A Few Thoughts on Defining Innovation

I’ve been asked many times for my definition of ‘innovation’, so here’s a quick post of my thoughts.

Innovation doesn’t always mean a huge change – it doesn’t always have to be something spectacularly large or life changing. Some of the best innovations I can think of are really small, but make a real difference to peoples lives every day – everyday innovations.

Innovation is a word often overused – the definition of innovation is a new idea, method or product, but it isn’t always ground breaking (or even new). Some people are just better at promoting their (not so new) innovations. Innovation for innovations sake.

Innovation as a process – this is something I really like. Improving an idea or concept by a step process, rather than it being seen as something only the few creative individuals in the world can do, like magic. I would go as far to say that almost anyone can innovate.

Innovation can be whatever you want it to be – it’s down to the individual or organisation to define what their view of innovation really is. Is it a linear process that means you can achieve true ‘innovation’ or a continuous process, or even something in-built into your personal/organisational culture?

Whilst on the subject of innovations, here is one of my all-time favourite innovations – the ‘lucky iron fish‘.


The Lucky Iron Fish is a small iron cooking tool that infuses your meals with a healthy amount of natural iron to help prevent iron deficiency and anemia. It’s simple to use, and provides a natural source of iron that’s perfect for everyone, especially those with an increased need for iron: athletes, vegetarians, vegans and women.


Google · housing · innovation

Innovative thinking in #ukhousing


I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography over the past few months. It’s a fascinating read and although Steve Jobs character is hard to like a lot of the time, I really like his approach to business, constant innovation and striving for the best. There are a lot of Jobs quotes I like, but this one in particular jumps out:

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”

It has got me thinking. Where is the truly innovative thinking in #ukhousing ? I’m talking about truly innovative thinking, that stretches the currently accepted norms and could truly move the sector forwards?

What strikes me most is the backdrop for Steve Jobs’ success; it’s not just about his drive and innovation, but the team of really talented people he brought together and worked with. So, following this thought through, it stands to reason that one of the keys for innovative success is to build an ‘A Class’ team (to use another Job’s quote).

How many ‘#ukhousing organisation’s truly create an ‘A Class’ team around innovative thinking? One where they sweat the detail, but under a truly challenging vision of the future? To borrow an idea from another favorite innovation organisation of mine – Google – their ‘big ideas: 10x thinking’ approach to work is also a great way to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Its by thinking big that you get big innovations.

So much of this goes back to getting the right building blocks in place in an organistion – the right culture, the right leadership and building an ‘A Class’ team.

So, going back to the Steve Jobs quote, would you consider yourself an innovative leader or a follower? Are you truly pushing the boundaries wherever possible?


Digital · housing · tech

Here’s to the Digital Disruptors

If I called you a digital disruptor, what would be your reaction?

A digital disruptor creates changes in tried and tested industries by effectively forcing them to re-invent themselves. High profile examples would be Uber and AirBnB to name two and arguably the taxi and hotel industries will never be the same again as a result.

My reason for mentioning digital disruptors is due to a very current example that has the ability to disrupt the world – the £3 smartphone that is being produced in India by Ringing Bells.

Freedom 251
Freedom 251 – described as ‘iPhone like’

If you have kept up to speed with this since it’s announcement, the global response has been a mixture of awe and ridicule, with industry experts stating it just isn’t possible to produce a working smartphone for such a small amount of money, with others pointing out that the smartphones ‘vital stastics’ are a pleasant surprise.

photo 2
The UbiSlate tablet

I’ve blogged some time ago about the £30 tablet from UbiSlate, also from India, which works pretty well for the cost and is in the same vain. I’d go as far to say the £3 smartphone is another ‘game changer’. But before you go googling it, the smartphone is only available in India currently (boo hoo).

The story goes that the more established the industry, the more ripe it is for disruption and unsurprisingly there are lots of people pertaining to be disruptors, either self declared or otherwise.

From a #ukhousing point of view, it would seem to be a ripe industry for a bit of disruption. I recently attended the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester and whilst I really enjoyed attending, I did come away questioning how much had truly been really new and innovative thinking?

So the question for me is, are you a #ukhousing disruptor? Do you think differently and question the norm? Are the worlds of tech and digital a harmful distraction to the industry, or the path towards the new future? Or to take it a step further, is your organisation a #ukhousing disruptor? Or even your CEO? Who will be the #ukhousing equivalent of Uber or AirBnB?

Digital · innovation

Digital Innovators Network – Part II

y lab

This is the second installment of my Digital Innovators Network blog posts (you can read the first one here).

The second meeting of the Network was held last Friday in the Shared Resource Centre in Blaenafon, South Wales.

The theme for this network  meeting was Open Data, something which I had heard of but knew very little about. I was pleasantly surprised at the beginning that the vast majority of the network attendees had very little experience or knowledge of open data!

So to the day itself. The day took the form of a training session by the Open Data Institute and the main trainer, Ben Cave, really knew his subject matter. The acid test for me was that, despite starting my car journey at 6am that morning, I was fully awake and engaged throughout the day (no small feat!) and was still buzzing with ideas after the 3 and a half hour drive back up North. I came away with a better understanding of open data, how it can work, some of the pitfalls, the need to use a license when offering open data and some wider considerations around the use of open data.

The two stand out quotes from the day for me were:

  • ‘Data is a means, not an end’.
  • ‘Don’t think of data purely as numbers’.

A few other interesting things to point out:

  • Members of the Digital Innovators Network are predominantly sharing/networking through Slack. This is the first time I’ve used Slack properly and I have to say it is working really well (and saves on excessive Emails!);
  • There is a really wide range of digital representatives in the network, including health, local authority, education, welsh government, housing associations and third sector;
  • I can already tick the ‘learning new skills and knowledge’ aim for being a network member.

In terms of open data, I would have to confess that despite having the full days training around this, I would need to do a lot more reading around the subject before I could suggest an open data project within my organisation. Thankfully, the Open Data Institute have a lot of handy information on their website, including the really useful ‘Open Data in a Day‘ slides.

For one thing, I will be keeping a look out for any open data project successes from the Housing sector, as this will certainly help bridge the gap between the idea of open data and the results it can give. This also ties in with a much wider conversation going on currently within Housing and beyond about the use, relevance and validity of the data we hold.

Definitely food for thought!


Digital · innovation

Digital Innovators Network – part 1

y lab

Just before Christmas, I applied to be a member of the new Digital Innovators Network and a few weeks into January I received the fantastic Email telling me I was in!

Firstly, a bit of new about the network. The network is run by Y Lab, which is a NestaCardiff University partnership to act as a bridge and broker, connecting policy makers and public service practitioners with research and innovation expertise. The network is an experimental process, drawing together a cohort of leaders, expert in their sector, with a diverse range of skills and experiences. The network also forms a part of the Digital Innovation Fund launched by Welsh Government of £250,000 to boost public service capacity in developing digital services across Wales.

So, on a very wet and windy Friday in January, I caught the 5.15am train from North Wales down to Cardiff for the first network meeting. After being dropped off by the taxi driver ‘somewhere nearby’, I made it just in time for the start.

The first speaker was Bill Sharpe from Independent Futures Research and Consulting. Bill started off by saying he wrote his first computer programme nearly 50 years ago and spent fifteen years working for Hewlett Packard corporate labs in Bristol, before setting up his own consultancy. Bill talked about his ‘three horizons model’ of innovation, illustrated below:


If you ever hear someone asking whether you are a H1, H2 or H3, then this is the model being referred to (hint: as an innovator you would much rather be a H3).

This then led on to a talk by Matt Lewis, Senior Architect at the DVLA. The DVLA are a UK wide digital innovation success story and Matt led us through how they reached where they have today. Below is one of the slides:


What struck me most about Matt’s talk was how the DVLA had radically changed their business focus, not on a big bang approach, but rather on a number of continuous digital innovations, as shown in the above slide.

After some time networking over lunch with some of the other network members which included representatives from the Police, Arts Council for Wales, Councils and third sector organisations, we then had a workshop run by The Social Innovation Partnership on theory of change. The basic aim was to get everyone thinking about what their potential digital innovation funding application aim would be. The outcome was that most people were not really clear what the end goal was, but rather new what the next stage would be.

So now as a network, we have gone away to have a think about potential projects that we would like to put forwards to the Digital Innovation Accelerator funding, in order to initiate our own innovative project. Like everyone else, I went away thinking this was a fantastic opportunity to apply for some funding towards doing something truly digitally innovative, but of course, I need to flesh out some ideas first. The network itself offered a chance to talk to people outside of my usual sphere of contacts and to learn what their challenges and successes have been.

Watch this space for more news as the network continues!



‘Innovation’ is key, or is it just a buzz word?


Who doesn’t like the word innovate? In #ukhousing and beyond it’s become a fairly common used word.

Meaning of Innovation (Cambridge dictionary):


:(the use of) a new idea or method

There seems to be a growing consensus that using the word innovation so liberally has effectively watered down its meaning and its effectiveness.

For me, innovation is still a useful word to describe something that I aim to do as often as possible in my working life. It’s about trying to improve things by doing things differently. It’s about coming up with new ideas and new ways of working. It’s about looking at everything and asking, is there a better way of doing this?

Whether that is ultimately ‘innovation’ in its truest sense, or whether other words could be used in place of innovation, is open to debate. You could even extend this argument to say that it really doesn’t matter what it’s called – it’s the act of doing something different!

The idea of innovation is nothing new, although I do think it’s fair to say that some people are definitely more inclined to ‘innovate’ on a regular basis (and to use this phrase during the process).

I well remember when starting a new job, telling my new managers that one of my key aims for the service was ‘innovation’. The look on their faces told me this was a completed new aim for them and not something they were used to! Of course, I then went on to describe what innovation meant for me and what this might look like for the service. The idea of this being a key ‘plank’ of the service was key as far as I was concerned; it was a means to an end. New ideas were needed and for me, ‘innovation’ fits the bill as a way of describing this aim. But taking this a step further, innovation can become a key driver for organisations as a whole, where this is embedded into every role within an organisation.

That said, I sometimes do have a problem with how often the word innovation is used, as I suspect that this often alienates the % of staff who do not want to innovate. Using a different phrase like ‘new ways of working’ can sometime help in these situations. My experience tells me that some staff just take an instant dislike (and suspicion!) of the word ‘innovate’.

So, do you think the word innovate/innovation is too often used in #ukhousing and beyond?

Please leave your thoughts below.


The 70:20:10 Rule – Could This Work In #ukhousing?

Logo source: 70:20:10 Forum

You may well have heard of this rule before. It’s been made famous in recent years by a shy, retiring and little known organisation that goes by the name of ‘Google’.

I’ve heard the 70:20:10 rule banded about a lot of late and after doing some research there seems to be some confusion about what the rule means. I guess the easiest way to explain it is that it’s a rule of thumb that can be applied across lots of areas of business, in almost any form you like. It’s a bit like Pareto’s principle (e.g. 80% of complaints come from 20% of a company’s customers).

However, for the sake of this blog, I’m going to focus on two areas in particular. These are:

  • 70:20:10 model in Staff Recruitment
  • 70:20:10 model in managing and encouraging innovation

70:20:10 Model in Staff Recruitment

This model has reportedly been around since 1996. It works like this:

  • 70% of staff recruited within the immediate industry/knowledge area;
  • 20% of staff recruited within the overall industry but not the specialist knowledge area;
  • 10% of staff recruited outside of the industry.

The idea is simple. The 20% and 10% of staff help give different perspectives on the everyday issues and problems. They look at things in a different way. I really think this could work where you are looking to build a highly functioning, innovative team of staff. This could also work on a project basis, where you are pulling people from across the organisation to work on something. I’ll certainly be keeping this in mind for future projects.

70:20:10 Model in Managing and Encouraging Innovation

This model has arguably been made famous by Google, but it has been around for some time in different forms and ratios. The number of organisations embracing this rule seems to be growing by the day. The model works by staff spending:

  • 70% of their time on core business tasks;
  • 20% of their time on projects related to core business;
  • 10% of their time on projects that are unrelated to core business.

Unsurprisingly there are some stark examples of how this has benefited organisation. Google has reportedly gained products such as Google Earth from employee initiated projects unrelated to its core business. LinkedIn also developed LinkedIn Maps (which I’ve blogged about here) from a similar employee initiated project. There are lots of other examples I could have quoted.

“About 70% try to work on the core efforts of the company….about

20% goes to adjacent areas and expansion, and for the 10% anything goes.”

ImageGoogle co-founder Sergey Brin

 I wonder if any Housing organisations have adopted or would adopt the 70:20:10 rule?  Maybe we’ve even got some examples of the 70:20:10 rule working in #ukhousing?

I think it could work quite well and is certainly worth giving some thought to. On a personal note, I think I’ve been following something along the lines of the 70:20:10 rule for some years. Some of the research, blogging and work I’ve done on social media certainly hasn’t been part of my ‘core business’ role, but I’d argue that my organisation has benefited greatly from my increased knowledge.

So, does the 70/20/10 rule have a place in the world of #ukhousing and if so, how could it be used? Please leave your comments below!