Mlek & Honey

Innovation: The Role of Learning

In his 1997 book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge introduced us to the concept of a “Learning Organization.” This concept is as relevant today, especially when we speak of innovation.

This is because learning is the catalyst of innovation.

In a recent interview on CBS’s 60 minutes Bill Gates said this:


“The more you learn the more you develop a framework that knowledge fits into.”


 In light of some new projects Gates is undertaking, the implications of this comment are significant.  These include a new thermos that requires no energy, used for holding and transporting vaccines in hot climates; a new and more efficient nuclear reactor; and a new toilet that requires no traditional plumbing.  



Clearly, innovation is at the heart of Gates’ work: the Gates Foundation is uncovering problems in the world and exploration solutions in creative, unprecedented ways. Ultimately new products, new services, and entirely new industries will emerge.

When it comes to being innovative we need to learn more about our own businesses and industries. Being informed about new developments, technologies, and global events is crucial.  When we do, the framework Gates discusses will emerge, perhaps without us being aware of it.  We start to become aware of needs that exist. As a result, connections are made and innovative ideas are generated.  

How do Organizations get started?


Organizations need to ask themselves some provocative questions that may require some innovative solutions.  For example:

» What are our competitors up to?

» What do your customers want?  What do our customers need?
» Are there new customers out there?
» How can we improve the products or services that we currently offer?
» What new products or services can we offer?
» How can we improve the way we deliver them?
» How can we improve the way we manage our business i.e. new and improved processes and systems?
» How can we better advertise and promote our products and services?

It’s about curiosity


Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse“Around here… we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

- Walt Disney Company





 This investigation will ultimately mean that organizations will have to look outside themselves to seek answers. New questions will emerge, such as:

» How do we learn more about the needs and wants of our customers?
» What can we learn from other similar businesses or maybe even totally unrelated businesses?
» What technologies can improve the way we do things?
» What concepts do we need to know more about?
» As mentioned in an earlier blog; where can we learn about the innovative ideas of others that we can adopt or adapt for our own use?


So how do Organizations Learn?

In truth, organizations don’t learn. People do.  In his book Learning in Action, Dr. David A. Garvin of Harvard University, writes about three different categories of learning that people can take part in.  They are: research, experience, and experiential learning.

As academic as they sound, they are far from drab.  In fact each category carries with it exciting activities which present rich opportunities for learning.  

An employee sitting alone in isolation, coming up with creative solutions and ideas won’t necessarily benefit an organization.  When a dynamic collaborative environment is created, an environment where that person is encouraged to communicate and openly share his or her ideas with others equally intent on coming up with creative solutions, a synergy is created. This symbiosis is what supports a culture from which continuous innovations flow.

How can MLEK help you?

Invite MLEK into your organization to help you develop a culture of learning.

Innovation: Corporate Strategy and Framework

When conducting workshops we often hear managers say; “I encourage my staff to be innovative,” or “My staff know that they can come to me any time with their ideas for improvements.”  

However, when you ask the staff they often tell you that “we’ve tried to voice our ideas but nothing happens.”

Why this great divide?  

Maybe the manager doesn’t really buy into the idea.  The manager may be too far removed from the day-to-day operation and doesn’t fully understand the significance of the idea.  The manager may be having too many other things top of mind, or, simply doesn’t know what to do with the idea.

How can this be fixed?

This great divide often comes down to the organization not having a corporate strategy and framework in place to deal with innovative ideas.  In other words, the organization isn’t really actively pursuing innovation.

Innovation is more than a buzz word or the flavour-of-the-month.  For many organizations it’s about survival.  Imagine if Apple or Samsung or Blackberry stopped innovating.  If they did they may as well close their doors. They’d be out of business.

Some companies may not need to innovate to the degree and frequency as those mentioned. True. But being aware of evolving technologies and processes may be the difference between flourishing a business and being out of business.


Innovation: Corporate Strategy and Framework 

 Some innovative companies that MLEK has studied have very formal processes and practices in place that support innovation.  Others are not as formal but have cultures that support innovation.

What has MLEK learned?

In studying organizations we have determined that the following elements are common to all successful innovative organizations:





Yes, MLEK agrees that organizations need to concentrate their efforts on present operations, i.e. sales, manufacturing, distribution, promotion, administration etc.  MLEK also recommends that as part of the day-to-day operations of organizations there needs to be layer placed over-top that is an overall consciousness and awareness of opportunities for innovation.  

In short, create an ever-present awareness among all employees that there are opportunities to innovate in all areas of the operation.


Developing a culture of innovation

Studies have shown that there are certain environments that people thrive in.  These are environments where the organization has a clear vision of what it wants to become, where people feel that they can use their skills and know-how.  A true culture of innovation is such an environment.

Starting at the top

To ensure that an innovative culture thrives and remains of outmost importance, leading innovative organizations create a senior position whose responsibility it is to keep innovation front and centre; to create such an environment; and to nurture this culture.  The most well-known would be Steve Jobs who carried the role of CIO. Not Chief Information Officer, but instead Chief Innovation Officer.

These positions carry with them more than the responsibilities stated and send a clear message “that innovation is of huge importance” throughout the organization.


A communication strategy is a key part of developing this culture of innovation.  This roll-out of a dynamic communications strategy is on-going and must be considerate of what people, at all levels of the organization, need to know and be aware of.  

Managers have a key role in developing and communicating this “culture of innovation”.  

Look for MLEK’s upcoming blog post on the role of leaders and managers.

Sage Advice from Colin Powell

Sage Advice from Colin PowellBeing able to receive, understand and follow strategic advice is just as important as giving it.  The Senior Partners at Mussio La Grassa Elliott Krogh know that it takes wisdom to lead and wisdom to follow. 

We are always looking for great wisdom to follow to make us and our clients better leaders.  Among our favourites is Colin Powell’s 13 Rules. Powell was U.S. Secretary of State and a four-star general of the United States Army. Here is his precious wisdom.


1 It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. 

2 Get mad, then get over it. 

3 Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position
            falls, your ego goes with it. 

4 It can be done! 

5 Be careful what you choose. You may get it. 

6 Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. 

7 You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else
            make yours. 

8 Check small things. 

9 Share credit. 

10 Remain calm. Be kind. 

11 Have a vision. Be demanding. 

12 Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers. 

13 Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.


Applying Powell’s wisdom has made us better strategic advisors and consultants. We encourage you to apply some, if not all of Powell’s rules to your personal and professional lives.

MLEK’s Strategic Approach to Innovation

Leading companies know that innovation can be managed like any other organizational process.

MLEK has developed the “Innovation Through Engagement, Creativity and Collaboration Model”.  This powerful tool can be the chief reference for leaders and managers to use to make their organizations more innovative. Here’s how it works.




MLEK facilitates a series of step-by-step workshops that engages participants to navigate through the six components of the Innovation Model.

Defining Innovation

  • People in organizations need to know what innovation is in order to recognize opportunities to innovate.  Innovation is about improvement. It’s about improving sales, productivity, efficiency, systems and processes. It can high-tech, low-tech, complex, simple.  Innovation can be anything improves an organization’s outputs. 

Organizational Strategy & Framework for Innovation

  • This is the most important and is most often missed in developing an innovative culture. An organization needs to have an overall framework or strategy for innovation or it runs the risk of losing opportunities presented by customers or employees.  It needs to become a priority.

Developing a Learning Culture

  • Learning plays a huge role in an organization’s ability to innovate. It starts by believing in its potential and asking questions. For instance, companies with a learning culture continually seek to understand customers’ needs, new ways to administer, new processes, new technologies, what competitors are doing.  Learning can be through research, experience or on-the-job learning.

Organizational Learning Disabilities & Innovation Blockers

  • Organizational learning disabilities and innovation blockers can be ever-present.  These are behaviours that get in the way of acting on “ah ha” moments that lead to innovative ideas. They impede or stop individuals from innovating – even when the opportunity exists.

Defining Engagement and Encouraging Creativity & Collaboration

  • Defining engagement and encouraging creativity and collaboration are necessary building blocks of innovation. To do this successfully, organizations need to strategize how to inculcate these values and practices. A built-in innovative culture is systemic.

The Manager’s Role

  • The Manager’s role is the key to success.  Managers need to enable, facilitate and communicate openness to innovation.

MLEK can help your company or organization transform into a culture of learning and innovation through its Innovation Practice.

Reputation Management with Mark Blevis

“Canadians spend more time looking online at content on politics and current events to arrive at a ‘considered opinion,’ than Americans,” says digital public affairs strategist Mark Blevis. He says this process of Canadians proactively seeking information to develop a considered opinion is behavior that is unique to Canada.


MLEK partners agree. What we often see as passive behavior is really Canadians becoming educated on a subject before they make up their minds and take a position. This is at the heart of understanding reputation management in Canada.


Read more from digital public affairs strategist Mark BlevisOttawa-based, Blevis says reputation management requires people and companies to be equally proactive to make sure they are part of Canadians’ considered opinion. From his perspective, “reputation management is about building bridges, building connections and crisis communications is about repairing those bridges, repairing those connections.”


MLEK asked Blevis to give our readers advice on how companies and persons can use social media to actively engage and become part of the considered opinion of Canadians to proactively manage their reputation.


Blevis advises companies and individuals to customize their own “digital ecosystem” to align with their goals. “The first step is to select the social media tools that best serve your organizational goals – not your social media goals. Having a YouTube account without content or without using it is like buying a property and letting it become derelict.”


There are many social media tools to choose from and each one can be used a multiple of ways to achieve multiple purposes. The digital tool is an enabler.

There are many social media tools to choose from and each one can be used a multiple of ways to achieve multiple purposes. The digital tool is an enabler. You need to know what it is that you want to enable to help you understand what tool to use, how to use it and why you are using it.


“It’s so easy for an organization to say, ‘I need twitter, facebook, video, instagram, flickr – everything - and go crazy, when all they really need is a blog. It depends on what the organization or person is trying to achieve and why; and what values they have,” he says.


Whether you are a company or a person, MLEK recommends you take Blevis’ advice and step back and audit your digital tools to make sure they line up with your corporate or personal goals. Then become proactive using your digital tool set to get involved in creating “considered opinion” in your areas of expertise.


Your reputation may depend on it.

Author Edward Hess shares his insights on business leadership

MLEK wanted to get inside the mind of successful business leaders and find out what sets them and their companies apart and why.

We spoke with Edward D. Hess, author of Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses, published by Stanford Business Books in 2012. Hess’s research shows that the idea that companies must “grow big or die” is a myth with little bearing in truth or reality. His research shows that companies must work towards continuous improvement to grow and that growth is both good and bad.


Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial BusinessesHere are Edward Hess’ personal insights on business leaders and leadership.

MLEK:     What would you say is the one quality that separates a good business leader from a great business leader and why?
HESS:  Having a humble mindset: be inspirationally and intellectually humble.  A humble mindset means it is no longer about "you" but rather, it is about "others".  A humble mindset is a service stewardship mindset that propels one to build something with enduring quality.  Inspirationally humble means one can engage meaningfully with others in a positive energizing uplifting manner.  Intellectually humble is the opposite of arrogance – being truly open to considering and accepting different facts, views and judgments.
MLEK    What do you think is the most important core value that a business leader can and should instill in their corporate culture and why?
HESS: A meaningful purpose. Why do we exist? Why should we exist? What value do we add to the world?  The meaning of work is under appreciated by many leaders.
MLEK    Your books on business are profound. What would you say is the most important thing you learned when you were researching these books? Why?
 HESS - Wow – a tough question. My research has been so fascinating and enriching. I have had the opportunity to meet so many interesting people.  Let me start by saying that all my answers to your questions fit here, too.  Additionally, business success is fundamentally about people. Strategy, finance, accounting, operations, and marketing are just tools.  Most great business builders are like painters that are constantly repainting his or her previous picture as they learn.  Underlying each picture is personal authenticity and harmony: consistency among feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Finally, high employee engagement and constant improvement in one's value-add to stakeholders are mission critical.

MLEK: How important is it for great business leaders to mentor others? Why?
HESS:  Great business leaders by definition role model and teach in a positive manner.
MLEK:   When talking about a company, what does being a “good corporate citizen” mean to you? If you had to choose two companies that exemplify being a “good corporate citizen” which two companies would they be and why?
HESS: A good corporate citizen is one that adds value to multiple stakeholder groups.  Stakeholder groups are customers, employees, society, and owners.  A good corporate citizen adds real value to at least two different stakeholder groups.  A great corporate citizen adds real value to at least three stakeholder groups.
The challenge for good corporate citizens is to 'fight slippage" daily.
Examples of some companies that have served multiple stakeholder groups positively for years include the following: Room & Board, Patagonia, Southwest Airlines, SAS, Whole Foods, Starbucks, UPS, Sysco, Levy Restaurants, Costco, & TSYS.
MLEK:  You write, “Be good. Do good.” to your business students.  What does that mean to you?
HESS: "Be good" refers to your heart, soul, mind, and body – take care of yourself. It is an internal focus. "Do good" refers to living with a meaningful purpose and having a positive impact on others and the world. It is an external focus.
Edward Hess is also a professor of business administration and the Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia.

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