What’s next? Thriving in the age of acceleration

Originally published in a similar format as an article online by Creative Innovation 2017 with the title ‘Thriving in the age of acceleration in the workplace’.

We have noticed a growing trend in innovation: Everyone wants to know ‘What’s next?’ in the indomitable ‘innovation race’.

The titles of a number of conferences and events we have been speaking at recently reflect a mix of curiosity and concern about the future:

  • ‘The fourth industrial revolution’ APEC CEO Summit (Vietnam)
  • ‘The future of work’ HRM Smart Workforce Summit (Singapore)
  • ‘Ethical challenges for organisations in the future’ EGOS (Copenhagen)
  • ‘Human intelligence 2.0: Thriving in the age of Acceleration’ Creative Innovation (Melbourne)
  • ‘How to learn in a new reality?’SEAC Innovation Centre (Bangkok)
  • ‘The innovative optimist: Solving the world’s problems through science, technology, ingenuity and creativity’ Griffith University Integrity 20 (Brisbane)

Many of us are keen to hear market leaders share their predictions, hoping to pick up the latest trends and stay head of the curve. Yet the pace of change is now so fast that the future can be extremely challenging to predict.

As we heard the US chief advisor to Clinton and Obama Jeffrey Bleich explain recently, we have now become victim to ‘runaway technologies’. ‘Digital technology – while solving crucial problems – is creating or compounding others… Many of us feel that we’ve lost control over the pace of it all,’ Bleich has said, ‘The technology is driving itself.’

Dinosaurs and disruptions

It is now common to lament the fact that just a few years ago Blackberry, Borders books, Myspace, Kodak or Nokia had exciting visions for their companies’ futures before their rapid demise. The Nokia CEO shared the scary reality of rapid obselescence during a press conference to announce the company’s acquisition by Microsoft when he said, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.’

According to the current trends, survival into the future will not be a case of excellent performance, it will be more a case of exceptional propulsion. Few organizations will be able to keep up.

There is certainly already an awareness of the need to be looking ahead to what’s much further along the track, with no shortage of popular innovation initiatives in organizations. Most people we meet are now acutely aware of the dangers of potential digital disruptions and the need for an entrepreneurial mindset.

Yet many initiatives still seem to fall short of expectations. In fact a Harvard Business School study has revealed that 95% of new products fail

Shifting gears

There is an assumption that there are a few innovation ingredients that can make all the difference. An example of that is that there is often the belief that mimicking Google’s canteen and campus model, or constructing a purpose-built innovation lab, will automatically lead to better innovation.

Holding a hackathon, or attending a design thinking course… learning about lean and agile innovation and the very latest on future trends. All of these current trends may be a great start, but there is a deeper factor that needs to be considered.

It’s the key principles behind the practices that matter the most.

A sustainable future

We have recently interviewed over 50 key executives including CEOs and Heads of innovation from a range of major companies globally, and we have asked them what they think is important for sustainable innovation. Almost all of them have indicated that they think it is more important to develop the human cultural factors for a sustainable future.

Our research has also taken a bigger picture perspective spanning cultures from Ancient Egypt through to the new digital companies of the future, and we have identified some core cultural principles that will help to ensure sustainable innovation.

There are a number of paradoxical factors, we believe, that will need to be navigated to build resilience and create the dynamic that drives innovative growth. These are based on the need for both a ‘future’ growth focus for breakthrough innovation, with what we refer to as an ‘Exploration’ mindset, along with an ability to continue to maintain and incrementally build on present systems, or what we refer to as a Preservation’ mindset.

Rather than trying to predict the technological future, instead perhaps we should deal with current culture needs and better prepare people for the future. This will involve identifying the core values to sustain the organization through rapid times of change, and developing future-focused skills and strategies.

We believe that once these foundations are in place sustainable innovation can thrive.

The Innovation Race book
This article is an adapted excerpt from The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game


  1. Andriopoulos, C. and Lewis, M. W. (2009). ‘Exploitation-exploration tensions and organizational ambidexterity: managing paradoxes of innovation’, Organization Science, vol. 20, no. 4, pps. 696-717.
  2. Lewis, M. W. & Smith, W. K. (2014). ‘Paradox as a metatheoretical perspective: sharpening the focus and widening the scope’. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 1-23.
  3. Nobel, C. (2011). ‘Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing’, Working Knowledge – Harvard Business School. Retrieved from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/clay-christensens-milkshake-marketing


Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources. As the Directors of Tirian International Consultancy Gaia and Andrew help to develop 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 a doctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School. For more information see www.the-innovation-race.com.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply