Innovation fails because of lack of process, not lack of ideas: NAB CEO

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 1 August 2016

It’s time the Lucky Country started regarding itself as the ‘creative country’ and regarding innovation as a long-term, sustainable driver of business growth, according to NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn.

Speaking at the Creative Country event NAB hosted in partnership with The Australian in Melbourne last week, Thorburn said it is every business leader’s duty to innovate, and regard innovation as a driver of growth.

“As business leaders, it is our core job to innovate, because innovation creates opportunity and it creates growth. In large companies, this is hard because you have regulation, the status quo, short term-ism, and a desire for quick fixes rather than the hard yards which create lasting and sustainable change,” he said.

“Everybody has their own story about innovation but at NAB, we are innovating because we have an aspiration to be the best and most respected bank in Australia and New Zealand.”

In his keynote he drew on ‘Creativity, Inc’ by Ed Catmull, which tells the story of animation house Pixar, to highlight the importance of long-term thinking in innovation. Catmull describes creativity as a “marathon not a sprint” and zeroes in on the importance of culture within large organisations to make innovation possible.

“I want to make three points. Firstly, that we need to redefine innovation, the second is that business should be a key driver of innovation, and thirdly, the biggest challenge is creating sustainable innovation, not just one-offs and short-term phenomena,” said Thorburn.

He added that as a nation Australia should be looking to create its own Silicon Valley and trying to match Singapore and Israel in terms of tech innovations, encouraging more startups and talent to set up shop here.

However, crucial to making innovation work and scaleable within large organisations, he reckons, is having a process or framework in place to turn ideas into executions. “Ideas are important,” he says but the “execution and delivery” is more important.

An anecdote from a conversation he had with a US innovator was rooted in this concept: “innovation almost never fails as a result of a lack of ideas, it almost always fails because there is a lack of discipline.”

To address that NAB is working with the likes of Adobe, Telstra, PwC, Melbourne Business School as well as Fishburners, Maestrano and Loke to find new ideas and innovate faster. The bank has launched ‘NAB Labs’ and has a six-week “sprint and learn” process designed to get things off the ground more quickly. It is also putting in place a five-step model ‘Discover, define, validate, iterate and then transition to pilot’ to fuel an ongoing pipeline of innovations that transcend being ideas.

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