Renovate or innovate? That is the question

October 22, 2020
Darryl Cooke

Executive Chairman

View profile

One of the greatest business leaders of all time, the late Jack Welch of GE said that if you stand still you watch your competitors pass you by. It is possibly the best advice that you can give to any successful leader. The management maxim of ‘it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ must be the worst advice of all time. The world moves faster than ever. There are more startups with new ideas than ever and more funds available to support them. It is no longer the established players that you have to worry about. Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Google, Apple all came from nowhere to become the largest companies in the world. To stand still is to invite redundancy as your product is surpassed.

While you wait around and bide your time the clock ticks away. The business turns down. Competitors have you in their sights. Your market share begins to slip. It was Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who invented digital photography. It was the leadership team that failed to recognise the opportunity. It was under their noses and on their watch when they failed to recognise the disruptive technology that would come to dominate the photography market. But they are not alone. Why didn’t Barnes and Noble or Waterstones establish Amazon or online book sales or Yellow Pages, google or Thomas Cook, Airbnb. Stand still and fail to innovate and beware of the consequences.

The CEO is changed. The turnaround guys are not far behind.  Cost cutting, closing offices, redundancy becomes the norm.

Even now we see such great iconic businesses as Marks and Spencer and John Lewis going through the processes of cutting costs and reorganising their businesses but where is the response to the market. Where is the innovation? Where are the new ideas that made them so formidable in the first place?

Innovation is not difficult if you can see the problem and you begin with the end in mind.

Seeing the problem is the first challenge.

We often can’t see it when it is under our noses.

Our GP medical services are crying out for change. GP surgeries close every night at 6 and every weekend. Do they not think that their patients get ill in the evening or at the weekend? They have done this for so long that they don’t know any other way and they have no competition. But surely a caring doctor would want to know that his or her patients are cared for 24 / 7. A few years ago we moved to Sunday trading and late nights for retail because customers wanted it but we would be more reassured if we could get easy access to medical help in the evenings and at the weekend. So much more useful than a new suit. And the interesting thing is it is not difficult. Doctors choose not to do so, and they have no competition to force change. Stephen Covey says in his book on the seven habits of highly effective people – begin with the end in mind. The end is to provide a complete caring medical service for every patient (customer) of your practice. It then becomes a matter of money and organisation. But with such a large customer basis and a local community to call on neither are difficult. Fundraisers and good administrators will make mincemeat of such a challenge.

Similarly when we look at education. Why do we have education? What is the purpose of education? Whenever you seek to change a business or an industry this is the question that you should answer. You can’t address the changes that need to be made unless you can answer that question. Of course, we wish to create better leaders, more entrepreneurs and better sports men and women and musicians but surely the purpose of education is to improve the lives of everyone and not the few. Our schools and our teachers have the opportunity to do just that. Schools should be where everyone is granted an equal playing field. Parents will seek the best for their children and by doing so will create an unequal society. Parents who can, will always provide for their children. Extra tuition, state of the art computer, lots of books, hands on homework support, supportive environment et cetera. That is just a fact. We will never change that. Accept it. Home at the moment is where the difference is made. But school is where the playing field can be levelled and the less fortunate can be advanced. A minimum of 12 years and at least 7 hours a day. Is that enough time? Is that enough time to develop a child that doesn’t have the home advantages of middle-class children?

We have a unique opportunity over a minimum of 12 years to change and improve the life of every child. It should be our passion to do so. School is where we can make a difference, where inequality can be hit head on and with maximum force. If we get it right there it will positively affect every strand of our society. All forms of inequality can become a thing of the past if we get our education right. All children should emerge having had the same opportunity and fully prepared for their life ahead.

Teachers need to be more than teachers. They are coaches and mentors and should be created as such and trained as such. Every teacher should take as much pride from coaching as they do from teaching. Why can’t we take each child and develop their full potential over 12 years. Focusing on their needs each year and then passing it on to the next coach and mentor at the end of the year to take them to a new level. Considering their growth and their challenges at every stage. Being aware of their needs both at school and at home. Becoming aware along the way of the things that make them happy and encouraging the passions within them. Many children have the advantage of parents who will ensure that they succeed, whatever it takes. But many don’t. Schools can level the playing field.  Successful businessmen and women talk about focusing on behaviours and not on numbers or outcomes which will always be good if the behaviours are good. We have short term goals in teaching focusing on an outcome each year measured by tests. The aim should be to fuel the long term ambition of every child. To fulfil the potential of every child. Begin with the end in mind without becoming a political football.

Beginning with the end in mind is crucial. Recognising it is key. Building a group comprising intelligent and diverse individuals with wide experiences will create the road to the solution. To any solution. The leaders job then becomes one of removing the obstacles. These are generally people in a business who can create treacle and make achieving the goal harder. Preventing this and removing such people becomes key to innovation and growth.

A growth unlimited mindset is needed but let’s not pretend that innovation and growth is difficult. Recognise it, deal with it.

A leader ignores innovation and the process at his or her own peril. If so, the next change is the leader. And the loser is the business, it’s people it’s suppliers and it’s customers. Embrace and promote innovation.  

Darryl Cooke

Author of To Innovate or Not To Innovate