How to Encourage Innovation

How to Encourage Innovation - Innovation Excellence“It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception.” – Albert Einstein

Confused what innovation is?

There have been discussions on Linked In forums and elsewhere about innovation and what it is.

Is it a lot of small steps over time that transforms a company (as heard at a dinner recently) or is it a paradigm change that shakes up an industry (as discussed in a telephone call yesterday)?

I had racked my brains for a while to find a simple way to describe my thinking and this week, inspiration struck. For some reason, my computer started playing music tracks at random (I suspect childish fingers at work).

Suddenly, I had the soprano of La Bohème fading into James Morrison, followed by a snatch of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, leading into a (surprisingly catchy) rap song my son had downloaded.  The thing was, it worked; they segued into each other with a few rough edges.

The inspiration was that if we equate music to innovation, there is no need to differentiate. Whether it is a thirty-second advertising jingle, the theme tune to a TV series, a three-minute pop song or Beethoven’s 9th, it is all music.


Let’s play with the metaphor of music here. As creative leaders, let’s not waste time arguing whether this is music or that is music. Good jingles can launch products into popular culture; the writers of the Neighbours’ (Australian soap opera) theme tune have made a fortune and Beethoven has inspired millions. There is, however, a difference in scale, capability and appropriateness.

Let’s discuss these three factors:


One person in the marketing department can create a metaphorical jingle on a £50 keyboard. Beethoven’s 9th will need somewhat larger resources from the senior management team. It will probably need some of your star players, selected additional players and a concert hall.


It would be somewhat daunting for the new junior to hear that you want them to create Beethoven’s 9th. Teach them to compose and build their confidence to write jingles; this might lead them to co-create a symphony one day. In the meantime, they might delight you with the business equivalent of Neighbours.


In the music world, there are a lot of annoying jingles, banal TV themes and turgid symphonies. You have to sift through them to find the hits. That’s life. Many of the hits would not exist without the duds.

The creative leader’s role is to foster an environment where people create music, develop an organisational playlist to guide them and create a system that spotlights the hits and gently but firmly, dims the rest.

In conclusion, we can waste a lot of energy debating what innovation is. It is better to:

  • Recognise and facilitate different scales of innovation
  • Build the capability and encourage people to innovate at all scales
  • Implement approaches to develop and use the metaphorical jingles, pop tunes and symphonies


Take my metaphorical piece and translate it into a literal plan of action for your organisation. How can you get your team or organisation to produce sweet music?

To Close

My daughter was practising on the piano the other day. She was repeating a refrain that I really enjoyed. In fact, I liked it so much, I went to ask her who the composer was. “Oh, it’s something I am trying to compose for my exam,” she said.

On one hand, I was pleased that she had composed this, on the other I was disappointed that I couldn’t download it on iTunes and hear the entire piece. All I could do was to encourage her to finish it.

In a way, isn’t that what we have to do as creative leaders? Spot glimmers of innovation, give them a warm breath of encouragement and some fuel (piano lessons) and hope for a raging success!

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John Brooker is a former SVP and innovator at Visa and is now the MD of Yes! And. Think Innovatively network. He developed his Inn8® Approach to help teams maximise opportunities innovatively. You can hear clients discuss these approaches at John is an Open University MBA and tutored the Creativity, Innovation and Change course for 14 years. He is author of Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate. Contact: +44 20 8869 9990 or

John Brooker




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