Has Britain’s Innovation Got Talent?

Innovation and business advantage is about getting the most out of the best people.

There have been some heated debates across the innovation forums and sites over the past few months concerning the role of  talented people in the innovation process. ( see this post by HBR’s Art Markman for example). Is innovation about just getting the smartest people, the greatest brains, the most dynamic individuals and waiting for their ‘eureka’ moment? Or is it about being smarter with the talent you have,  creating a culture that challenges how things are done and finding systematic gaps in the market? Or – is it about something else altogether?

Talent Management is becoming a hot topic in marketing and innovation as much it is in HR and strategy teams. Today I attended the first event organised by the Talent Management Association – a new body designed to share knowledge and best practice for the growing number of people interested in developing, retaining and stimulating the best people for the benefit of the business. Consultants, change management experts, project leaders, innovation teams and senior business strategists all seem to agree that business advantage is about getting the most out of the best people.  Machines, fleets of vans, shop fronts and databases are valuable assets – but they don’t have a pulse. Nor do they have personal ambitions, drive and creativity. The problems with finding, training and keeping the best people often beeps into the email inbox of the HR department.  And those beeps are growing. An opening address from Nick Kensley from Henley Management School explained that whilst HR’s to do lists seem to grow – it has to focus on delivering its priorities.  For modern HR its a question of keeping a focus and making trade offs, to be joined up, more relevant, to be quicker, to be more commercial and pragmatic.  And Talent Management is becoming one of those big priorities.

As Becky Ivers from Premier Foods explained it, Talent Management is about organisational opportunity and developing future leaders &  innovators. If your business is trying to be innovative and competitive it’s not just a nice to have.  I had the opportunity to present to a lively group in the morning on the topic of collaboration and partnerships – and how this relates to talent. We explored the increasing importance of internal and external collaboration – as a key driver to get the best out of people and drive a business forward – and why its so difficult to build trust and joint plans, to engage in dialogue rather than monologue. The need for a collaborative culture has been championed by General Electric‘s Global Chief Marketing Officer – Beth Comstock. As the most senior marketer in one of the biggest companies in the world,  she sees a key part of her job is to encourage new conversations and fresh collaborations – both across the silos within and key partners without. General Electric published their Global Innovation Monitor in early 2011 and reported that 86% of 1000 of the world’s top marketers they questioned identified partnerships as the most important element of innovation.

Trust is a big part of innovation and collaboration…

True creativity happens – when people connect, exchange and realise they can see the world differently. As Matt Ridley puts it – “Ideas Have Sex” – and its by engaging with the ideas of others that we can more effectively create new ones. From my view – there is no point in nurturing all that talent unless they are encouraged to be collaborators too. There is no value in having a good idea, keeping it to yourself and banging your head against the wall because things don’t happen. As Beth Comstock memorably says; ” We used to think we had all the answers – but we know that’s not how the world works anymore, for innovation to flourish, we must embrace a new innovation paradigm that promotes collaboration between all players”

Congratulations to the TMA and Sharon Hitch for building a great event – and here’s to another. For more information on partnerships and collaboration, see www.benchstone.co.uk and www.andrewarmour.com

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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