EVERY five years or so, each managerial generation discovers the mantra of innovation as a basic way of generating new growth, motivating an organisation and creating new streams of revenue.
As Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE (General Electric), says: "The only source of profit, the only reason to invest in companies in the future is their ability to innovate and their ability to differentiate."
However, these innovation programmes, exciting though they are, always seem to founder on the organisational rocks of bureaucratic inertia, risk avoidance, lack of leadership, lack of skills to manage change and the oldest trap of all, resistance to change. "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" is the common cry from these resisters.
Here are five great enablers to help your organisation nurture innovation.
1. Leadership that leads
Walk the talk. Be an innovator yourself in the way you work, act and think. But above all, remove the barriers to innovation in your company.
Create an environment where problems are addressed without blaming or scapegoating, some decisions are decentralised and there is flexibility.
Sony used to have a policy where 25 per cent of their researchers' time was spent on their own personal projects. It led to the Walkman.
2. Steal a good idea
In Proctor and Gamble, it is called "search and re-apply". This is the simple technique of using a process or idea developed in one part of the organisation and applying it in a different country or with a different product.
As Thomas Edison said: "Most of my ideas belonged to other people who never bothered to develop them." So go and connect the seemingly unconnected.
People with a narrow span of search are thinking within the tramlines and boundaries of their own industry. Look outside your own company. Look outside your own field. There are connections between every other industry in the world and yours. All you have to do is look hard enough.
3. Sacred cows make the best hamburgers
One of the greatest barriers to innovation is our own assumptions, those false conclusions and beliefs that tell us what is possible and what is not.
It's why the professors at Fred Smith's college only gave him a 'C' on a paper describing the idea for an overnight package delivery service. He went on to found FedEx and the rest is history.
Examine your assumptions about your business. What business are you in? Could you do something different? What's your biggest business challenge? What assumptions have you made about it? Brainstorm some answers by questioning yourself, your own beliefs and your best people.
4. Make a difference
Schedule regular thinking times for creative thinking. Don't muddle around hoping for a great idea to strike like a bolt of lightning. Work at it.
Get your best people together to brainstorm regularly. Get out of the office. Study the habits of great creative thinkers like Edison or Einstein.
Above all, acquire the habit of thinking creatively. We all know that a habit can be acquired through repetition. Why not make creative thinking a habit in your organisation?
5. Explore every idea
Innovation doesn't have to be about completely big ideas, new inventions or dazzling new products. Little improvements can make a big difference. And these small ideas usually lie in the people of a company.
It could be a small change in the production line. For example, a chocolate manufacturer spent thousands of hours working out how to design a machine to move a bar of chocolate from a vertical to a horizontal plane.
One day, a designer was walking along the line. He watched one of the workers holding a pencil that hit the bar in exactly the right place and the bar toppled over. Problem solved.
Stay the course
Implement these tips correctly and your organisation is on the road to creating a truly innovative company. But remember, it's just a start. The road is long and winding, and there are many divergent paths and obstacles that will tempt you from your goal.
Stay the course, though. If you or your organisation just stands still, you are going to fall behind the competition.
Remember the typewriter, black and white televisions, Wang computers? Where are they now? On the scrapheap of innovation. Make sure innovation works to grow your company - not kill it.