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Innovation at Work: My Summer Reading

This week, I explore why innovation is the key to business success and how we can nurture innovative teams.

Where would we be without the internet, the humble spreadsheet, or even the ‘balloonicorn’? Well, eLearning probably wouldn’t exist, our day-jobs would be harder and my recent trip to Greece wouldn’t have been half as much fun! Whether it’s making life easier, more efficient or just plain joyful, innovation makes a huge difference to how we live.


Innovations drive our economy, change our relationships and shape our lives.

This was the key message of my, not-so-light, holiday reading – ‘50 Things That Made the Modern Economy’ by Tim Harford. It was a welcome reminder that innovation is at the heart of business success and growth. Read the book – it’s a brilliant insight into how everything from the plough to the pill transformed the way we live. Although I would have liked to see more female innovators mentioned! That said, I give the book a solid 7 out of 10.

Below, I explore why innovation matters and give you my top takeaways from this thought-provoking read.

Why Innovate?

Innovation drives the economy forward. And it’s happening at an ever-growing speed. Today a new craze can sweep the globe in the time it takes to download an app! This rapid rate of change means customers expect products and services to be instantaneous, intuitive and on demand. We need to innovate to stay competitive, meet customers’ needs and achieve long term growth. No surprises so far.

But what about when it comes to internal stakeholders, our own teams? Put simply, people want to work for innovative companies. 78% of employees, whose organisation encourages innovation, are committed to their employer. Other research shows almost half of generation x would leave their current company to work in a more innovative workplace. By creating innovation-rich workplaces, we can attract and retain top talent. What’s more, 85% of people who feel their company’s technology is ahead of the curve, say they love their jobs. So it is worth staying open to new ideas, reviewing working methods and ensuring our teams have the latest tools to excel in their roles.

In short, putting innovative thinking at the heart of our teams helps attract, retain and satisfy both customers and employees!

My Top Takeaways From The Book

There are many benefits to creating innovative workplaces. Tim Harford’s book gives us fresh insight and inspiration into this important subject. Here are my top takeaways from the book:

1. Collaboration

Successful innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. Harford deftly highlights how few world-changing inventions were down to just one person. Great innovation isn’t about a single light bulb moment. It’s about collaboration. It’s about all those light bulbs, above many heads, coming on together to light the way forward. Cheesy but true!

In fact, two in three consumer product professionals rank collaboration among the top three critical factors for innovation success, trumping even access to financial resources.

All ideas are good ideas – especially those that make us smile.

We need to collaborate within our own teams. Whether it’s a simple idea that streamlines internal operations, or a new product that delights customers – empower employees to share ideas and support each other to transform light bulb moments into real-life innovations.

2. Interconnectedness

Thanks to innovations like the internet, whatever we need, someone will have the answer! Harford highlights this phenomena of global collaboration, with the story of the first ever Ebay sale. It was fuelled by one man’s determination to buy and fix an old laser pointer, rather than fork out for a new one. This small event marked the beginning of e-commerce and symbolises the power of global interconnectedness.

We can harness the power of connection by tapping into the knowledge and talent that exists within our teams. With the right tools, you can encourage company-wide connection and collaboration. For example, you could use social features on the LMS, such as message boards to generate ideas and conversations. You can also use the LMS to identify subject matter experts. So next time someone has a problem, a question or simply needs a laser pointer they will know which colleague can help!

3. We Aren’t Always Aware of Our Own Legacy

Harford’s book made me aware that we may never know our full legacy. Sad but true. Whether what we say or do now, makes an impact today, tomorrow or 20 years down the line – it matters. What may seem like a throw away comment, simple joke or wacky idea to us, could be just the inspiration needed to fuel someone’s ideas, development or career. We influence each other all the time. We are each others mentors without always knowing it!

So, as Mahatma Gandhi advised, be the change you want to see in the world. You never know, your comment, deed or idea may spark a future innovation…or revolution!

4. If I could add any innovation to the book it’d be…xAPI

xAPI (or Tin Can as it’s often known) is transforming the way we learn! xAPI is an emerging learning technology that allows us to track both online and offline learner experiences and behaviour – wherever and whenever they happen! This means xAPI can track all that vital informal learning that happens when the formal training ends. Therefore, xAPI helps us better understand how our employees learn and use tools such as the LMS. This enables us to create fully personalised training that’s tailored to each learner’s needs, interests and learning habits!

There you have it. My takeaways from Tim Harford’s book on the how innovations change lives. But don’t just take it from me – give it a read and please tell me your views on the book. I’m eager to know, which innovation you would have wanted to see in there?

– Juliette

These themes and more are explored further in my upcoming book about Unleashing Superheroes in your organisation. Sign up to our blog below to stay up to date on all the juicy details.

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