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Innovation Strategy And The Elephant In The Room

A good friend and colleague of mine is an expert in innovation strategy.

He has held professorships at leading business schools in Europe and has worked with the top management of a number of large corporations on their business strategies. One of the things he’s observed in his consultancy practice is that executives often practice strategy as if the world stayed still. The typical results of this kind of strategizing are well-defined action plans and budgets for dealing with what they expect to happen. They don’t get the result they really need: an increase in their corporations’ readiness to seize opportunities and avoid problems that emerge from the unexpected.

My friend has also told me that when he confronts senior executives with these observations, few of them disagree. Most say they wish they could do things differently, but they can’t seem to find a way to do that. So businesses continue to do the same things over, and over, and over again, expecting – for some crazy reason – a different outcome.

If that’s true, no wonder why there is still a sizeable gender gap in economic participation.

If most executives practice strategy as if the world stayed still, it seems likely that few have considered the opportunities or problems associated with the most dramatic social transformations ever – the massive influx of women into higher education and employment since the 1970s. Not taking that development into account in business strategy is sort of like planning a dinner party without noticing there’s an elephant in the dining room.

There’s actually fairly reliable evidence that the gender gap in economic participation is like an elephant in the dining room.

I mean, it really isn’t something businesses these days can afford to ignore.  In a report published in 2007, Professor Lynda Gratton and colleagues at the London School of Business assert that “the key levers and drivers for innovative processes are positively influenced by having 50/50 proportions of men and women in teams”. During the spring and summer of 2007, Gratton’s research team at London Business School collected data from more than 100 teams operating in 17 countries. In total they surveyed and analysed responses from more than 400 team members and leaders using an online survey tool. They found that a team’s experimentation and efficiency is optimal with 50:50 proportions of men and women. When either men or women are in the minority, the team’s innovative potential is reduced, apparently because both men and women experience lower life satisfaction, higher negative mood, and less commitment to the organization when they are in the minority.

The obvious takeaway is that a key factor in a successful innovation strategy would be to make sure all the teams in the organization – but especially those charged with working on innovation – include equal numbers of men and women. There are a number of things businesses can do to make that happen. More on that later.


By Lynn Roseberry, a contributing blogger for JenningsWire