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Kill your company, and other ways to keep innovation top of mind #AccentureIC2015

The Accenture Innovation Conference kicked off with Johannesburg’s executive mayor addressing all the challenges South Africa’s capital is faced with. It seemed to be an unusually long list that after nearly an hour wouldn’t be resolved during the conference.  But when futurist Lisa Bodell took the stage, it felt like she was addressing both his and everyone else at the conference’s problems. Straight up and honest, Bodell got everyone standing (literally) and what she said should be shouted from the rooftops for all companies to hear.

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Lisa Bodell is CEO of futurethink, an award-winning innovation firm, who is on her very first visit to South Africa. With clients ranging from Google to Intel, Bodell can almost immediately identify an opportunity to change. Even before the mayor’s speech, Bodell recognised the Rainbow Nation as a place of opportunity with “huge problems to be solved”. So she offered some advice, the kind that’s applicable to every organisation no matter its size.

Story of change

Every experience we have is there for a reason, Bodell says, which is why she goes back to her time in advertising. “I’m always a very creative thinker and can be strategic as well.” But the agency made it very clear that if you’re part of the creative group, you cannot be strategic too. Either the ponytail or the suit had to go.

For the last 17 years Bodell has set herself one goal: telling everyone how to be innovative. Setting up her company, Bodell assembled a team to of TED speakers, performers, big thinkers and authors. However they “didn’t think it would be as hard as we thought” as bringing about change is something many people say they want but don’t necessarily do.

Kill your company

“Clients bringing us in to teach change, were the very people who were holding us back to do that. We were given crayons to create a picture, but the leaders told us to only colour inside the lines.”

What Bodell learned is that the reason why companies resist change, is that they think it entails far more than what it actually does. “Innovation is not about doing more but doing less.  You need to give people simple things to do.”

Like the title of her book Kill the Company, Bodell says business leaders should stop giving orders and instead create a culture where employees can influence change themselves. Companies have become too complacent and too complex, having an excuse to stick to what they do every day.

One problem companies often face is departments acting as silos, unwilling or able to collaborate across the company. That’s why futurethink client Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceutical company based in Germany, decided to try a concept called lunch roulette.

Employees would fill out an online form to indicate when they will be open for lunch and what they will be eating. Mimicking the infamous Chatroulette, employees would randomly be teamed up with workers from other parts of the company and through this new ideas were spread through the organisation.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. If you are a company you can articulate who you are. What is more important is who you are becoming.” Adds Bodell: “[In the future] the race is about talent,” and maintaining your company’s own talent. As people are increasingly looking for change, companies will have to constantly change themselves if they want to maintain their own talent.

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