There was a boy with an electric guitar in my local music shop the other week, he couldn’t have been a day older than 15. He played Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘Hey Joe’ absolutely note perfect.  I have to say I was very impressed, even a little jealous, but I was not amazed. He was copying a truly great guitarist but, in my book, that did not make him great himself.  He had learnt his craft for sure – but if he was fifty five instead of fifteen and had been playing the same old riffs for the last thirty five years, how impressed would I have been then?

Today there is too much talk about innovation without truly understanding what the word means.  It is far too often confused with the word ‘invent’.  In the truest sense of the word, ‘to innovate’ is to take something that already exists and apply it in a new and ‘innovative’ (or clever) way.

For example:

Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster guitar just like thousands of people before him, but he played it in a way that it had never been played before.  He created new sounds by developing new techniques.  He didn’t need to invent a new type of guitar or re-design the electronics from scratch. He never complained that the existing guitar was no good and that he could never be the best with only the same tools as everyone else.  And yet he filled concert halls and stadiums and laid down a legacy that people today are still trying to emulate.

Here in the early days of 2012, in mainland Europe there are thousands upon thousands of companies barely scratching a living.  And in this difficult economic climate many of them will fall by the wayside.  But then one or two will manage to inspire their people to look at their internal processes and tools and find new, innovative ways of deploying them. These companies will create new business models based upon the old ones but with a leading edge that their competitors will not have thought of.  They will become the new pioneers, the new leaders; the new best in class champions.  Others will copy and try to catch up but the leadership that true innovation generates takes time to understand and to copy.

My message this week is not to blame poor or even average performance on poor or average employees or the lack of new equipment, but to find faith and belief in the riches of the resources that surround you, in the things that already exist and then to stimulate innovation from within the very heart of your organisation.

Don’t throw away everything that you have in the false belief that only completely new things are the best. Give your personnel the confidence they need to experiment and explore.  Balance ‘innovation’ with ‘invention’.  Reward failure, because only by daring to make mistakes can we ever challenge the way things are done today and move beyond the limitations of a piece of wood, six metal strings, three pickups and an old valve amplifier.

Have a good week,