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Orbit Shifting Innovation and Bohemian Rhapsody

Peter Aceto is a passionate leader. As the former President and CEO of Tangerine, he stands for more than a simple approach to  leadership: his goal is to change the conversation, and to inspire unconventional thinking and transparency that delivers unparalleled results for business and consumers. Below, Peter looks at the innovation messages in the new book, Orbit Shifting Innovation, by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah:

Many people have studied and spoken about the typical enemies of innovation. But, are these really the enemies or are they just the symptoms of another root cause?

I’ve observed both the challenge and opportunity of innovation in organizations that I have been a part of as well as others that I have worked with or carefully observed from a distance. These challenges and opportunities often differ depending on the size and complexity of an organization. But, when management teams begin to struggle with innovation you often hear similar types of issues emerge.

  • Project development times go from hours to days to weeks and even months. This often correlates to growth of the business, growth of the client base and the need for processes and procedures etc.
  • Leadership teams begin to focus their attention on ensuring that better collaboration is happening because there are more people in the organization, more departments, more layers. This need often manifests itself in missteps and miscommunication between product teams, technology teams, marketing teams and the people who are engaged with the clients everyday.
  • Sometimes leaders find pockets of people who are described as “risk averse” and this slowly begins to spread.
  • Leadership teams may find that the organization has too many ideas and they are spending much of their time figuring out which ones to choose. Once they do choose they may find it difficult to commit to the few they have ultimately selected. All the while they are second guessing that they’ve made the wrong call.
  • Or maybe you’ve heard of “scope creep”. Projects grow in size, slowly and organically, which turn small nimble initiatives into larger beasts that are more complicated, take more time and involve more people.

But, are these really the core problems of an organization struggling to innovate or are these possible symptoms of another set of more insidious forces?

At times I have found myself feeling like I was playing a never ending game of “whack-a-mole”. Have you ever felt that way? It doesn’t feel very good does it? And it definitely distracts you from your broader leadership role.

In their book “Orbit Shifting Innovation” Rajiv Narang & Devika Devaiah suggest that there are four higher level forces that impact a business’s orbit and stifle innovation. They referred to them as “forces of gravity” but I have always viewed them as forces of inertia.

They are:

  1. Organizational gravity
  2. Industry gravity
  3. Country gravity, and
  4. Cultural gravity

These forces pull entire companies, even industries and their leaders to the middle of the pack. If you take a closer look at industries like banking, insurance or even telecom and you consider these four forces it may help you understand their daunting challenge.

Consider that a large established bank may be greater than 100 years old. This institution is in a highly regulated market and typically employs a specific type of individual. Consider that this institution is in a country like Canada where humbleness and politeness are deep-rooted cultural values. When you consider these forces that are silently being applied it is easy to see that it would take an epic explosion to transform this industry forever.

But, these explosions do happen in many industries and in many countries and they require leaders with courage, with purpose, with confidence and with unlimited bounds of energy.

To make transformation happen through “orbit changing” innovation you will need to consider and explore these silent forces that will be pushing back on your efforts.

Innovation and transformation are two of my favourite topics to study and talk about. There are several examples in the book but my favourite is the story of Queen and their release of the song Bohemian Rhapsody. Listen to it here if you can do that and read at the same time, I can’t.

Queen, in the 1970s was a talented, hard working not yet famous English rock band. Freddy Mercury was the lead singer and was a visionary in many ways. When Queen first presented this song to their management team they were told “you haven’t a hope in hell of getting this played on the radio.” The song was over six minutes long, it was bizarre and disjointed and even had an opera section! No one had ever heard anything like it. Through a relationship with a daring radio disc jockey they were able to have the song played on the radio. Someone was willing to take a chance. Bohemian Rhapsody is now possibly the most recognizable song ever made. It became number one on the music chart in England and stayed there for over nine weeks.

This was the brainchild of Freddie Mercury and his bandmates. They persevered through every bit of gravity/inertia in their country, in their industry, in the culture of their business and the norms that people were excepting at the time. This was the song that changed the orbit for Queen forever and many would argue, changed music forever.

So let me leave you with this message from Orbit Shifting Innovation, because it is one that I believe will make the difference in successful innovation!

Peter Aceto/May, 2017