John Bessant

A Master of Masterclasses

Neil Devons
Workplace Innovation Europe CLG

Through Workplace Innovation Europe’s Fresh Thinking Labs platform, Professor John Bessant delivered an unconventional masterclass on the ‘Craft of Innovation’.

You wouldn’t normally expect the somewhat complex concepts surrounding workplace innovation to be referenced using video games, Winnie the Pooh and Alice’s Red Queen, gardening, medieval history, natural and man-made disasters and Victorian shipbuilding practices. Oh yes, there is a song thrown in as well.

But that’s John Bessant for you. He delivers enthralling and inspirational masterclasses with roller coaster explanations of the dynamics of innovation and how to make it work through high involvement, an acceptance that not all innovative ideas work and that innovation is more than ideation.

If we are to create value from ideas, we must recognise that there is no single right answer only open ended solutions. It’s an uncertain process but we know it can work. We can still learn from intelligent failure. We know it makes a difference and we know it makes for better workplaces and motivated employees. We also know it applies in any setting – big, small, public or private. The trick is to listen to other people’s thinking which can set you off in new directions. The more minds on the work, the more variation in ideas.

According to John Bessant high involvement innovation is a continually moving phenomenon and rarely depends on a light bulb moment. The key is knowledge management where everyone’s ideas matter and require a response; where ideas have an enabling process to create value and can make a strategic difference; above all, people can learn to be innovative.

So how do you build an innovative culture that will create value? Start with making clear what behaviours you want, provide a clear direction and let them do the rest (Articulate); support processes, training and facilitation (Enable); provide feedback, incentives, encouragement, recognition, celebration (Reinforce); adapt, refine, reconfigure (Review).





The challenges in creating value from ideas are many and varied because of a constantly changing context so Bessant characterizes it as a journey which will be full of surprises and, often, disappointments – ‘the technology won’t work, the market isn’t really there or doesn’t want what we thought, competitors have stolen a march on us and launched a better alternative, the government changes the regulatory rules of the game’ – multiple and simultaneous sources of change make up what he sees as the ‘Red Queen world’.

The goal must be to learn skills and capabilities in ourselves and in our organizations; to update our models for managing innovation. We need ‘dynamic capability’ a concept brilliantly conveyed by Bessant with a specially written song which he delivered with guitar accompaniment. While it won’t win the Eurovision Song Contest, it certainly hit the right note for this wonderful masterclass.

So just who is John Bessant? Many of the old hands in the Workplace Innovation movement will already know but many won’t.

John Bessant is Emeritus Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Exeter. He hold visiting professorships at various universities in England and Europe, has been a United Nations advisor, Government policy advisor, consultant specialising in effective management change, researcher in innovation particularly in technical innovation and is a prolific author of some 34 books.

He is also an innovator in his own right having introduced a unique style of inspirational presentation delivery which has included bringing his band to a Microsoft Masterclass in London and singing his entire paper.

John Bessant has also cemented his place in the Workplace Innovation Hall of Fame by capturing the idea of the power of individual creativity and employee voice in just 9 words.

In case you’ve missed this event we have other great ones lined up for you.

Plus Wellbeing Drop-Ins, Challenge Workshops, network-building activities and bespoke introductions to members with comparable interests.

What did participants think of our events? See their feedback below.

Participant feedback from previous Open Events, Masterclasses and In Person Labs

Today has been absolutely brilliant. Fresh Thinking Labs is about interaction and the whole concept of bringing businesses together to share their experiences in this way is ground-breaking and invaluable.

Herman Kok, Finance Director, Lindum Group

I think the Fresh Thinking Labs concept is incredibly important because if you only rely on your own company and the people in your own organisation, then you’re very limited as to how you are going to develop innovation and engagement. Coming together with other companies helps you recognise that we have similar problems and challenges. In some case other companies have actually tackled a problem you’ve got, and come up with a solution that may have taken you months or even years to resolve. Getting together and sharing ideas has real value, real benefits.

Malcolm Bond, Learning and Development Manager, Rittal CSM

Excellent masterclass, informative, interactive and thought provoking. Shines a bright light on what effective and impactful leadership should look like.

Caroline Brown, Enterprise Development Officer, North Lanarkshire Council

Great insight from speakers with international experience.

Matt Chapman, MD Contagious

It reinforced the importance of innovation in the workplace in terms of empowering your people an creating a culture in which they feel confident, supported and autonomous.

Wendy Murray, Brand and Business Development Manager, Bute Fabrics

Today has been absolutely brilliant. Fresh Thinking Labs is about interaction and the whole concept of bringing businesses together to share their experiences in this way is ground-breaking and invaluable.

Tom Francis, Business Manager, Saint-Gobain

Fresh Thinking Labs provides an amazing opportunity for individuals to get together, share what they’re doing and have the chance to think outside of work. Taking that step back, reflecting and being able to bounce ideas off others is invaluable.  There’s lots of things I’ve already taken away after just one session. It’s easy to think that you’re the only one going through these challenges when actually a lot of us have similar things going on, similar ideas and we all want to progress.  The opportunity to compare different perspectives and bounce ideas around is invaluable.

Mary Lester, Service Improvement Manager, Nottingham City Council

The power of events of this nature is that you are exposed to things you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. It reminds you that if you only act on what you already know, you’ll never change. The concept of Fresh Thinking Labs exposes you to new ways of applying different thinking to the organisation and that’s the real power of it.  I have learned a lot today – much more than I anticipated when I first arrived.

Jeremy Ling, Chief Executive Officer, Bristan Group

An opportunity to reflect on where we are and how we might introduce change for the better, a thoroughly enjoyable event.

Kate Beaumont, HR Director Soapworks Ltd

Eye-opening to see how others are all dealing with similar issues and it has helped identify a way forward.

Lois MacGeachy, Global HR Advisor, Peak Scientific