Are we missing the perfect opportunity to transform?

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Are we missing the perfect opportunity to transform?
Diversity is a key driver of innovation.
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Conditions are perfect for a great era of innovation – but first we must reflect on everything that has been prior and learn from the lessons of the past.

There is no doubt that the past 18 months have been a period of extraordinary yet forced innovation. While the scientific community worked at unprecedented speed to produce not one but over a dozen approved COVID vaccines, much of commerce pivoted virtually overnight to a work-from-anywhere model and elements of business continuity and keeping everything afloat was the only priority

The desire to innovate has always been there and yet it’s been in most ways something that has appeared either extremely difficult or something that’s almost always been overlooked due to other priorities like traditional business continuity Yet as we look ahead, the challenge must be to ensure that these desires for innovation are maintained, nurtured and to drive the momentum to ensure transformation becomes a key strategy, while protecting against rash decisions which could set us back. This could range from small tactical decisions, such as the work environment, to big-picture issues like strategy.

It is a time for action – to meet pent-up demand and unlock growth – but also for thought. Time to show that we can, as the saying goes, both walk and chew gum at the same time. The result is the ‘Beyond Boundaries’ report, which seeks to understand the different focuses shaping innovation and distil some tangible lessons that are universal to businesses looking to re-build and grow.

The problem isn’t lack of talent or insufficient funding – it’s the challenge of bringing people together and making different approaches work and to now work over distances.

We also learned that:

  • Businesses recognise the importance of diverse voices and perspectives to innovation, but there is more work to do before individuals can be feel truly comfortable at work.

  • Disrupting a stifling, hierarchical culture is far from easy. In our study, we find some leaders struggling to embrace a bottom-up working environment.

  • There is a risk that business agility will be lost as firms transition back into the office or adopt a hybrid model that balances on-site and remote working

Tellingly, for all the positive talk about risk-taking and innovation, many businesses remain wary of leaping into the unknown. Businesses err on the side of caution: six out of every ten companies say senior leadership often requests that an innovation is discontinued for being too risky or experimental.

In addition, it also seems that the bigger the company, the more likely it is to be using innovation to improve environmental sustainability. Encouragingly, almost half of larger businesses say a key driver of innovation is to improve environmental sustainability.

Meanwhile 60% of larger businesses say the crisis catalysed their efforts to use innovation to improve their social and environmental performance, compared with 54% of all those surveyed.

There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from this research – and not all of them will be easy to swallow. For example, senior leaders consistently said that they want to step back and let innovation flourish, but their subordinates suggest this is not always the case.

While diversity is a key driver of innovation, it helps to dress, talk, behave and otherwise “fit the mould” of what is expected in a traditional corporation if you want your voice to be heard. Above all, however, we heard the clarion call that businesses should leverage technology to build on the COVID-era atmosphere of openness and collaboration. Following the pandemic, companies and their leaders will need to continue to integrate the use of personal and professional collaboration technologies to communicate with their employees.

Continuous engagement with team leaders to ensure that our expectations for ethical leadership are clear and that teams continuously demonstrate their commitment to teamwork within a framework of integrity and trust.

As an organisation, we are guided by our vision of ‘Smarter technology for all’ and intend to use technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality to solve problems, create opportunities and transform the way we all live, learn, work and heal. The Lenovo leadership team both here in Australia and New Zealand and throughout the world is actively involved in leading this transformation.

Hassan Baickdeli is Head of Emerging Technology & Solutions at Lenovo Australia and New Zealand.

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