|Octavia Hill by John Singer Sargent (source)|
One issue with this is that when your main business is relatively straight-forward there’s the danger that you think you know how its done and miss the opportunities and progress that arises from innovation. I’ve been thinking on this issue more than usual lately as we’re hosting Progress 2011 on May 10th (its already fully booked, but watch the blog for posts afterwards). The theme of the day is “Necessity is the mother of invention” and we’ll be looking at how the current environment with all the associated flux and change is making our “simple” business of housing more complex than its been for years.
There's a mix of viewpoints on this but my feeling is that we have to be positive and identify the benefits and opportunities that arise from any given situation. After all, it’s all too easy to bemoan the difficulties that are created by powers out of our control, but why should we invest energy into complaining about things we can’t change when we can put that energy into making the best of the opportunities that this change is bringing. After all, as the wise t-shirt slogan goes – “When life gives you lemons, keep them because, hey, free lemons!”.
One of the biggest positives you can take out of the current situation is that we can feel the dead hand of regulation being lifted from our shoulders. There is currently a philosophy at the top that believes we should be less restrained by rules and more in touch with our customers. So for the first time in my 30+ years in the sector, there’s a real chance we will be left to get on with running the business that we know, in the way that meets our customers’ needs – that’s got to be a positive. In my experience extra regulation simply increases the need to comply. You end up with a culture that is obsessed with compliance: league tables and pointless trophies that exist just to show that you can follow regulation. Sweep that away and there’s an excitingly blank canvas. Onto that we can project new thoughts, express new ideas, in short we are being encouraged to innovate.
And what happens if we all start being creative and innovative? I was wondering this same thing about housing whilst listening to an excellent recent BBC documentary on pencil manufacturers in Germany who are still, after 200 years, competing to see who can innovate to produce the sharpest lead (honestly, it’s more interesting than that initially sounds! Listen Again on the iPlayer). Well, hopefully we start doing new things, things that are exciting, things that are a bit adventurous, things that are useful, things that are wanted by our customers, things we didn't know were possible. It’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, but as long as we acknowledge that they are mistakes, learn from them and move on, that’s ok too.
Then we begin to see a real differentiation between the services we offer to communities, some challenging ideas, some technological leaps forward, perhaps into a culture that really embraces the possibilities of social media. There is ultimately the creation of an industry that Octavia Hill might not recognise if she were alive today. We forget sometimes that as a woman who helped to create the National Trust, protect public land at the expense of private development and provide shelter for the country’s poor, Hill was invested in some fairly dangerous new thinking herself and that’s an attitude towards change, campaigning and innovation we should seek to emulate.
Let me end on a question – what do you do that’s innovative? When was the last time you or your business tried something different? How did it work out?