Contributing to Creativity and Innovation in Africa

Well, finally, we’re starting – the launch of CidaCo’s newest – and potentially most exciting – international partnership to date.  On 1st October 2012, the African Mandel Training Centre and CidaCo formally launch their Aiam Partnership, bringing together both capacity building and facilitation for businesses and organisations wanting to transform their results through creativity and innovation.  Starting in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Gaberone, Botswana, and then rolling out to other countries in Africa, the programme aims to stimulate and strengthen the African capacity for innovation and to help take good ideas through to profitable implementation.

The programme is built on the work we have developed over the last four years with our Silicon Valley partners EDG (The Enterprise Development Group, specifically to help address the overriding issue facing companies as identified by world leading management guru Gary Hamel:

  • Every CEO will at least give lip service to the idea that the world is moving faster and that we need to do a better job at innovation. 
  • But if you go into an organisation and ask people to describe their innovation system, you get blank looks. They have none.

Drawing heavily on our work with EDG and influenced by the work of Paul Hobcraft and Jeffery Phillips, we have co-designed a programme that offers a unique approach to engaging every level of an organisation in their different responsibilities in establishing and embedding a culture of creativity and innovation.  There’s an induction programme for the senior leaders, outlining the strategic context and exploring the specific role of organisational leaders in creating the culture and the environment that allows innovation practice to flourish.  There’s a five day programme for the in-house change agents who will lead the innovation process within the organisation; and finally a 30-module programme for early career executives, giving them the tools to take an holistic approach to innovation practice, exploring not only innovation but also collaboration, finance, sustainability and entrepreneurship.

As our clients will know, CidaCo’s approach is best encapsulated in the recent Fast Company headline:  Innovation isn’t about new products or services; it’s about changing behaviours.  Our focus from our very early days has always been on behaviours rather than on skills.   Of course, we value knowledge and skills but what makes for change and progress is the way people use them.  We all know stories of people going on courses and becoming inspired and enthused, only to find that, when they return to the office, the day to day pressures take over and there is no time to make the changes that seemed so essential on the course.  Even in short courses, we aim to make it both possible and practicable for our participants to introduce changes to the way they work. It’s why we introduced mentoring nearly thirteen years ago, for leaders, for practitioners and for start ups.  In Africa, we are training a dozen experienced colleagues, specifically selected by Mandel, to act as mentors to follow up with the delegates to help implement their new approach to work, inspired by our programmes.

In addition to the knowledge transfer programmes, we are also offering a consultancy programme that will take the companies from an examination of their current capacity for innovation through the creative thinking and ideas generation process to market readiness. In the process, we support the company as they go through significant culture change, developing an appropriate and supportive organisational infrastructure that embeds creativity and innovation as an integral part of their management process.

Interestingly, the strongest interest to date has come from large companies (with 900 or more employees).  The issue that most of them have identified in our meetings with them has been the translation of thought to deed, of idea to product or service.  They almost all employ innovation specialists, identified by team or department, but have all experienced the difficulty of moving from research to implementation, from early adopters to mainstream take up.  Some of the articulated barriers have included silo mentality, reluctance (or lack of know-how) for multi disciplinary collaboration, and, notoriously, fear of risk and terror of failure.   In many cases, the unarticulated barrier has been a lack of a systematic process, recognised and adopted throughout an organisation, giving people the confidence and the techniques to engage and to achieve success.

So this is what we do with our multi-sector clients – we lead them through an integrated innovation process that, importantly, starts with the strategic context.  We get to understand their market place, the mission and goals of the organisation, their innovation readiness and their existing portfolio of products and services.  We look at the external environment, identifying the trends that will impact in the next ten or so years, from climate change to political change to consumer behaviour.  Then we instigate the systematic process that looks at customer needs and designs solutions, ensuring that the best ideas are grounded in a reality tested by a 3600 examination of necessary teams, competitive advantage and quantified results. Proof of concept is tested by iteration and reiteration before being pitched effectively and taken to market. Finally, we work with the client to shape a new organisational infrastructure that supports a culture of relentless customer focus, collaboration and innovation.

I should admit that it gives me a secret pleasure that this process, which companies from all sectors benefit from, effectively reflects the creative process – the creative jamming as we come up with the ideas; the rehearsals as we get the concept and innovation pitch perfect; and finally the performance as we hit the market place. That thought anchors me as I take my creative sector experience into new markets – it’s real, this business about the creative sector leading the world! In May 2010, a major IBM survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, revealed that “Chief Executives believe that, more than rigour, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.” [IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, see image below]

 Many of  the CEOs in that survey will have been based in Africa.  We are looking forward to the challenge of working with them as we embark on this latest adventure, working with African partners to nurture and facilitate African innovation as the continent continues to strengthen its claim to become a major economic powerhouse across the globe.

featured image courtesy of