I talk all day to people who are interested in innovation. They know in their hearts that embracing innovation is the only way their organizations will flourish. They know the only way their company can compete in the difficult economic climate we face is to adopt an innovative approach. These people fall in love with the idea of collaborative ideation; assembling all of their smart people while they share ideas and other information of interest. They yearn to allow their cohort to find others within the company who are like minded; with common areas of interest.
Yet when the innovation topic is brought up, their managers turn a deaf ear. Management at their company tell them that they agree innovating is key, but “we all have day jobs”. No one at the company is really allowed to spend time on special projects.
Sometimes at these companies they go so far as appointing a new Chief Innovation Officer. But then this new senior executive doesn’t get enough budget or doesn’t get enough people to do much. Every senior executive realizes that innovation is the way to go. It’s just that no one is sure what steps to take to get there.
More specifically they face some of these obstacles…
- As a baseline, the new innovations the company pursues are the result of ideas that come from the HPPITR (the Highest Paid Person In The Room). A group of workers, their creativity taken away, stifled and discouraged, all decide the boss’s idea is the best one. This system is easy to adopt because those in power have great confidence and no one will voice any opposition.
- If anyone on the team, besides the boss, submits an idea, they don’t get any feedback or acknowledgment. The idea goes in a hopper, the inventor never finds out if there is any action taken on it. There’s no reward for this creative behavior. There’s no reason to ever submit another idea.
- Even if the company is open to new ideas, there’s no process to manage submissions well. Ideas are put into a list. Someone has to manually sort through ideas. At its beset these ideas go into a spreadsheet which is emailed to a group of managers who first rank them and then email them back. Because these ideas are never enhanced or flushed out, they’re judged based on their original formation and rejected as being ill advised.
- Creativity is stifled whether by rule or by action. If the average worker bee becomes an expert at their jobs and suggest informed improvements, they’ll be reluctant to opine regularly when management stresses that individual contributors are to only focus on their assigned tasks. There’s no time allotted for innovation. “We’ve got no time to dedicate to innovation. We need to focus on our ‘day jobs’”.
- If one worker has an area of expertise, there may be no forum to communicate with others at the company with the same expertise. Perhaps these other people with common areas of interest are working in other company divisions and/or are located in other time zones. There’s no mechanism for any of these folks to compare notes or even to find one another.
- We know innovation requires disruption and chaos. Yet, frank comments that can result in disruptive and innovative directions are considered shocking and unacceptable. No one in management is prepared for transparency. Thinking is done in isolation and in private. There’s no democracy because people are only allowed to follow “the chain of command”. If anyone picks up the banner for improved innovation or processes, they find no support from management.
- Conservative team members, sometimes older employees, run the other way when social networks are discussed. There is no appetite for a collaborative ideation system.
- Some senior people are believers themselves, but don’t believe anyone else on the team is. They believe the average person at their company won’t go through the trouble of finding the collaborative idea system, logging in, and learn how to use it. That’s quite a barrier and it’s called a self fulfilling prophecy.
But…have no fear… there’s a pathway out of this forest and into the light of an innovative world. It is possible (in fact inevitable) to get believers at the C-level to support innovation. It is possible to nurture a culture of innovation.
It requires a champion; in fact the more champions the better.
If you’re a believer; if you think your company must be innovative to succeed, then stand up now, make your case and keep on making it.