A lot is written and said about innovation. Leaders are exhorted to innovate at all costs and there is no shortage of hired help when it comes to the theory, formation and implementation of innovative procedures.

But there is an inherent problem.

The context in which we hope innovative practice will flourish is floored. The systems we have more often than not work against innovative mindsets and practice. We reward success with the outcome being a fear of failure, yet we know that without failure there can be no innovation. We measure the wrong things and stifle initiative, thinking and imagination. Difference is regarded as problematic and so we aim for sameness and both lead and manage with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. However one sure way to kill innovation can be captured in a phrase I recently heard an Executive utter in a speech given at his company’s Leadership Academy. He referred to ‘the key’ being, “proven best practice”.

Proven best practice: how can leaders believe that by looking in the rear view mirror one can navigate the future? Proven best practice will not provide the innovative mindsets demanded by the future. By focusing on this ‘established wisdom’ that is constantly espoused by business schools the world over, we become trapped into looking in the wrong direction. We seek answers in tired solutions that are unfit to navigate the challenges posed by the new world of work. Futurists tell us that 80% of our tomorrows will be characterized by what they term, ‘novelties’ – in other words, the unpredictable, the uncertain or the proverbial curve ball. If we are to build organizations capable of dealing with this reality then we need to be able to learn from the future, not the past. Our orientation and focus needs to do a 180-degree swivel and our intent needs to change from a preoccupation with mimicking the ‘best’ from the past, to one of discovering the best from the future.

Thinking ‘out the box’ presupposes the ability to first be able to think ‘in the box’. Understanding the past and how it has shaped the present is always worthwhile and is the foundation of good strategic intuition. The mistake we make is to look to the past (by way of ‘proven best practice’) to provide solutions for the future. It is a false expectation and a misuse of the wisdom that traces the journey we have travelled to this point. The past provides pointers, valuable lessons and stories that we need to tell. Smart leaders are quick to recognize this and don’t allow those within their organizations to constantly promote and implement best practice as the solution to those adaptive challenges we face as we play it forward!

So next time you hear, ‘proven best practice’ remember – you have been warned!





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