Innovate or die

Dr. Linda Speldewinde

Dr. Linda Speldewinde is the Founder and Chairperson of the Academy of Design (AOD)

Innovation is not only an important pillar of corporate success; it’s an adaptation and a necessity for survival. Corporates as we know them were long overdue for serious disruption and the pandemic has called for traditional structures to be redefined.

Dr. Linda Speldewinde says that “innovation is the only 21st century problem solving skill that will save the day for corporates that are to be realigned. The new game compels everyone in a company to think like an innovator, entrepreneur or ‘intrapreneur’ – it requires agility, flexibi­lity and risk taking.”

“Take a legendary innovator such as Steve Jobs. He always defined Apple as a giant startup but never a corporate – one that’s constantly changing, creating and leapfrogging,” she adds.

As a person who is surrounded by creativity that’s converted to innovation, Speldewinde is well aware of the gaps and struggles: “When Peter Drucker said ‘innovate or die’ many years ago, not many incorporated it in their DNAs. But if you can’t do this today, your survival is in question. Everyone needs to take some risks, drive change, create, innovate or to put it bluntly, risk being left behind.”

“Having been involved in the creative ecosystem for a long time, I’ve seen how innovation is sometimes misconceived as creativity. It’s really about executing creative ideas and commercialising them into successful ventures,” Speldewinde explains.

She continues: “I know how Sri Lankan companies, businesses and startups in the ecosystem should think about building entrepreneurial opportunities that the new post-pandemic world has introduced, and innovate to leverage them.”

“We’re still at ground zero when it comes to leveraging the potential of technology, and even creativity and design. I believe in the potential of our businesses to leverage innovation to transform into global businesses,” she asserts.

In her view, there is no reward without risk. Turbulence is the off­i­cial climate of an entrepreneur or innovator and one needs to be comfortable with it, manage fears of an­xiety and not succumb to it, she urges.

Commenting on why some companies refrain from innovating, she states: “Everyone wants to innovate, drive change and create an impact, but not all are able to take that plunge and try something new.”

“It takes courage, confidence and boldness – this is why innovative organisations are respected because everyone is in awe of the strides they’ve taken, and respect their ability to take calculated risks and know when to action things,” she notes.

Speldewinde continues: “What keeps some companies from innovating is this phase of over-thinking and over-analysing, and this is why I say innovation and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. An organisation’s success or survival depends on the same qualities that make good entrepreneurs – agility, imagination, persistence and importantly, execution.”

Innovation is taking place in Sri Lanka, she believes; and this is especially driven by the new generation who are passionate about making a positive change.

“We see the startup culture impro­ving each year with many young entrepreneurs entering the fray. There’s certainly a long way to go but the momentum is building in Sri Lanka. The talent we have is more than capable of making breakthrough innovations if people are given the right environment and mentoring,” she maintains.

She cautions however, that innovation should be counterbalanced by strict behaviour – namely, intolerance for incompetence, as well as rigorous discipline, direct feedback, a high level of individual accountability and strong leadership.

What’s more, Speldewinde stresses that “unless these paradoxes are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail. Change will take place with a new wave of education (ideally from the schooling stage), a shift in mindsets and an abi­lity to see things differently.”

“Creating an environment where at a young age, you’re given the opportunity to explore ideas, solve problems and build solutions in a guided environment would eventually infuse a culture of innovation in society,” she concludes.