Innovators: ‘They are not smarter than the rest of us or have access to a special part of the brain’

Innovators: ‘They are not smarter than the rest of us or have access to a special part of the brain’

'...They just do things differently.' James O’Loghlin, host of TV show The New Inventors, distils the key traits that set innovators apart

James O’Loghlin has featured over a thousand inventors on his Australian TV show The New Inventors. His conclusion: Innovators are not smarter than the rest of us and don't have access to a special part of the brain — they just do things differently.

In his keynote at the IBM SolutionsConnect 2014 in Auckland, O’Loghlin cited practical ways to foster innovation in one’s daily activities.

“Innovation is a state of mind,” he said.

O’Loghlin cited the case of Lloyd Linson-Smith, who designed a thermal switching valve that would automatically save the cold water from the hot tap. Linson-Smith observed that he wasted cold water, which went down the drain, while waiting for hot water from the tap.

His invention ensured nothing comes out of the tap until the water is hot.

He said people are thinking about ways to save water, but none of them realised they were wasting water while waiting for hot water to come out of the tap.

“How did we miss that? What are other opportunities we are missing?”

“If f we keep doing things the same way we have done, sooner or later we are going to be left behind,” he stated. “Today’s cutting edge practice becomes tomorrow’s fax machine.”

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They are smart enough to know it [innovative thinking] is not what you do when you have time after you finish work. It is the work.

James O’Loghlin, The New Inventors

So what do innovators do?

First they set aside time to think. Innovators “rope off” a portion of their day to do this when their mind is fresh, he said.

“They are smart enough to know it [innovative thinking] is not what you do when you have time after you finish work. It is the work.”

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Otherwise, “you are over-prioritising today at the expense of tomorrow."

He stressed there is always an opportunity to innovate. “I don’t want them to innovate with the taste of Vegemite,” he cited. “I want them to keep it exactly as it is. It is perfect. But that does not mean there is no opportunity for innovation in the land of Vegemite.”

Innovation, for instance, could be around systems processes or marketing.

He also advised looking at customer interactions differently. A difficult customer is an invitation and opportunity to step back and think, “How can I do that better next time?”

Read more: The seven rules for digital business and digital transformation

As well, he suggested spending a couple of hours noting things that are not perfect, or might be done differently, in 10 years.

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas,” he said. “Spend a bit of time trying to think of them.”

He quoted the writer Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s famous quote about habitual thinking as "the enemy of innovation".

“We need habitual thinking but we need to find ways of breaking out of it,” O’Loghlin said. “Because if we don’t, we don’t think of the cold water we waste every time we turn on the hot tap.

Read more: Westpac NZ releases world’s first augmented reality banking app

In order to break out of habitual thinking, he suggested people question everything – “You will find opportunities to make things better.”

“Think like a customer,” he said. He cited one store owner who goes to his shop once a week as a customer. He lets the staff open the store, and enters the shop as a customer. Each time he sees little things to improve in his store.

He said innovators are also more determined and value their ideas. “They keep going and see what happens.”

Value your ideas, he said. “Treat them like balloons, blow them up as big as they get before you criticise them.”

Read more: Westpac NZ turns to New York start-up for web banking

Make it clear innovation is part of their job. Make it a KPI.

James O’Loghlin, The New Inventors

Organisation can also encourage people to come up with innovative ideas and create systems and processes, and use them.

“Make it clear it is part of their job. Make it a KPI,” he said. “Make it clear it is everyone’s responsibility.”

Have an email address where employees can send their ideas. Thank them for the effort and the courage to put it to you. Don’t judge it straight away, he says.

Innovation in the age of the cloud

The other keynote speakers highlighted the major forces reshaping industry.

Foremost is the “staggering” volumes of data coming from different sources, said Glenn Wightwick, research director, IBM Australia and New Zealand. This is compounded by the rise of machine-to-machine data and the Internet of Things.

For Wightwick, this issue hits close to home – specifically his house in Sydney, which is undergoing renovation. There are sensors in every room, and 60 to 70 devices in the house measuring different data. These alone are generating 150,000 discrete events each day.

Then there is data within organisations. At IBM, he said, people are encouraged to store and share documents in a repository. While preparing for a recent presentation on the cloud, a search produced 250,000 documents on the topic.

Cloud-based services, which allow users to use as little or as much as they need and rapidly provision capacity, are enabling new and interesting business models, he said. He cited the case of a start-up in Melbourne composed of a CTO, two marketing people and a support person.

The start-up creates a car pool from owners who can rent out their vehicles while these are not in use. Each car has a device that connects it to a cloud service. The team assembled an array of cloud-delivered services to run the business.

Cloud-based services are enabling new and interesting business models.

Glenn Wightwick, IBM

Five years ago, a five-person team could not afford the IT needed to run this type of operation, he said. People are developing software and building it on the cloud then making it available as services everybody can consume.

The way people engage with companies is shifting as they embrace different channels as they do business with banks and retailers.

Westpac: ‘People-led, digital backed’ strategy

For Simon Pomeroy, chief digital officer at Westpac New Zealand, business transformation for the bank means looking at the experience of customers from very different lenses.

This, he said, led to Westpac's "people led’ digital backed" strategy.

How do you change a bank that has heavily invested in physical infrastructure for 150 years and move it into the digital age?

Simon Pomeroy, Westpac NZ

Customers are driving the change for the bank as they use different devices throughout the day to do their banking. A recent survey of the bank's customers reveals 60 per cent expect to be banking primarily through a mobile device within three years, with 8 per cent doing it in five years.

“How do you create a solution to do 100 percent of their banking online, through their mobile, tablet or desktop? How do you meet that need in a very different way?

"How do you change a bank that has heavily invested in physical infrastructure for 150 years and move it into the digital age?"

He said Westpac has three pillars of strategy to achieve this:

Symphony, which is using data in a different way and provides a single view of the customer as a customer rather than a product, and manage that seamlessly through channels.

The central internet banking platform, which will deliver 100 per cent of services across all devices. This will be launched in September.

Personalisation, where customers can access world class online experience but is one click away from talking to a human person. Digital does not mean replacing people, he says. It is seamless integration of self-service and people channels.

The goal, he said, is to become the number one digital bank in New Zealand by the end of the year.

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Tags chief digital officerinnovationchange managementLloyd Linson-SmithIBMWestpacSimon PomeroyGlenn WightwickJames O'LoghlinSolutionsConnect 2014CIOtransformation

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