Every organization wants to be innovative. However putting innovation into motion is much more difficult than most people realize. As a matter of fact, many organizations manage to kill innovation and creative thinking long before they get started. Let's take a closer look at these six ways that organizations unintentionally stop innovation in its tracks.
- Implement your innovative ideas without a strong business need. In order for an organization to innovate, they have to feel that there is a need to do so. Many leaders are running what they feel is a successful business and don't feel any reason to adopt anything new. If you have what you think is an innovative idea, you have to have a compelling reason to interrupt the organization's normal routine. The compelling reason may be attached to a dramatic increase in profits, exposure or notoriety for being labeled as the first or the best at something, etc. Until that compelling reason has been established, your innovation will be nothing more than just another idea.
- Pinpoint one leader of innovation. It is not wise to appoint one person as the leader of innovation within an organization. Why? Because innovation is a team effort. It takes many brains -- all of whom bring different work and life experiences, credentials, and ideas to the table -- to create an innovation that has a chance of surviving. When an organization does not make innovation a team effort, most of the organization finds themselves stuck in doing the same daily routine while the innovator instructs others to implement the innovation. This kind of thinking only brings about resistance rather than a spirit of collaboration. As Professor Donald Sadoway of MIT stated to a TED audience, hiring an expert in the field you are working on may not be a great source of innovation, “Do I hire seasoned professionals? No! I hire a student, and mentor him – teach him how to think about the problem, to see it from my perspective… and then turn him loose.
- Begin innovation with only one person's ideas. Innovation is much greater than one person's ideas. Innovation requires vetting the ideas of many adding and taking away pieces that no longer make sense for the organization. Similar to point number 2, the best innovation occurs when the ideas of many, all of whom are working from a different perspective within the organization. These varying perspectives are what create innovative ideas that are worth implementing. However, ideas need to be framed as problems to the right people while motivating them to solve the problem. Do not rely on one person to drive a company’s vision but also be careful when fielding suggestions from everyone internally.
- Believe that only one idea is viable. Have you ever heard the phrase, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket,"? This phrase can be applied to innovation. Innovation is a process that requires many attempts before finding the right fit. Taking the time to get the input of others and thinking through several ideas is not linear. The right fit can be dependent upon the economy, the market needs, or a number of other variables that can change at any given moment. Innovation needs to remain fluid thus coming up with multiple ways to meet a need is essential to keeping innovation alive. There is also the constant need for companies to disrupt themselves. Holding on to a single vision that has worked in the past is not innovation, its doing enough to stay in business. As Clayton Christensen suggests, holding onto the big ideas for too long allow others to re-think the little ideas that got you to the ones that make you money.
- Brainstorm for new ideas. Brainstorming sessions are a popular way for businesses to come up with new ideas. Your organization may have a retreat or meeting requiring members of your department to think of new ways of doing their work. The problem with these sessions is that the ideas are based on current ways of thinking and doing. Ideas that are truly new and innovative cannot be connected to old infrastructure. True innovation requires that old ideas are dismantled by questioning the very reasons they existed to begin with. Once that old structure is questioned, then people are free to truly be creative and come up with ideas that build innovation.
- Neglect customers in the innovation process. Creating innovative ideas for the sake of being innovative means nothing if it is not created with the customer in mind. Your customers are the reason for your existence so remember to inquire about how your ideas will make their lives better. What are your customers' pains and frustrations with the current way of doing things? True innovation has to be useful to someone in order for it to be innovative. Steve Jobs used to say that, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them." This is true for innovative game changing devices like the iPod, iPad and iPhone, however not every business or industry can rely on shaping people’s needs. No one can plan the next George Foreman grill or Dr. Dre Beats headphones. The rise of social media has been one of the most important factors in listening to customers. Companies are going as far as setting up websites and programs devoted to having customers shape their efforts
Can you find your organization in any of these six common practices? What have you lost as a result of these practices? The process of disentangling these practices can be a complicated one, thus it may be best to approach each practice one by one before implementing changes. What other ways do you see organizations managing to kill innovation?