Light Bulb Moment: 4 Essentials for Innovation

flamy symbol

The light bulb is often used as metaphor for innovation and in this post I go one step further by using it to demonstrate the 4 key essentials for innovation within an organisation:

1. Passion (Power)

2.  Collaboration (Filament)

3.  Culture (The Environment)

4. Vision (Contains and focuses the forces of innovation).

4 Essentials For Innovation

1.       Passion

The power behind innovation is the passion of the leaders, managers and staff. Without passion, there is no energy or drive and the result will be poor. As Georg Hegel states Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.

2.       Collaboration

Ensure people internally connect with, and understand, the external needs of customers and the market.  It is between these two interconnections where the spark of innovation is created. Ensure collaboration not just within the company but also between the company, customers and the wider market.  Break down barriers and connect.

3.       Culture

Having the right culture is critical in enabling staff to innovate. An innovative culture is one where there is accountability without blame, understanding of risk without avoidance, collaboration without committee and empowerment without fear.  A good culture will attract and retain bright people and allow them to shine.

4.       Vision

A clear vision provides clarity on what the company is about, where it wants to focus its energy and the kind of “better tomorrow” the organisation is seeking for its customers.  Without context and clarity, the likelihood is that there will be diffusion of purpose resulting in mediocrity rather than innovation. The Vision, Values and Mission give form to the culture and focus the innovation efforts.

You can also view the presentation on slideshare HERE

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Making Innovation Work

????????????????????????????????????????Innovation isn’t a topic for just your R&D department or in product development.

Innovation should be on the board agenda and with each and every department and individual.

Its a culture thing, its a vision thing, its a HR thing.

If you want to make innovation work then it needs to be a company initiative that reaches all levels and areas of an organisation.

I have highlighted some of the key points, tools and approaches in the presentation below. Many of the topics are covered in greater detail in my book on innovation.


Posted in Company Culture, Growth, Innovation, strategy, Talent, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2013: Three Resolutions To Embrace


There isn’t a job title called leader; It isn’t a position, it’s an attribute.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King didn’t have positions of power, but it didn’t stop them leading and, more importantly, leading change. They did not have direct reports so being a manager or director are not prerequisites to leadership, in fact often your position can get in the way of leadership by providing an easy – though often ineffective – lever of change through authority and management responsibility. A leader doesn’t need authority; leadership is more than sufficient and far more successful at driving positive change.

 Whatever your role, make 2013 your year of LEADERSHIP.


For an organisation to grow, its people need to grow and this doesn’t happen by chance. To grow your people you need to develop each and every individual and you need to start with you.  Just as plant’s needs regular feeding to grow, so you do through exposure to new ideas, concepts and knowledge. A tree does much of its growth unnoticed through its roots; in the same way, a great business develops staff to create deep knowledge roots that enable the company to grow. Make it your new year’s resolution to regularly learn and develop through every means possible.

Make 2013 your year of GROWTH.


The best way to grow your organisation and increase sales is through innovation. Innovation is also the best way to get people INTO work and the global economy OUT of recession.  Business is now becoming the major player in ensuring a better tomorrow for everyone and everyone can play their part. Remember: Innovation isn’t simply a new product, but can be a new service, process or business model. Innovation can happen in every function and in every role. It is not someone else’s function to innovate but a shared opportunity and you have a part to play.

Make 2013 your year to make a difference through INNOVATION.

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Merry Christmas: Download my book on innovation for free

Business of Innovation

Christmas is a time for giving and for the next 48 hours you can download my book on Business Innovation completely free.

This is my Christmas gift to you.  No catch.  No registration.  No email harvesting.

The offer has now expired but you can still purchase the books from the links below.

Here are the regional Amazon links to my book


These will be valid until the end of the 22nd of December, after which the book reverts to original retail  price.

If you not a fan of kindle then you can always  purchase the paper book version via the following Amazon links:

UK      USA      FRANCE      GERMANY       SPAIN       ITALY     JAPAN   CANADA

If you are wondering if there is an ulterior motive for releasing my kindle book for free download then maybe there is just one:

I have gained considerable experience over the years through a variety of technical and senior roles but I equally value the knowledge, ideas and concepts that I gained through the many books I have also read along the way.

The lesson I have learnt is that you cannot rest alone on your experience no matter how extensive it is, but utilise the greater experience and knowledge of many others who have significant value to offer.

So if I have an ulterior motive, it is altruistic in  encouraging you to read more.  I know many of us have busy work and personal lives such is the world today and very little time for personal development.

However, the mediums for knowledge transfer are far greater today with the ability to download e-books onto Kindle, Phone, Ipad or PC.  Many books are available as audio CD’s (my preferred method) that you can listen to whilst driving or audio download to iPod’s that you can listen to whilst commuting, jogging or at the Gym.

So I hope this free offer inspires you to start reading and growing. My book itself is a quick read;  I deliberately condensed the material in order to reduce the time required to transfer the knowledge and ideas from the author to the reader.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas.

Nick Whiteley

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Built to Last: Revisited

Built to Last

Built to Last by Jim Collins has sold millions since its publication in 1997 but 15 years on is it  working and is anyone still listening?

The driver behind Jim Collins and Jerry Porras research was to find the magic ingredients that made some companies enduringly successful. In doing so he introduced a number of concepts which are worth revisiting:

Be Clock Builders not Time-Tellers

The principle here is that leadership is not about the “cult of I” but about building the right culture within the business. Great leaders are humble because they are subservient to the vision; they don’t want to be great, they want to build a great company. They spend a lot of time on succession management and personal growth within the business because they believe in the mission and want it to continue long after they have left. Conversely, poor leaders want success now and for them. Steve Jobs was most definitely focused on building something great in the form of Apple, but still cultivated the “cult of I” and took credit for most things at Apple. No doubt he was responsible because he was the time teller, e.g. telling people what was right rather than building a team that could make the right decisions. He has left behind a mission and vision but didn’t spend enough time clock building. That task is now in the hands of Tim Cook.  The real principle here then is that “Built to Last” companies have a culture of innovation and excellence not a dictator of innovation and excellence.

 Embrace the “and” reject the “or”

This principle is about holding two seemingly contradictory and divided views; for example, pursing “low cost and high quality”  rather than “low cost or high quality”. Fundamentally this is about rejecting the assumed norms and limitations. To embrace the and requires new thinking and often innovation.

Visionary Companies Are More than Profit

This is not a new concept and Peter Drucker puts it this way; “Profitability is not the purpose of, but a limiting factor on business enterprise and business activity. Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behaviour and business decisions, but rather the test of their validity”. Profit is the by-product of running a successful business not the driver.

Visionary companies walk the talk

What is your company’s vision, mission and values? If you have to look it up then you are not working for a visionary company. You probably work for a company whose marketing department created a set of slides or documents because they were told these are good things to have rather than ways of expressing who they are and what they believe. Visionary companies live their vision, mission and values through their culture. Staff and customers have no doubt about what they are about. This unity of purpose and value provide a powerful engine for growth.

Recognise that being a visionary company is a never-ending process

This is the internal – and eternal- drive for a better tomorrow. It’s a culture where good enough isn’t enough and this is best described as a “learning organisation” where commands such as “just follow the process” and “don’t rock the boat” don’t exist. It’s the principle that success is a journey not a destination and this stimulates continuous improvement and innovation.

 Preserve the core ideology whilst stimulating progress

The authors talk about BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) as a means of stimulating progress. Again BHAG’s seem pretty similar to stretch targets which may or not stimulate growth depending on whether staff believe and are engaged in the BHAG. This is about leadership and mission. Your mission may be enduring or sequential. You can just imagine Steve Jobs saying:  “our next mission is to do to phones what we did to the MP3 player”  or  “Were going to do to tablets what we did to phones” .

There are more points that the authors make, but my interpretation of the key elements is:

  1. Leadership is about building the right company culture not your own cult status.
  2. Developing a culture that learns and strives for innovation and excellence.
  3. On-boarding staff and training teams that are unified behind a powerful vision and mission.
  4. Investing in people, personal development and succession planning so that the culture isn’t diluted through external hires into senior positions.
  5. Reinvigorating the organisation through successive missions (Or BHAG’s) that stretch and engage staff.
  6. Ensuring that profit does not override vision and values as the main business driver.
  7. Break new ground by connecting (“and”) not dividing (or) goals.

The main assertion though by Jim and Jerry is that you can architect a company that will last.  I think the answer to this is based on your understanding of “built to last”; If you imagine an indestructible entity then clearly the answer is no;  it’s an architecture based on people and that is the strongest and weakest link. However, if you understand it to be an architecture that is more likely to weather economic storms and technological changes and disruption, then I believe the answer is yes.

I would explain it using the analogy of the mainframe and the internet. The old view of the CEO is of the all-knowing, all powerful mainframe computer from which all answers and directions would be given. I would suggest Steve Jobs was rooted in that “command and control” model. However, the problem with the mainframe is its single point of failure. If they get it wrong or leave, then the business can easily go adrift.

Building a resilient business requires a different model where the CEO creates a “hive mind”, an internet model of interconnected and collaborative individuals that are unified behind a single vision and core values. Just like the internet, this model is far more powerful because it harnesses all the talent within the organisation and doesn’t rely on a single point of failure. Ken Blanchard puts it quite succinctly: “None of us is as smart as all of us”.

I expand further on this topic in  Business Innovation available from Amazon.

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Think Different: 7 Books That Changed My Mind


For good physical health you need two things; a healthy diet and regular exercise. The same is true for your mind. You need a healthy diet of good ideas and concepts that will exercise your mind. The books I’ve chosen below have done more than simply expand my knowledge, they helped me think differently.

The best books make your mind come alive with new concepts and ideas not simply re-enforce what you already know. Many of the books in the list I bought not through recommendation or desire for a particular topic but on the basis that  just as the body needs a varied diet, so does the mind.

Don’t confine yourself to one topic; If you want to think different, you need to read different books.

Here is my top 7 in no particular order:

Competing Values Leadership: Creating Value in Organizations
by Kim S. Cameron, Robert E. Quinn, Jeff DeGraff, Anjan V. Thakor

Theories abound in management and leadership, but every now and again one comes along that really does create a aha moment by putting into context and within a framework aspects of everyday business life. This book describes one of those very practical theories that change the way you think about your business environment. If you want to understand the real reasons for friction within or between teams within your organisation then read this book. If you are involved in mergers and acquisitions – read this book. If you are struggling with change, innovation or growth within your organisation; read this book.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell

If you think you know people; blink again. This book opens up the thinking process, and brings science to gut feelings, snap decisions and what the author calls “thin slicing”.  If you are involved in decision making, sales, marketing or recruitment then this is a must read.

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything
by Stephen M.R. Covey, Stephen R. Covey, Rebecca R. Merrill

Many businesses think of trust as a synonym for risk and try to eliminate it within their organisation – and with customers – through processes, controls, contracts and reporting. However, Covey takes a different view; in fact trust is not just a positive attribute, but actually the inherent speed of trust can radically improve productivity and performance as well as reducing cost.

Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy
by Joan Magretta

If you discuss anything about competition or strategy you probably will end up talking about concepts and terms that came from Michael Porter.  However, unless you are in academia, you probably don’t have the time to read through 1500 pages of his work!  The real value of this book is how skilfully Joan Magretta has  condensed it into 208 pages.  Time is money so bringing these concepts to life (rather than putting the reader to sleep) has real value.

Steve Jobs
by Walter Isaacson

Generally I don’t read biographies, but made an exception with the biography of Steve Jobs. This was someone who thought different and acted different and I wanted to know how.  The book is a warts and all view of Steve Jobs and his life and clearly he was a complex character.  However, his approach to diversity, simplicity, synthesis and excellence make powerful reading. If you want to think differently, learn about someone who did.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant
by W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne

If you feel like the competition is ripping you apart and driving down value and prices then this is a must read book. Blue Ocean Strategy is about getting out of the blood bath and into uncontested market space. The authors provide many examples of how this has been done, but the value of this book is not that it will give you an immediate answer, but that you start to think differently about the market and learn to identify Blue Oceans that hitherto passed unnoticed.

How To Win Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie

Business has a nasty habit of dehumanising people. We call them Prospects, Customers, Clients, Partners, Staff and pigeonhole them based on what they can do for us. We can too easily forget that actually it’s all about people. Dale’s book brings us back to the fundamentals of human interaction and how to succeed by understanding this crucial point and being able to empathise with those we interact with. This is why almost 80 years since its first publication; this book still has the power to make a difference. Not because it takes us forward, but because it brings us back to the core of business.

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CLONE WARS: 4 Values to Value Most and Why


One of the most interesting and practical management theories to emerge over the last 20 years is the Competing Values Framework based on the work of Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983) which identifies four competing values within an organisation.

These are not moral values or the core values of your organisation, but what people value most in how they do their job.  These values are often why people chose one particular career over another and one or two of these values will predominate over the others.  These four values can be characterised as Collaborate, Create, Control and Compete and can be found in most organisations.

 “Doing Things Together”

The desire to work together as a team on problems and solutions collaboratively and with joint decision making. This value may dominate in Support, Marketing, Public Relations etc.

“Doing Things First”

The desire to create or do new things is valued most in New Product Development, skunkworks and within entrepreneurial organisations.

“Doing Things Right”

The desire to define and formalise processes and work towards continuous improvement is a hierarchical top down approach and is often found in Product Development, Project management, Quality Assurance, and Finance.

“Doing Things Fast”

The desire to compete, be first to market and win deals, unsurprising dominates within Sales.

You can see why in each of these areas particular values are valued more than others and often people with these values are selected for those roles. Putting someone who values Control not Compete into sales would be a disaster, as would putting someone who values Compete over Control into project management. So these dominate values align to their role; that’s why they chose it and where recruited.

However, problems arise when the dominate values in each employee or department are to the detriment of the other values or worse create conflict between staff and departments. All of which I have seen in my career, but without the competing values framework, I have been unable to understand systemically.

The Conflict

Those in the Control and Compete quadrant can’t stand all the meetings organised by the Collaborate group. They joke about the “committee” mentality and lack of ownership in this group. The Control and Collaborate group bicker about the Compete group (often sales) that apparently agree anything to close a deal without discussion or control. They bunch the Compete and Create group together and call them mavericks and risk takers.  Finally the Compete and Create group whinge about the Control and Collaborate group who constantly want to discuss what they are doing and worse want to restrict and confine it through processes.

So the values held by one group become the subject of disdain and friction with the other group. It may not be explicit but be expressed through in jokes and off the cuff remarks. I’m sure if you’ve been in any business for any amount of time you recognise these caricatures. Sometimes it goes beyond a joke and tensions and conflict arise. These are often misconstrued as personality conflicts, when in fact they are simply down to value differences.

The Resolution

Educating managers and staff on the value of values and why they exist can not only significantly remove areas of conflict, but also improve the performance of a department and more importantly the company itself. Staff should be taught not to expect similar values in different roles and to respect the different values that drive success in that particular role or function.

However, for a person, department and business to really excel, they must go further and harness all four values in every area of the business. For example, take Quality Assurance; Whilst Control is critical for repeatable processes and measurement, wouldn’t it benefit to have some creative input on test scenarios? Wouldn’t testing be even better if it was also a collaborate effort involving customers and their use cases? Wouldn’t QA be so much better with all four values? The same can be said for any function of the business. Indeed according to the research contained in the competing values framework, those companies who are very successful have high scores on all four values.

But achieving balance means recruiting diversity of values, educating on values and managing conflict. The temptation is to hire people in the same department with the same values. I call this Clone Recruitment. This will undoubtedly avoid conflict within the department and make staff management easier, but at what cost?

A disposition towards Create and Compete without the balance of Control can lead to catastrophic business failure; you only need to look at the recent bank collapses for real examples of this. On the other hand a disposition towards Control without Create will lead to stagnation and obsolescence.

To excel, you need to manage diversity and balance within your organisation. If you are a creative leader, you need to recruit Control. If you are a Compete Leader you need Collaboration. You need every combination within your organisation and harness the benefits that each value brings. Above all you need to value values and instil this within your team and organisation.


If you are an individual, think about which values you strongly connect with and those you don’t. Think about how you could improve what you do by embracing and developing your understanding and practice of the other values.

If you are a manager think about which value dominates in your department and how you ensure there is a balance. E.g. if the Control value dominates, what benefits can be derived from placing greater value on Create, Compete and Collaborate? How can you introduce more diversity into the department?

If there are conflicts within the organisation look to see whether it can be understood through the Competing Values Framework.  If staff can understand differences based on a value system then they are less likely to jump to false assumptions around personality and motivation which can only inflame the situation.


Competing Values Leadership: Creating Value in Organizations (New Horizons in Management) by Kim S. Cameron, Robert E. Quinn, Jeff DeGraff, Anjan V. Thakor


Actively work towards removing clone mentality, recruitment and culture within your organisation; Start your very own clone war today.

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Zen And The Art of Good Website Design

Zen And The Art Of Good Website Design

Zen And The Art Of Good Website Design

I am constantly surprised at the poor design of websites given their increasing importance and the plethora of tools, experts and knowledge around.

Often the front page is overloaded with content, boxes, multiple menus, and scrolling down for what seems like infinity.

You can’t see the wood for the trees and the noise of information overload drowns out any key points that may be there.  Often you have to hunt around looking for basic information such as who they are, what they do and even their contact information.

So here are my top five tips to transform your website:

  1. Paradigm Shift:
    Change the way you think about how you present website content. It seems many people start from the premise of an on-line document. Start from the premise of a power point presentation. Be precise, keep it focused and don’t scroll. If there are elements that really can’t be contained within a page, use frames so the integrity of the website remains.
  2. Keep it Simple Stupid:
    Put your customer or prospect hat on. Information overload and complexity will turn your prospects away. That’s pretty bad given all the effort you have gone to drive them there in the first place. Make it simple to navigate, easy to read and quick to understand.
  3. Hold The Front Page:
    The key messages on your front page should be;
    a) Who you are
    b) What you do
    c) How prospects can contact you.Use menus and links to delve into the detail and topics, that’s what they were invented for.
  4. Keep their Interest:
    Make every page count, make it interesting and make a point. If you keep their interest they will explore your site and find out more.
  5. Less IS more:
    Simplify everything that adds value. Remove anything that doesn’t  Keep every page simple and focused on ONE topic or area.
    If you follow these tips, your visitors will love you and keep coming back.
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Would you hire Steve Jobs?

Would You Hire Steve Jobs?

Would You Hire Steve Jobs?

So a guy walks into your office for a job interview. He has long hair and is dressed in jeans with sandals on his feet. As he sits down you immediately become aware of his “hygiene” issues. You put this aside and start to talk to him about his experience. You learn why he dropped out of college and all about his philosophy on how taking LSD helps his creative side and that eating the right food means that he never has to take a shower.

The interview finishes and you go back to the HR department to feed back on the candidate.

Do you commend them on their selection criteria or let rip on their failure to screen appropriately? Do you hire the candidate or fire the head of HR?

Of course, the scenario is unlikely to happen. Most HR departments are very good at screening out these people.

But wait a minute; the candidate I just described is actually a description of Steve Jobs. No wonder he had to start up his own company. Who’d hire him?

Naturally after the success of Apple, most companies would have done anything to have had Steve Jobs on their team. If only they could have hired him before he was so successful, but then would he have got through the screening process?

Does this seem irrelevant now that Mr Jobs is no more? Only if you believe that Steve Jobs was the only person on the planet with unique and amazing talent. Clearly that isn’t the case, but I can understand why many managers and directors come to that conclusion. Why, because maybe in interview after interview you never see that kind of talent walk into your office.

Perhaps HR are doing a very good job at screening these people out?  You see, recruitment has become more about elimination than selection. E.g. How to reduce the perhaps thousands of applications down to a manageable number of candidates that can go through to interview stage.

To make this process easier, job profiles become longer, more specific and with more mandatory requirements.  You don’t just need a degree, but also in a specific field, at a specific grade and obtained from a select number of universities.  Job done; the list of candidates has been effortlessly reduced from thousands to just a few. Everyone else has been eliminated. The problem is so has Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and everyone else that doesn’t fit the mould and that’s the problem; Talent like innovation doesn’t fit the mould, often it breaks the mould.

So maybe it’s time to rip up your detailed job profiles and start with Talent. Anything that isn’t about the talent is just noise, worse it can deliberately discriminate against talented individuals who didn’t come from the clone factory and flow through one academic institution to the next. So job profiles should be short and only speak of the talent, not the background. Select and test on talent only.

Does that mean new processes in HR? Yes.

Does it mean it’s going to be harder and more time consuming? Yes.

Can you afford not to get the best talent? No.

When it comes to interviews, remember you are looking for talent. Talent is individually packaged and is never cloned. Don’t be put off by the packaging, after all, you could be interviewing the next Steve Jobs…

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Inspiration for Innovation

Thomas Edison was one of the most prolific inventors in our history with 1093 US patents to his name.

As well as his inventions he also left much wisdom.  Here are my top 12 quotations from the man himself to inspire us all.



“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”


“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”


“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”


“Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!”


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


“To have a great idea, have a lot of them. “


“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”


“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”


“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”


“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”


“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.”


“Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged. “

For a more stylistic slideshow of these quotes click here

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