Nick's Notes


The CIO Connect Annual Conference “Innovation isn’t anything new” was a great success. We had more CIOs in the room than ever before and a set of great speakers.

Today, though, I just want to pull one lesson out of the many interesting perspectives.

It became clear as our presentations and discussions unfolded that there are differing mindsets and different circumstances where “innovation” and “governance” interfere with each other. Innovation is about pushing the boundaries, and governance processes often push back. In large corporate businesses – even when the board, the chief executive, the CIO and lots of other people are crying out for innovation – it still doesn’t happen. What blocks innovation? Why can there be an apparent willingness and openness to innovation, but nothing comes through? We say that innovation is a process not just inspiration, so there must be something missing to unlock that process.

The missing ingredient is culture. Actions speak louder than words. No matter who calls for innovation, individuals will assess the risk to themselves of putting their head above the parapet. In a former company, I was dismayed by the difference between the creative nature of the business and the oppressive signage around some of the buildings – you know the sort of thing, the “Do Not…” type signs. The CEO was happy for me to make changes, but the culture didn’t change just because the signs did. The signs embodied the perceived culture, and that culture was to follow the leader rather than replicate the creative nature of the business.

Mainly people ignore such things in their conscious minds, they become part of the background, quite literally. But they also sink in to the sub-conscious, and become the way things are done over time. It takes effort and focus and resilience to change corporate culture, and it starts from the top.

Nigel Barlow spoke about the way we stereotype and make decisions with very little information. Worse, we fill in the blanks – by making up stories to tell ourselves. They have no basis in reality other than to use stereotypes. He confronted us with that mindset by asking us to answer a set of questions about him. Although nobody knew him personally, everyone had a view – a view that they would justify and defend. This way of decision making can have some serious repercussions, as Daniel Kahnemann describes in his book “Thinking fast and thinking slow”, a book I’ve mentioned before. My conclusion is that to make change stick, we need to push harder against prevailing thinking than may first appear necessary. We must remember the way people make up their minds and communicate, even over-communicate, so that your audience don’t make up their own story, based on few facts and lots of prejudice.

As an aside, my favourite comment of the day was from Justin Webb, our conference chair – he told the assembled crowd at the end of the conference that he had been suffering through the day with a bad back and had only got through it with drugs supplied by me. Pushing, as always – although only Nurofen, I hasten to add.

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