ideas to successful implementation;
- Lack of mechanisms to involve all departments in developing new processes at the early stages;
- No clear system and criteria for selecting innovation projects; and
- No measurement to assist in identifying where and when improvements can be made on innovation management.
For the purpose of the academic assignment, I was asked what would be my top 5 innovation barriers that I may encounter if I were to be an Innovation Manager. I believe it is employees working in silos, employees who continue to embrace bureaucracy, insufficient resources (people and finances), poor governmental communication and continuing with business-as-usual approach and not innovation.
What is good about these findings is that I was invited to present them to the Innovation Forum on 04 December 2017 with an overwhelming nod that as much as there may be departments that are embedding innovation management within their operations as part of their business, there is still a long, tough and interesting journey ahead.
In travelling the innovation journey, let us know that each and every one of us is an innovator irrespective of the level or rank within the organisation and innovation management can go a long way in delivery of services and creation of public value. Let’s make the difference, let’s usurp the innovation space.