A couple of weeks back I had a good old chat with someone in my metwork – yes my metwork. She works for a European company name not to be mentioned, who basically didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Not only did the Directors take someone with an iffy backround to do the driving, but the said person turns out to be completely incompetent into the bargain. ‘Bloody marvellous’ she said. And who can blame her. The staff are in a mess, the company is losing out to other competitors, no one really knows what to do and people are starting to look elsewhere for a job, anything than this one they now hate. That little story got me thinking.

If one was to remove the whole profile from the ‘manager’ who turned out to be crap at what they did, then what was the alternative? Expert help of course – as in consultants. Now, in my neck of the woods being a design background, us good old designers are the experts. Occasionally we work with our clients, but its a well known paradigm in the design industry that our clients know shit. ‘How arrogant’ some might say but the truth of the matter is clients, directors whole companies all need someone who can see the wood and the trees to not only tell them, but show them a better way of doing.

All of which leads me on to the whole discussion of ‘accelerators’: Tim Brown and Roger Martin point out in ‘Design Action’ how complex innovations often encounter resistance from intended beneficiaries, unintentionally perhaps disrupting an existing balance or business model. It could therefore be said that the innovation action, if it does not take on board the drivers of associated areas it can have an effect on, is more or less restricted in performance.

I want to tackle this in another way then. Instead of talking about say, design thinking or innovation practice, we look at the ‘forces’ people are a part of that is the reality we need to work with, based on some kind of common pull factor. Brown and Martin themselves proposed treating a disrupter as a design challenge – something they call ‘intervention design.’ Cool term for something CEO Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo who  puts it nicely:

“Design leads to innovation and innovation demands design.”

It was in the Harvard Business Review of November 2012, an article by John K. Kotter that brought my attention to the whole idea of accelerators. Since then, I’ve had dialogue with a global company working actively with ‘engagement drivers’ rather than ‘accelerators’ and I have to admit it, the whole idea of ‘engines of change’ has well and truly lodged itself fimly in the crevices of my grey matter. Then I see leading companies such as Vestas, the world’s leading manufacturer of windmills using the same language of acceleration. They are one example of the process of acceleration, adopting an action mindset that allows them to get to a future state quicker than of they had just continued along the same old path.

*update 8th December 2015* Vestas announce the buy of US Upwind Solutions for 414 million Danish crowns:

‘This is an important element in our strategy – it helps us to grow quicker. The expansion of our strategy includes both the USA and Canada. We have repeatedly stated that as market leaders, we have a strong position and are constantly looking for new possibilities to expand and accelerate our strategy in a number of different areas.’ – Michael Zarin, press officer Vestas to Ritzau Finance.

Its getting to that future state quickly that is the important message here, since in the age of disruption (looking at the age of innovation in the drivers mirror) if we can’t get there quickly we just might never get there at all. This also takes care of the aforementioned crappy manager, since her job can easily be replaced by a good old strategic consultancy who come with a nice little bag, get to grips talking to those wonderfully frustrated people in the company now without the manager, since she got fired anyway, and have good old chinwag as they say, finding out what they know, what they want and who they think is getting in their way. The trick is then to get these slowly awakening folks to pull together, join the club, and fill that nice little bag with some very nice tricks. Then all they need do is hand the bag over to the directors with a team of happy-chappies now in place to tell them too, how the bag is to be used in the future.

This is how I see the whole agenda  of accelerators being used.

In the aforementioned article the tagline went ‘How the most innovative companies capitalize on today’s rapid-fire strategic challenges – and still make the numbers.’ And hey, the article went on to talk about disruption. The point I’m taking my time making is, innovation just fails to make it to the masses.

When I talk to my network about innovation, the responses tend to vary between, ‘oh, that was something they talked a lot about a decade ago’ to ‘isn’t all that innovation talk fluffy.’ ‘Fluffy‘ is the general english expression adopted by Danes when talking about something that approximates bullshit. Of course Innovation isn’t bullshit but it does fail to gain traction with the masses. The thing is, of all the everyone who is talking about innovation, few of them are actually doing innovation whilst many have no idea what the hell any of it means. Change and acceleration however, and trying to keep up with the arena, have to run fast to sprint by so you damned well get to the finishing line.