Almost of all of us, and all of our organizations, want innovation – to introduce new and significant things into the world. Sometimes we are seeking ground-breaking, business transforming products. Sometimes we just want a compelling idea or two that can take us to the next level.
But too often we want to change the world without really having to deal with the messy internal dynamics needed to foster, feed, and ultimately bring innovation to the world.
In my earlier blog post, 5 Ways You Might be Killing Innovation, I mentioned that strong cultures kill innovation, to the extent those cultures reject different, new things – things that are, well, counter-cultural. Despite the obviousness of this, when we decide we want innovation, we do not attack the issue at its root – the way our change-averse cultures disengage innovators and, critically, the creative side of just about everyone. This is why this topic very much belongs in a Servant Leadership blog – because to get this right, we need to serve the innovators, and the creative part of everyone in the organization.
So here is where our Innovation Management is backwards: 1) it focuses on the end results – “We need more innovation!” – first without looking at it from the source – the innovators’ point of view and experiences within our culture, and 2) we are not thinking about how every person in our organization has creative potential – we are looking to the R&D/Engineering guys, or maybe the Marketing folks.
Too often, the demand to innovate comes from the very same leaders who see the counter-cultural innovators as a threat to cultural stability and consistency. In other words, we love the innovation but Hate the Innovator!
Be brutally honest with yourself – do you see the innovators marginalized and talked about with frowns or rolling eyes? I have seen this so many times I have lost count.
So, the groundbreaking (even innovative!) approach to foster innovation is to
- focus on your people – look deeply at the signals, incentives, and experiences they are having in your culture. Encourage and incentivize crazy, creative ideas.
- Ask them what they need, what they recommend to boost creative output. Seek out a list of the obstacles to innovation from their point of view.
- Involve your most innovative people in forming the steps you are going to take as a leader.
Formulate actions that change the conditions at the root, where the innovator lives.
In short, love the innovators!
- Top 5 Killers of Corporate Innovation (luckyrobot.com)
- 6 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation (fastcodesign.com)