Why breaking the rules is good

Darrell Mann

Darrell Mann

Darrell Mann is the innovator innovators turn too.

He has pioneered innovations such as Pilkington self-cleaning glass; components on the Merlin helicopter; products for Proctor and Gamble and has also recently advised Turkish Airlines on their growth strategy.

Exclusive to Business Leader Magazine he discusses why breaking the rules can be good for businesses.

Innovation might just be the most difficult job that any organisation has to undertake.

On average over 98% of all innovation attempts globally will end in failure. Given these sorts of odds, a smart manager would look to avoid having to do it if they possibly can.

The only problem with such a strategy, however, even if we choose not to, it’s increasingly likely that one of our competitors will.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is the confusion surrounding the word innovation. Mention the word to most people and the image they conjure up is an egghead in a white lab coat doing science.

In reality, technical innovation is just a small slice of a much bigger innovation story.

Success of Apple

The heart of the success of Apple, for example, has almost nothing to do with technically changing anything.

What they’re really good at doing is innovating the business processes and ways of communicating what they do to their customers around someone else’s technology.

Innovation in its most general sense really has just two distinguishing criteria: firstly, it is something that can lay claim to being successful.

It’s easy to be creative and even easier to be inventive, but – just ask all of the millions of patent owners that haven’t made a single penny from their inventions – it is really hard to convince paying customers that you’ve got something that they need.

Creating step change

Secondly, innovation is all about creating some kind of a step- change in the way that things are done. Step-changes in turn come from challenging rules and assumptions.

Most people are really good at making incremental improvements, but rarely are these incremental solutions the things that will engage the interest of customers.

I could, to take a random example, decide that there’s a gap in my town for another, better, restaurant.

But merely opening up a slightly different version of what’s already there is very unlikely to allow me to earn a decent living.

95% of restaurants close

That’s why over 95% of restaurants close their doors within three years of opening.

On the other hand, the person that sets up a home delivery service that integrates all of the menus from all of the existing restaurants in town has just created a potentially interesting step-change.

A change that benefits both the customers and the restaurants in the town; real rule-breaking step-changes mean everyone wins.

Breaking the rules

Innovators are by definition rule breakers, which will explain why our public sector and governing institutions are particularly bad at innovation.

In a lot of ways, we set up these bodies in order to preserve rules, and as such they’re the polar opposite of innovative.

My company was recently asked to conduct an evaluation of EU spending on research. One of the EU’s biggest funding mechanisms works in five year cycles, each dishing out £50 billion Euros to universities and companies around the continent.

According to our findings, £49 billion of that money has delivered precisely zero in terms of any kind of innovation value.

How can so many smart people end up delivering such terrible results?

Brussels bureaucrats

Answer: because breaking rules demands going against the system and going against the majority requires a lot of bravery.

It is far easier for the Brussels bureaucrats to do exactly the same as they did in the previous funding cycle, rather than make a step change