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Beyond boundaries: innovation for a changing future

Executives are gearing up for a new age of innovation. They accept the need to think differently about running a global business and making an impact on the world.

In Lenovo’s new research, around six in 10 senior executives say Covid has made them more open to taking risks. Two in three believe their businesses are more creative today than they were before the crisis began. And many are asking serious questions about how innovation can help them improve their social and environmental performance.

But there is a sticking point. Business leaders’ attitudes and ambitions may be in the right place, but most are uncertain about they can drive innovation in practice. All too often, they are held back by outdated norms and protocols that are at odds with a culture of innovation.

The research highlights a few specific areas where organisations may need to stretch themselves further if they are to excel at innovation. Diversity is a case in point. Businesses recognize the value of bringing together different voices in the idea-generation process, but they admit to struggling when building more diverse innovation teams.

So, while most organisations say they strive for all kinds of diversity in their innovation activity, 64% concede that truly maverick thinkers are reined in when they become too disruptive. Business leaders also worry that it’s only employees who fit the traditional corporate mould – that is, who talk, look, and behave in a certain way – that can break the rules. The effect is to inhibit the creative potential of a diverse workforce.

There is also room for improvement when it comes to the day-to-day interactions within organisations. More than half of business leaders believe they have an excellent culture of innovation, but it sounds as though their workplaces still operate according to top-down, restrictive codes of conduct.

Fear of repercussion continues to act as a brake on experimentation, for example, with 65% of executives describing failing fast – a classic ambition for innovators – as an aspiration rather than a reality in their businesses. There are also signs that, all too often, senior leaders still dictate the ideation process and talk over junior executives when they put forward their ideas.

Finally, businesses could do more to make the most of Covid-era remote working and flexibility. Although today’s working practices can give employees the space to think and develop ideas, most recognise that their staff have – understandably – lost creative zeal at times during the crisis. The priority will be to ensure the next wave of reconfiguration, either back into the office or towards a hybrid workforce, supports innovation without creating burnout.

Lenovo’s research suggests these challenges are not insurmountable. Many are making progress towards a culture where senior leaders champion experimentation and where employees are empowered to think beyond traditional borders. But the reality is that businesses need to remain patient and to prove their commitment to change. That requires a focus on amplifying all voices, overcoming legacy behaviours, and addressing the challenges of hybrid working. Those that succeed have a golden opportunity to unlock creativity and build a more sustainable future.

Read the full report