Finding the Hidden Innovation

If you’ve ever been a fan of X-Men or Wolverine - you’ll know the name Hugh Jackman. The Australian actor played the key role of Wolverine multiple time - first as a 32-year-old in 2000, and most recently as a 49 year old in 2017.

Somewhat more surprising is how he looks in these two roles. At the age of 32, Jackman’s Wolverine looks like a strong-tradesman. By 49, however, Hugh Jackman is ripped - muscles bulging, veins popping. 


When asked how he got into such fantastic shape as a 49 year old, Hugh Jackman says it was all about the diet.

Jackman say: “There were times when I would literally eat with the mind set of working out. ‘One more mouthful, one more, come on, come on, you’ve got to finish this meal.’

Whenever we see a muscular body, it makes us think of working-out and lifting-weights. Yet, as the old adage goes, bodies are made in the kitchen. Jackman guessed that 90% of his look came from what he was eating - the hidden aspect of his life.

See, if you Google, “Hugh Jackman Wolverine training” - you’ll see countless pictures of him lifting huge weights. But you’ll see very few of him eating food. It’s not as glamorous, yet it’s highly effective.

When it comes to innovation, it’s typical to see the same fallacies. We think of shiny new products, jaw-dropping services, and amazing technologies - developed by super-intelligent MIT graduates in Silicon Valley. We think R&D, coding and laptops, chemistry and quantum physics.

And yet in recent statistics from the UK, the private sector invested approximately £133 billion per year on innovation. Less than 25% of this was in traditional R&D - with more than 75% in what is coined as ‘hidden innovation’ - the investment areas that may not be so glamorous, but are highly effective.

NESTA’s report showcases that this innovation investment instead targeted growing the capabilities of the entire organisation, through design-thinking, developing employees’ innovation skills - and through exploring organisational innovation - creating clear processes to capture, assess and actualise ideas from throughout the company.

Many of the resulting innovations are not sexy or show-stoppers. They may be simple processes to reduce costs, adjusting pricing models, improving communications or developing niche products for small clients. 

And yet they are responsible for 66% of the UK’s private sector labour productivity growth - increasing productivity by an average of 1.8% per year over a 10 year period. 

Just like Hugh Jackman - the majority of organisation’s innovation achievement comes from the ‘hidden innovation’ - the ongoing capability that they develop which the world may never see. And yet many firms neglect to invest in this element of their business - instead only looking at the big-and-shiny aspect of innovation.

As you think of your own organisation, think:

  • Do the managers and senior leaders know how to manage for innovation? Do they practice identifying opportunities, generating solutions, and prototyping ideas as part of their usual management?
  • Have employees been trained in a solid innovation framework, that enables them to participate in the ongoing innovation of the organisation?
  • Where have the innovations from our organisation been sourced? Have they all come from the R&D unit - or have other innovations came from sales, finance or HR?
  • Does our organisation have an innovation process, that is clear, targeted and utilised?

Investing in the hidden innovation of your organisation can reap ongoing rewards, that make your business more competitive - and a more people-friendly place to work.

Don’t just look at the big weights - but think day-to-day, aiming making innovation-as-usual a reality in your organisation.