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Those strange accountants

You can’t ignore each other. I feel silly to admit it but it’s amazing how often I forget to think of everyone when developing my hairbrain schemes for world domination. I was reminded once again of the dangers inherent in creative thinking by Kent Sneddon, head of design at Methven, the listed shower and tap company. Kent was the guest speaker at the fourth event in the AUT-Idealog Innovation Series. “Think of those strange people – the accountants. They matter.” It was a nice twist on the usual message about the creatives being the odd ones out.

In fact, the message really is that there is no odd-one-out. Everyone’s got a role to play. In his famous essay “Creativity is Not Enough”, the one time editor of Harvard Business Review, Theodore Levitt thundered about the destructive force of creative people. They mistake “the idea of a great painting with the great painting itself … But as anyone who knows anything about organisations, it’s hard enough to get anything done let alone introduce a new way of doing things …What is often lacking is not creavity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense – that is, putting ideas to work.”

Methven is a great example of managing the innovation process, from conceptual tinkering to manufacturing and sales. Their new SatinJet technology came from engineers playing around with the way water comes out of the shower head – by colliding the jets with each other, the water turns from jet to mist. Great idea, but at the same time the company leaders saw that a strategic change from simply manufacturing to developing innovative, branded products was critical to survival. Along with that strategic commitment, the new technology was adopted by a marketing team and design department that recast the whole idea of the shower into beauty therapy. The result, and I’m not doing them justice in this small space, is that one idea was allowed to turn into a significant profit when everyone was involved in a strategic innovation process.

I suppose the whole approach would be called Design Led. I’m not sure I agree with designers hi-jacking the innovation process but semantics aside, the key to turning ideas into action is that everyone must be involved. Even the accountants. Sigh.

We’ll be putting up Kent’s presentation in the next few days.