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Be brave enough to embrace disruption

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As I read RSS feeds on my way back from Manchester, telling me that the net public sector debt was £2bn higher than expected in September and that the public sector borrowing requirement is likely to be greater in October 2012 than it was in 2011, despite the sterling efforts of local government, it reminded me of my last Local Resilience Forum where we were informed that all the known oil reserves would only last 52 years at current consumption (let alone China’s growth!), and our graphs of doom would see us doing nothing but social care from 2020!

The real truth is we’re human. So the reality is that despite how bad all the indicators and predictions of gloom and doom are we will come up with solutions! But in local government, like elsewhere, we need innovators and entrepreneurs. Those rare breed of often odd, maverick, resilient, market aware, difficult and intolerant, self promoters, who have an apparent disruptive effect on the smooth ‘business as usual’ operations of  our process driven councils.

We senior managers with our politicians have to seek these people out from within our organisations, our partners and our communities and set them free to think the unthinkable, to challenge our perceived wisdoms and paradigms and ask that most powerful of questions that the creative minds of the very young constantly ask…why?

  • Why do we do it like that?
  • Why don’t we do it like this?
  • Why do we do it at all?

What is required in our sector is that disruptive innovation: the Model T, the telephone, the iPod, the internet or the proverbial light bulb. We need those often simple ideas that once developed makes us wonder how we ever existed without them. Those often simple ideas which become industry changing - moving from the blacksmith to the mechanic, from the secretarial pool to the IT department. Is Zopa the new lending model doing away with the high street banks for example?

However, to allow the disruptive innovation to take place and the entrepreneurs to be unconfined, it also demands that we start to be honest about some of the really tough questions that need to be asked in public, let alone answered.

If you look at the Apples and Googles of this world, you see what are now the largest organisations in the world, who allow their employees time and space to ‘play’, to think and to create. Years of management study has shown that you don’t stop investing in your talent programmes, you don’t slash your R&D budgets during recessions if you want to both survive and then ride the wave of economic growth - when it finally comes around the corner.

So my message is for our sector to be brave, be confident and make sure that you have your creative mavericks who develop the high potential projects, where outcomes at first won’t be clear because you’ve never been there before. Then we need to nurture those projects, watch them carefully, but be prepared to drop them when you know the answer is not emerging.

We will not salami slice, share or re-engineer our new public services into place, or more accurately community and citizen outcomes, we will only create our way there.

Perhaps it’s time for a local government innovation centre?

Paul Blantern, chief executive, Northamptonshire CC

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