Chris Skinner, much respected banking commentator and author suggests that banks have dropped the word “innovation” from their mantra. He says the focus on being innovative in banks was “a focal point during the 2000 and now its all over”.
Supporting this point, he says that the number of times banks use the word in their annual reports has dropped and that all the Heads of Innovation jobs in banks have gone.
I have to beg to differ, because as one of those “gone” Heads of Innovation, I find myself talking more than ever to big innovation programmes in banks. Last time I looked, all the big innovation programmes at the top banks around the place were still very much going on strong.
Perhaps Chris isn’t talking to the right people. I’ve never seen so much interest in the work I’m doing (even though I’m now in the public sector) from banks, and the book I wrote on banking innovation seems to be doing quite a brisk trade.
The point of the argument that Chris makes, really, is he thinks that big high profile innovation teams are fading away, to be replaced with some kind of “innovation culture”, which works away behind the scenes to create outcomes which are invisible in overall tapestry of what banks are doing. He goes on to say that:
“the lesson learnt for most banks is that innovation is not a function or a label, but a culture so it is gratifying to see innovation has been remove from the mantra of the banks”
Personally, I think he’s missed the point. All the examples he quotes of an innovation culture working in banks are actually examples of innovative new things that have been adopted as part of business-as-usual in the past. That’s not a sign of an innovative culture, rather it shows that in the past these banks have created some new way of doing business which is now part of ongoing operations.
The question I would be asking is this: how did those successes get generated, and how did they get so well adopted that they are now part of business as usual? If the answer is the individual heroics of a few key people, then what you have is random innovation, not an innovation culture.
You see, innovation cultures don’t work unless you put the systems in place to support them. Everyone talks about companies which are supposed to be inherently innovative and fails to recognise that what makes them so is not the goodwill of their employees who engage in individual heroics. They are all companies which have systems, structures and active goals that support an innovation agenda. They are organisations that have decided that innovation itself is a business process.
Naturally, there is usually some kind of team that is responsible for running that business process.
I don’t disagree for a moment that the high profile, bet-the-bank innovation team has gone underground to a degree. That doesn’t mean these teams aren’t around any more and innovation magically happens by itself, regardless of any cultural imperative set by leadership.
I’d say, though, it is a sign that innovation teams are getting recognised as part of a business as usual process, so are naturally getting less visible as they become less different.