Australia: Keep innovation on the agenda - and reap the rewards

Last Updated: 17 July 2015
Article by Nick Humphrey

A key aspect of building an innovation culture is simply keeping it on the agenda at all levels of management, from your team meetings and practice group meetings to executive committee or board meetings.

Think about your firm. When you have meetings, do you only discuss work in progress, debtors, rates and billings? How much time, if any, is spent on thinking about better ways to serve your clients? How much time is spent on exploring innovation?1

As a starting point, ask yourself the following questions.

  (A) (B)
Does management spend more time in monthly reviews talking about ...? Financial metrics, budgets and meeting forecasts Innovation, client needs and growth opportunities
Which metric is more closely watched? Outstanding days for debtors Revenue from new products or services
In what area does your firm focus more energy? Cost management New product development
Do your senior leaders have a reputation for ...? Delivering financial results from existing business lines Building new service lines

Source: Adapted from Brian Christian, "Strange Bedfellows: Innovation and Risk Aversion – Engineering Innovation", May 2007, Appliance Magazine.

If you answered (A) to one or more of these questions, you are probably working in a fairly risk-averse organisation where innovation is not on the agenda. A successful organisation needs to keep both financial hygiene and innovation on the agenda. It is equally problematic to simply ignore the hygiene issues and endlessly ponder the subjective elements of innovation, new markets and potential services.

Collaborate or perish

A common element of a culture of innovation is active collaboration within the firm among partners, across practice groups and, in the most dynamic firms, with clients and perhaps even competitors. Some people feel that collaboration stymies innovation as it leads to consensus thinking (otherwise known as 'group-think') and may mean the process becomes bogged down in endless meetings.

To overcome any risk of group-think, a key element of successful collaboration is that the team has diversity in its make-up. This will ensure a variety of different perspectives on a problem, as well as a broader tool-box of heuristic styles and experience. It will also be important to ensure a mixture of teamwork and solo work.

Potential advantages of collaboration:

  • Likelihood of adoption: Remember, for an organisation to successfully innovate, it is not simply enough for great ideas to be generated; they need to be adopted throughout the organisation. A key benefit of collaboration is that the likelihood of adoption is greatly increased because other people in your firm have been along for the journey and are vested in its success.
  • Speed of work: In many cases, a team comprised of the right people (open-minded and intuitive) are more likely to solve a problem faster than a person working independently. Your collaborators can help you to speedily reject weak ideas, validate sound ideas and expand your ideas.
  • Associations: It may well be that collaboration not only speeds up the process of innovation but substantially increases the likelihood that a successful combination of ideas will be formed. Management consultant Jeff Dance argues that: "The inventor may not even originate the idea, but he might combine his half idea with another's idea to realise an innovative 'configuration'. To say it in other words, our half ideas associated with other's half ideas can make whole innovative ideas."2
  • Energy: Dance further suggests that as innovation is often borne into a "hostile environment", particularly where management did not create it, a team can provide the support to "push through the hierarchies of inertia ... Team feedback can also provide energy to keep each other going through periods of unknown outcomes".3

Customer-centric perspective

Effective innovators are actually focused on solving complex problems for their clients, rather than trying to innovate. Successful innovators do not set out to innovate; it is really just a by-product of addressing important challenges.4 It requires an external mindset, whereas many businesses are purely introspective.

Management that simply puts innovation on the agenda is missing an important element of context. This approach is usually driven by self-centred motives, often when the organisation is losing market share. They know they need to protect themselves from more nimble competitors by doing something called 'innovation'. The quest for innovation is a positive start, but "this focus tends to create a culture where customers are on the sidelines, not in the centre of the dialogue".5

The key to innovation is really to focus on your customers or clients; in particular, their problems. A customer-centric perspective requires asking the right questions: why are certain customers unhappy with your service? Why are they reducing business or switching to other providers? Why are they so happy with your competitor? What market threats are they facing? What business issues are keeping them awake at night?6

From a practical perspective, to start building this new mindset you need to get out of your office and start conversations with your clients. Ask them some simple questions about what their challenges are and listen carefully to their answers. Gather feedback about their complaints on customer service, market challenges and opportunities. Then go away and brainstorm a hundred different ways that might help solve the problem. Discuss the issue with your colleagues. You will probably end up discarding most of your ideas, but remember it is really an iterative and combinative process – in other words, it is about trying different things and merging good ideas to create new ways of solving problems.

Have the courage to challenge the status quo

Innovation is inherently about challenging the status quo. This does not mean criticising management or the existing regime, but it does mean you need to have the courage to take on difficult issues and test the assumptions that underpin your current strategy and structure. To be effective, it is important to 'play the ball and not the man'. In other words, focus on the issues themselves and do not make it personal. Part of the mindset is 'healthy creative tension'.

Create space and time to innovate

It takes courage to experiment and risk failure, particularly when you are measured on 'outputs' such as daily billable unit targets. Management needs to put less emphasis on the financial metrics and more weight on cultural factors. Reward staff who drive culture, build an environment of trust and foster creativity in their teams. Support those staff with fee relief, celebrate their victories and provide management and administrative support to their projects.

A practical step towards fostering innovation is giving your team permission to take the time and space to innovate, to consider non-file related problems, and to consider how to serve their clients better. This permission might take the form of opening a non-billable file that is counted towards their annual targets.

Technology company Atlassian, famous for its innovation day, has for the past decade been running quarterly days which give employees the opportunity to park their normal work projects and focus on new innovations. They have 24 hours to 'ShipIt' or deliver the idea.7 Atlassian explains that the goals of ShipIt are to:

  • Foster creativity. "Atlassian is good at hiring smart people and we'd be mad to keep all that brain-power locked up."
  • Scratch itches. "Every developer has something that bugs them about our products, or something they'd like to see them do."
  • Spike. "Often, radical ideas don't get traction because we don't understand how they'd work or what benefit they'd provide."
  • Have fun. "Institutions like ShipIt make Atlassian a fun place to work."8

So why not give such innovative management ideas a chance. You may be surprised at the results they deliver.

This article was originally published by the Australian Law Management Journal and is republished here with their kind permission. Click here to read the article.


1 Brian Christian, "Strange Bedfellows: Innovation and Risk Aversion – Engineering Innovation," May 2007, Appliance Magazine.
2Jeff Dance, "5 Reasons why collaboration contributes to innovation", September 27, 2008.
3 Dance, ibid
4 Doug Sundheim, "Successful Innovators Don't Care About Innovating," Harvard Business Review, October 22, 2014.
5 Sundheim, ibid
6Sundheim, ibid
7 Craig Smith, "To Deliver Innovation Don't FedEx It, ShipIt!," Infoq, June 29, 2012.
8 Smith, ibid

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Nick Humphrey
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.