Finance Indaba speaker highlights the importance of innovation to drive growth


The founder and chief executive of Jack Frost, Paul Steenkamp, discussed innovation and character strengths.

Paul Steenkamp, founder and chief executive of Jack Frost, told delegates at the Finance Indaba last week that he believes innovation is leadership. He said it is important that organisations invite their employees into the innovation processes.

He referenced a report by employee survey platform Great Place to Work, which found that organisations that invited all employees into the innovation process, generated an average of 5.5 times the revenue of organisations that were less inclusive. They also saw much higher levels of employee engagement and customer satisfaction, and they operated with much more agility.

“And so there is something special about the way we collaborate and innovate that really gets us to the top of the food chain,” he said.

However, Paul also believes that there has been unequal focus on the practice as far as innovation discussion goes. He said corporate leaders have not focused enough on the people: “What I’ve been interested in observing is that in the innovation space, we've witnessed a massive distance. We really seen the emergence of some interesting practices over the last five years, things like design thinking, which you might not often use in your organisation, things like lean innovation methods… and this is kind of where the idea for the book started emerging.”

He is referring to his book, Character Insights for a Regenerative Future, in which he argues that cultivating leadership character must complement advances in modern innovation practices for us to stand any chance of being worthy ancestors.

During the session, he also touched on character strengths. He said there is a growing, overwhelming and compelling scientific link between character strengths and achievements in the real world.

“The good news about character is, it can be cultivated, just like skills and experience can be cultivated. So if you take care of character strict assessment, and you're proficient in some areas, there are lots of good things you can do to build out and have a more balanced score. It’s something that we can all cultivate,” he said.

Paul has worked for a couple of organisations and helped them to build innovation capability. His agency, Jack Frost, focuses on strategy, innovation and venture building, and helps organisations to drive more effective innovation outcomes. He said in the last 12 years, he has dedicated his life to helping purpose-driven innovators thrive.

He also mentioned that the challenge we have in South Africa is that many of our leaders are not driven by purpose.

“Many of our leaders are driven by short-term progress incentives,and are put in charge of particularly listed organisations or government departments, chasing votes at the next election. So it’s very short term mindsets, and they are incentivised to drive quarterly earnings and annual performance.”

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