Innovation not “cool enough” in banks

In a post entitled "The problem with banking innovation and how to fix it", Guillaume remarks:

"smart innovative employees go to companies that have an innovative management environment and culture…"

And earlier in the piece he cites a post by Allen Weinberg stating that banks have difficulty hiring innovative employees because of "their lack of coolness". Both of these remarks are, I think, somewhat short of the mark.

I have never had any difficulty whatsoever hiring an innovative employee. In fact, we have a queue of people who want internal transfers to us, and a list of interns who want a placement that everyone else is jealous of. And I can tell you why. It is because we do different work, work at the edge, which is attractive largely as a result of the "coolness" factor.

"Ah", I can hear you think from here, "but are those innovative employees?"

Well yes. Practically everyone is innovative, but often they don’t know it. I had an experience the other day which reminded me of this. We were working on something called a "Leadership Challenge", where a group of us from around and about have to focus on "making the bank more proactively innovative". Excepting myself, no one on this group does innovation for their day job.

"I’m not that innovative",this person says. I reply with a question "do you try new things in case you can make things better?". Of course the answer was yes. And doing things differently to get a better outcome is innovative behaviour.

But later in his post Guillaume identifies the thing which is difficult about innovation (and not just in banks):

"People with innovative ideas as well as execution capabilities are a company’s greatest asset and should be given opportunities before they leave and join a company that does"

The problem is that having the ideas is the fun part. Everyone likes sitting around and dreaming about what is possible. Turning those ideas into something, though, is much harder. The innovative employee who also wants to sign-up for execution is a rare animal indeed.

And people are often surprised at what execution entails. More often than not, it is about sales. Selling the idea to get some support. Selling the project so that people don’t block. In the end, selling whatever-it-is to the people that need to sell it. "Opportunities" are made for innovation, not given.

It is fallacious to think that all you have to do is give an innovator money to get innovation. If, however, what you want is lots of pet projects, then by all means hand over the wallet.

Finding an innovative employee who has execution and who is able to sell is about as easy as identifying the last existing specimen of the dodo.

Suggesting that all the good innovators won’t work for banks misses the key point. Which is that there aren’t that many good innovators to start with.

One Response to“Innovation not “cool enough” in banks”

  1. July 2, 2008 at 4:14 pm #

    James
    Doesn’t your reliance on “a queue of people who want internal transfers to us, and a list of interns who want a placement” rather confirm Guillaume’s point that potential employees who are interested in innovation don’t want to work for a bank, but would rather work for an innovative company?

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