Frank wore high-vis and a shaggy beard. He worked with his hands. And he managed his crew with an iron fist. He was 50-plus and locked into a rut.

He did not look like the face of innovation.

But in Frank’s words … why wouldn’t we innovate? We have a legacy to leave. We need to do better.

Across from him at the stakeholder event, sat Joe. Joe wore a buttoned-down shirt and closely-cropped hair. An accountant by trade, he trusted numbers. He was experienced and weary. Set in a process-oriented world.

He also did not look like the face of innovation.

But in Joe’s words … why wouldn’t we try?

With the right environment of engagement, Joe then did what so many managers struggle to do. He assessed the challenges and opportunities. Scanned the globe for the latest innovations, and then developed a new financially-viable solution to waste.

He’d worked out market demand and customer needs, product development requirements and the parameters for a pricing model. It was an obvious solution to a problem that the client had not fully understood.

It was easy for him. Because he was the customer.

It was easy for Joe and Frank because they weren’t the managers running a business and managing internal processes and systems.

Being outside the managerial framework and outside the organisation meant they were free. Free to think. Free to innovate. Free to apply an outside-in approach that can only be achieved through community and stakeholder engagement and market research.

There are countless more stories: the development of new app that will streamline compliance processes costs and save millions to an energy organisation, creation of a centralised system to map capability to automate HR processes, financial commitment by disparate parties to create a regional ecosystem to drive innovation on the ground.

In working across innovation, digital economies and smart city work across the country, here are 5 key insights:

  1. People are more innovative than you’d think – if you ask them for ideas rather than feedback. The community and stakeholders are far too often asked to comment on someone else’s ideas when, as a customer or community member and buyer or user, they may have better insights on need.
  2. People with less, and with greater challenges to overcome are often more likely to think creatively – mostly because they’ve needed to. Look at any regional city who’s grappled with fluctuations in the commodities markets to examples.
  3. Thinking innovatively takes more than buzzwords – people need a framework with objective information and assessment from which to start.
  4. Bringing Innovations to life takes much more than an off-the-shelf strategy – you need to build capacity and ecosystems, especially at a city-wide or regional level. Consider design thinking, derive thinking, customer experience, community experience mapping and feasibility
  5. Staff can be more radical in their approaches than managers. Managers often focus on the obstacles rather than the opportunities, and spend too much time worrying about how to gain staff buy-in and then lose their ability to take risk. Being at the frontline also puts staff closer to the root problems and brings them face-to-face with potential opportunities.

Articulous is the premier community and stakeholder engagement firm in the country and consults to the highest levels of government in both Australia and New Zealand. Their corporate clients have included several in the ASX top 50.

Their innovation work includes digital transformation of cities and regions, adapting planning schemes and products and services to meet climate change, and leading corporate organisations through a managed process of product, service and cultural innovation.