Creating innovation

Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Innovation, Leadership | 0 comments

We constantly see magazine articles, blogs, and books that profess methodologies for creating innovation in organizations. I’m here to tell you that innovation doesn’t have to be created. It’s always been there.

People are natural problem-solvers. It’s in our nature. We look at our situation, we look at what we have, and we naturally try to come up with a solution. Sometimes in this quest to solve problems, we innovate – we come up with something new. Where does the “new” come from? According to Plato, necessity is the mother of invention, and I have to agree.

When we’re faced with a need, our brains try lots of different scenarios to come up with a viable solution. Sometimes we link previous experiences with our current situation and come up with something entirely new. For example, working in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland, Albert Einstein was exposed to questions related to the synchronization of time which led to thought experimentation and eventually to his theory of relativity.

We are innovators by nature, so the real question becomes: What must we do to prevent our organizational environment, or culture, from squelching our natural tendencies? The answer is rooted in the values, beliefs, and priorities that form the culture of an organization. Since leadership normally defines these elements, it is incumbent upon them to understand how to develop a culture that supports natural problem-solving and innovation.

Four traits of the innovative organizational environment

1. Everyone has something to contribute.
First and foremost is the belief that everyone has something to contribute. Simply by living, we collect unique experiences that we can use to apply to the problems we face today. Because as leaders we believe each person has something to contribute, we make it easy for them to participate and contribute solutions from anywhere in the organization. People are lauded for the number of solutions they come up with and for participating, not necessarily for the quality of their solutions.

2. Acceptance of the new.
Second is an acceptance of new ideas. It sounds so simple, but unless your perspective is capable of embracing what is being proposed, it really is difficult to innovate. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly throughout history.

“There is no reason why anyone would want to have a computer in their home.”
(Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977.)

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
(Decca Recording Company rejecting the Beatles, 1962.)

I’m certain that the leadership at Atari and Hewlett Packard (HP) wish they would have accepted Steve Jobs’ and Steve Wozniak’s offer to build personal computers when they look back – and Atari and HP were “on the leading edge” of technology at the time. Why didn’t they jump at the idea?

So from our history, we don’t naturally seem to accept the new; but as leaders we need to learn to say yes and try more things. If history teaches us anything, it should be that trying lots of ideas skews the odds in our favor.

3. Failure is inevitable.
Third, failure is inevitable … it’s how we learn. We try lots of things. Most of them don’t work, some do – and some are simply brilliant. Leaders need to accept and even celebrate failure, or rather the great attempts. The effort is what is valued and appreciated. People know that great effort is always appreciated and sometimes rewarded. They also understand that without effort, nothing happens.

4. Appreciation.
The fourth attribute of the innovative organization is that leaders appreciate. They appreciate participation. They appreciate the trying and experimentation. They celebrate successes. Leaders tell stories around the great efforts, fantastic failures, and accidental successes. Leaders tell of the heroes. These heroes are the people who’ve offered 12 suggestions a day for the past 15 years, the individuals whose great innovation came on the 697th try, and the group that accidentally stumbled upon something whilst trying to solve a different problem that ends up turning the company around.

This is what truly innovative organizations look like.

The truth is that every person in your organization is innovative. It’s up to leadership to create and maintain an environment that gives them the freedom to do what comes naturally.

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