“I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all. ~Alexis de Tocqueville
Let’s look at innovation. It’s uncertain, difficult to control, diverts staff from tasks and can be expensive and is the antithesis of what tends to drive managers. Don’t get me wrong I understand organisations can’t deliver on their existing commitments without strong and clear management.
However, experience shows us that without new ideas, products, or services companies soon become irrelevant as the market and society marches on.
Consider for a moment if you will some of the big name companies who dominated the end of the 20th Century and are no longer with us. Innovation comes in many guises and although physical inventions tend to dominate our impression of what innovation consists some of the most important innovations are in the way we do things not just the products we make.
Whist you might be sleepwalking to perfecting your management system others are wide-awake innovating – check out The Idea Connection to see what is happening out there.
Even though every leader and every company knows they must keep moving forward and support innovation even the best can end up doing a poor job of supporting it. We blame “bad luck”, ”the R&D team wasn’t strong enough” or even “government intervention”.
Remaining In Control
However, we should look closer to home for addressable levers we can control directly. Often it’s the very managerial culture we have created which interferes with innovation the most. When management system are perfect companies enlarge but when they companies innovate they grow, adapt and thrive in a changing business environment. The effect is continued resilience and profitability in a volatile world..
“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” ~Peter Drucker
Essentially management is all about maintaining the status quo by enforcing budget control, time efficiency and certainty. They want immediate quantifiable results they can present to the board.
Not So SMART
This behaviour is encouraged by creating limited SMART objectives rewarded by incentives. When you throw into the mix the uncertainty of a creative process which needs time and money, managers start to sweat and find ways to prevent their reports from contributing; unless it’s in their spare time. Managers will say they believe in and want innovation, but their immediate concerns prevent them backing it up with concrete resources.
As shown by Johan Fuller and his University of Innsbruck team, a major inhibitor of innovation comes from a battle between motivational rewards and barriers arising from fear of exposure and a negative benefit-effort trade-off. The balance of this equilibrium flexes our intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to innovate or to play safe. Identifying which levers stimulate innovation and which stifle it are key to growth.
“I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.” ~Bill Gates
Effective Innovative Teams
Effective innovative teams draw their members from multiple disciplines and company sectors. When they join they take of their “management hats” and are invited to contribute based on their personal expertise, knowhow and networks. Why not create company “hacker spaces” where playing to discover may create your next massive product or service? Even if it doesn’t the mutual trust generated will be worth the effort.
To successfully engage managers in the innovation process, concrete value-based objectives and clear yet flexible outcomes must be identified. Finite affordable resources must be allocated and an agreed time-frame adhered to. Most of all, you have to be seen to value the Innovation Team. It’s their effort which needs rewarding not just the wins. For every ten ideas maybe one makes money. It does not mean the effort invested in the other nine was wasted (see The Edison Principle).
“Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.” ~Milan Kundera
As Dale Dougherty says in his TED talk, ”Makers are in control” I would add a rider that, “Users are under control.” Do you want your company to be in control or used?
Your Actions Today
- Were you involved directly today in your organisation’s innovative process?
- How much resource and time have you given the innovation team?
- Did you overtly value and affirm effort as well as wins?
- Talk to your managers and try to sense their attitude to innovation and the pressures placed on them to resist it.
- Reflect on your personal relationship with risk and innovation.
The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge (Harvard Business Review) – Vijay Govindarajan & Chris Trimble
Gary Coulton is the author of the upcoming book “Your personal leadership book of days – avoid cookie cutter solutions by using your Adaptive Intelligence”. Get your free mini-version at HERE.
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Dr Gary R Coulton is CEO of Adaptive Intelligence Consulting Limited
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Hi Gary, Again, a very good set of insights. Thanks for sharing. Two things to add to what you are saying: 1) The US focus on quarterly profit growth has effectively made our leaders (CEO’s) managers. Every 90 days they are obliged to hit profit growth targets — or — face the wrath of their shareholders. This focus wiped out Bell Labs which got re-organized to be a ‘profit center’, so the US lost its premier pure research (ultimate innovation) facility. Most corporations do little research anymore as it ‘drains profit’. 2) An acquaintance of mine is a world-class productivity expert. He has tracked the productivity of companies that commit to rigid quality control measures (like Six Sigma). In every case, this commitment to ‘manage current processes to perfection’ has led to negative productivity growth. These companies get totally locked into the status quo!
Larry, your support is always welcome and thoughtful. Why is it that otherwise apparently intelligent people (CEOs) choose to ignore carefully researched objective assessment for the fad of latest fashions. Really, soon someone is going to grasp the nettle and ignore convention and make a great company that delivers longterm innovation and great profits.
Are you out there? If so get in touch with me and let’s go on a journey together!