Interview: Tom Cheesewright – ‘Without innovation you’re accepting defeat’

Tom Cheesewright

He’s worked with the likes of Unilever, BP, Cisco, Kellogg’s, PZ Cuzzons and LG, and now ahead of his keynote speech at TheBusinesDesk.com’s Business & Innovation – the future is now event in Nottingham on 18th April, we spoke to applied futurist Tom Cheesewright about how East Midlands businesses can harness innovation to realise ideas, and ultimately, boost profits.

Is this your first time in Nottingham – and what are you impressions of the local economy?
I have family in Nottingham and have done work in the county previously. Only the other day a colleague in the tech sector was telling me that Nottingham was one of the new potential centres for tech growth, with the availability of strong graduates from the universities. This reinforces my perception that there’s a diverse economy locally but with challenges, particularly as you move out of the city and into the more rural areas.

What does innovation mean to you?
It’s the realisation of ideas, the translation of possibility into material value. The old adage about 99% perspiration is true in my experience through a number of start-ups. The idea is the easy bit. Making it real takes sweat, and investment.

What’s the difference between invention and innovation?
Invention is the synthesis of something new. Innovation can just as easily be about improvement, recombination, or the application of ideas from one domain to another.

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How can businesses both large and small harness innovation to drive forward the East Midlands economy?
Innovation is cheaper now than it ever has been. We can experiment with products and services, and test their impact digitally, with better tools, for less money. But this requires a culture of experimentation. An understanding that it is more important now to be agile than to be optimal, if you want to build sustainable success. Innovation has a cost, an overhead, but without it you are accepting eventual defeat in this fast-moving economy.

Are millennials more open to innovation?
Only because they are young! Young people have always been more open to change. They are naturally less wedded to old ways of doing things.

What is next big step in innovation for businesses?
Understanding what their business means in tomorrow’s economy. There are new threats on the near horizon, but new opportunities too. Every organisations needs to move into constant ‘phoenix state’ of reinvention if they want to build sustainable success.

What is the difference between creativity and innovation and are they intertwined?
Absolutely. Creativity is a skill, innovation is the result of its application. We need to place renewed focus on creativity as a critical skill for people of all ages – a skill that can be learned and honed. Too often in this country we treat it as something innate, and associated only with the arts. Arts are a great context in which to learn creativity but it is just as important in science, finance, engineering and management.

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