Driving Innovation by Necessity

Necessity is often said to be the mother of invention. In the wee hours of humanity’s humble origin, lacking in classrooms and faculties peopled by egg heads who pontificate on formulas and models, necessity played the simple role of teaching man to unleash his latent creative powers to fashion new ways of surmounting the odds against his progress. Today in spite of the phenomenal leaps of advances we have made in dominating our world, necessity still has a very big room in serving as a stepping stone in spurring individual and organizational innovation.

In Nigeria & Africa particularly, it may about be the cheapest model to achieving innovation provided the challenges of necessities can be seen as opportunities and embraced with the appropriate behaviour.  What we see and how we respond is key to unlocking innovation that necessity provides; but the problem most leaders face is that necessity is borne of complexities, a problematic situation we will rather not have and should not probably be facing were everything to be smooth and sailing well. When we don’t have things the way they ought to go, the result is problematic, the last thing a manager wants on his hand is another problem to battle with, the vicious cycle of reaction is unleashed rather than response and the opportunity window for innovation is slammed shut.

Necessity is about irregularities, instabilities, disorder and differences, the man or woman leading the organization on the journey to innovation must be warned that things should not always be expected to go as planned or desired! Unfortunately many organizations have paid the ultimate price of dying a slow but steady death before the leadership could understand enough to take their businesses off the fatal ride of predictable outcomes. The complexities and chaos that comes with necessity provides the individual and organizations with the following auspicious circumstances for innovation:

  • Throw up challenges
  • Welcome diversion from the norm
  • Affordability of disagreement
  • Encouragement of diversity, creativity and paradox
  • Encourage spontaneous self organization
  • Emergence of new effective development

Each of the above circumstances is a boundary for new thinking and behavior that forces a departure from the norm provided the right behavior accompanies it. What are these behaviors in brief?

  • Accept new challenges
  • Make unusual connections
  • Act creatively

When leaders and their team behave this way most opportunities provided by necessity can be converted to innovation. We have heard about the story of David & Goliath as a good example of taking on new challenges, Isaac Newton and the falling apple that resulted in the law of motion for unusual connection, Steve Jobs decision to give Windows users free access to Apple’s iTunes software for acting creatively. Any of these behaviors could be enough to take advantage of a situation of necessity to have an outcome of innovation, the common decimal to all three is that they force us out of our comfort and familiar territories to travel the unknown pathway that often leads to the unexpectedly great results we irregularly have. The viral and highly reviewed Nollywood movie industry is a good Nigerian example of how necessity can be a model for innovation. Kenneth Nnebue a merchant was said to have found by chance on a trip to Thailand a container of VHS tapes to be had for next to nothing, he took advantage of the opportunity with entrepreneurial gusto by shipping the containers to Nigeria where he intended to sell the cassettes at a good profit margin. Unfortunately for him, the tapes did not move as people didn’t seem to have any need for blank VHS tapes. Not wanting to simply throw away the empty lot, he decided to record something on it; not being in the movie industry, at a time that those who were even in the industry were from the south west and were majorly on celluloid, it was a huge task that an entrepreneur from Onitsha whose only drive was probably the appetite for profit had set for himself. He eventually got a script and cast to shoot Living in Bondage with hand cameras, the film sold 750,000 copies at a rate of N500.00 and the rest as they say is now history. Kenneth Nnebue accepted the new challenge that the necessity of buyers rejection of the VHS tapes imposed on his business.

The Open innovation quadrant consisting of 4 properties is one of our tools for helping leaders to simplify the way they see the challenge of innovation and respond with the appropriate behavior in their organizations. It allows you to signpost the significant elements of the innovation process such that you and your team can apply the stated behavior across each one for an intersection that gets you around the difficulties faced not excluding novel outcomes:

People– very crucial to the innovation process. Too often leaders call people their key assets but the problem is that the term is not as obvious as it sound. Many leaders still turn to the spreadsheets rather than their people in looking for solutions. The inability of leaders to accommodate the irregularities and instability that can results from their people’s efforts to berth innovation is perhaps the greatest killer of the creative capacity of most organizations to accomplish legendary innovations.

Capacity-the way leaders handle their people as their key resources will determine whether they are going to shine forth as living resources with which no organization can go into extinction. With the proper motivations leaders can get their people to release their skills and potentials at whatever cost for pushing the limit of knowledge to the rim

Environment-an enabling environment allows people to flourish and utilize their potentials to the full without fear of failure. Innovation leaders must be good managers of errors, run an open system that gives room for complex interactions of the sensible and nonsensical. Much sense have been found in the story of great innovations to emerge from nonsense. Environment must move from a threatening to supportive one

Resources– lack of resources is never a debilitating barrier to innovation. Where innovation is starved of resources the leader can tweak the model from another element of the quadrant to set off a chain reaction that cascade through the entire chain to bring about new environment where resources is supplied to support innovation.

We provide a training and advisory support with the use of our Open Innovation quadrant and other tools. Feel free to get in touch for support services.

Gbolade Adegbesan