4 ways you can make sure your innovation is purposeful and sustainable

By Gaia and Andrew Grant

Adapted excerpt from The Innovation Race book, and originally published in a similar format as an article online by Human Resources Media

Did you know that you can predict which cities are innovating the fastest by checking the average walking pace of the city?

People have been found to walk the fastest (18 metres in 10.55 seconds) in Singapore, for example, which often rates as the fastest innovating city in the world according to standard innovation measures.

Perhaps we’re feeling that sense of urgency in ‘the innovation race’ is so strongly that we’re unconsciously picking up our own pace to try to keep up. The average walking pace of the cities that are innovating the fastest has increased by up to 30 per cent over the past few decades, so imagine how much the rates of innovation are increasing!

Certainly most organisations are feeling that the push to innovate faster is stronger than ever.

Can we keep up with the pace of the race?

Up to 80% of growth comes from innovation and new ideas. But is our desire to get ahead getting to be too much?

Physicist Geoffrey West and his colleagues have compared this rapid growth to physics principles, and they have found that there now needs to be exponential rates of innovation not just to get a head, but also merely to stay afloat and avoid collapse. West compares this rate of growth to a clock ticking ever faster, which demands ever faster rates of innovation simply to keep up.

The challenge for innovation going forward is that we need to not only be fast paced, but it also needs to be purposeful and sustainable for long term survival.

Organisations can keep up with the pace of the race through rapid breakthrough innovations and constantly ‘exploring’ new opportunities and new horizons. But they also need to look at how they gradually develop and build on existing products and ideas incrementally, using the process of ‘exploitation’ to ensure longevity. It is necessary to build solid foundations for a strong sustainable culture based on a clear vision and values. Purpose and integrity can make the difference between not just surviving but also thriving.

Through effectively combining both functions simultaneously organisations can become ‘ambidextrous’, and can develop the sort of transformational innovation that will be needed to survive into the future.

Beating innovation inertia

So how is it possible to ensure that your innovation strategies and initiatives are fast-paced but also purposeful and sustainable for transformational innovation?
Transformational innovation

Try these four strategies for transforming the way your organisation innovates:

  1. Beware of innovation inertia: Continually check the pulse on your innovation program – be proactive, and build a solid foundation for a purposeful and sustainable culture
  2. Develop ‘exploration’ opportunities: Ensure there are opportunities for rapid paced ideas to emerge and be converted to new innovations through a sense of urgency
  3. Develop ‘exploitation’ opportunities: Ensure small scale incremental innovations are continually developed and maintained through patient nurturing
  4. Ensure purpose & sustainability through balance: Ensure that both breakthrough innovations and incremental innovations are pursued simultaneously to fuel long term sustainable growth

These strategies should enable your organisation to both stay ahead of the rapid innovation race and survive and thrive over the long term.

About The Authors

Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley August 2016) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources. As the Directors of Tirian International Consultancy they help to create innovation cultures for a range of international organisations (from Fortune 500 companies through to NFPs). The Grants are top-ranking keynote speakers, and Gaia is an HD researcher and guest lecturer at Sydney University Business School. For more information see https://the-innovation-race.com.


  1. Wiseman, R. (2007). Quickstep: The world is walking faster. New
    Scientist Blog. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/blog/
  2. Helpman, E. (2004). The mystery of economic growth. Cambridge, GB:
  3. Bettencourt, L. M. A., Lobo, J., Helbing, D., Kuhnert, C., and West, G.
    B. (2007).
    Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 104(17): 7301–7306.; West,
    G. (2011). Why cities keep growing, corporations and people always die, and life
    gets faster. Interviewed by John Blackman, retrieved from http://edge.
  4. Andriopuloulos, C. & Lewis, M. W. (2009). Exploitation-exploration
    tensions and organizational ambidexterity: Managing paradoxes of
    innovation. Organization Science, 20(4): 696–717.; Schulze, P, Heinemann,
    F., Abedin, A. (2008). Balancing exploitation and exploration. Academy of

Leave a Reply