- Adapting to Change & overcoming Fear (5)
- Ambiguity and embracing the Unknown (4)
- Apple and/or Steve Jobs (2)
- Business Reports: 2010 IBM CEO & 2010 BCG (14)
- Changing Cultures to become Innovative (10)
- Collaboration vs. Silos (7)
- Continuous Improvement or Process Improvement (5)
- Creative Arts & Innovation (10)
- Creative Genius among Staff (8)
- Creative Problem Solving (8)
- Creative Thinking Practices & Exercises (11)
- Creativity/Innovation (1)
- Critical Thinking (3)
- Curiosity & Asking Questions (14)
- Divergent vs. Convergent thinking (5)
- Employee Engagement (9)
- Fun and innovation (2)
- Hierarchy vs. Innovation (3)
- How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci (7)
- Innovation & the Economy (1)
- Innovation in Government (2)
- Innovation in History (5)
- Integrity; Following own drummer (7)
- Langdon Morris (6)
- Leadership & Management Best Practices (15)
- Learning from Mistakes (8)
- Lifelong Learning and innovation (3)
- Mentoring and innovation (4)
- Model Innovative Organizations (9)
- Podcasts on innovation (2)
- Processes and Structures for Innovation (5)
- Redefining Innovation (8)
- Scenario Planning (2)
- Six Sigma and LEAN vs. innovation (2)
- Social Change and Innovation (2)
- Spirituality in Workplace and innovation (2)
- Trust and Respect in Engagement and Innovation (7)
- Types of Innovation (6)
- Weirdness and Creativity (2)
- What-iffing (5)
- Whole Brain Thinking (6)
- YouTube Videos (3)
Leader as Conductor: Orchestrating the Creative Genius Throughout the Organization
As discussed in previous posts, it is commonly held that there is creative genius in each of us. But, along with our innate curiosity (creativity’s inextricable partner) most of us found our creativity repressed by the tender age of thirteen by the pressure to “fit in,” not be seen as “weird,” [i] not ask too many questions, and as we got older, to go by “The Rules,” and do as we’re told if we want to succeed. I wholeheartedly agree with Langdon Morris of InnovationLabs who wrote that “It may only take only the right mix of context, curiosity, support, and environment for it come abundantly forth.” [ii]
And so, smart managers understand that good ideas come from everywhere in organizations. “Hence, the average Toyota worker, including those on the assembly lines, is said to contribute on average more than one hundred ideas each year.” Despite some of its recent troubles (and current tragedies in its homeland), Toyota is universally recognized as the most efficient auto manufacturer on the planet.[iii]
Gathering and Channeling the Collective Genius:
Referring back to the top layer of the cake as described in “Let Them Eat Cake!” a couple of posts ago, below are some suggestions I have found for creating an entrepreneurial environment throughout the organization, as recommended by the innovation leaders surveyed in the 2010 IBM CEO report. [iv]
Use cross-departmental input to create a shared language and lexicon. (Jorge Barba) [v]
Go beyond the mission and vision to make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee (“50 Ways…”) [vi]
Involve as many people as you can at the beginning to get upfront buy-in. (“50 Ways…)
Co-create A Vision for Innovation with Everyone in Your Organization:
Help employees to present their ideas and make their cases:
- Establish an Entrepreneurial Environment: Ideas come from everywhere. Give every “intrepreneur’s” idea an objective hearing. Provide management support in building the business case* in presenting the idea. (“10 Crucial Elements…,” Jim Miller) [vii]
* I discussed this point in my 2/12/11 post on "A Shared Failure to Communicate".
- Ask employees what gets in the way of their ability to offer contribute creative solutions and innovation, and work to remove those blocks.
- Create formal opportunities for offering ideas: Intranet repositories using an idea
management software, internal conferences, etc. (“10 Crucial Elements of Building an Innovative Company,” Jim Miller & “”50 Ideas…, “)
Embrace the Numbers Game:
- “…Harness everyone’s creativity by involving them in the ideation process; generate lots of ideas, for only a few winners will result, and then broadening your view of innovation to not just technological, products, or services, but also innovate the business model.” (Jorge Barba)
- Have a number of ideas in the works. Short and long-term, incremental, and discontinuous.
- “The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don’t isn’t their rate of success – it’s the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.” (“50 Ways…”)
Create Efficient Systems for Low-Cost, Rapid Prototyping:
- “Fail often to succeed sooner.” Tom Kelley, GM IDEO.
- Prototype using videos and models or other quick and cheap methods early on to visualize which projects to further develop and which to discard. (“Get Creative,” Bloomberg Businessweek [viii] and “50 Ways…”)
Support Cross-departmental Collaboration:
- Reroute reporting lines and create physical spaces for collaboration. …collaboration requires more than lip-service to breaking down silos… team up people from across the org chart.
- ‘You have to…get down into the plumbing of the organization and align the nervous system of the company.” (J. Andrew, BCG) [ix]
- Provide “Skunkwork” spaces with visual tools like white boards everywhere, even on ceilings and floors. (“50 Ways…”)
- Encourage informal, cross-functional networking and exchange of ideas through shared space, social activities, etc. (“10 Crucial Elements…,” Jim Miller)
- “Innovation requires no fixed rules or templates – only guiding principles. Creating a more innovative culture is an organic and creative act… Don’t make your innovation processes so rigid that they get in the way of informal and spontaneous innovation efforts.” (“50 Ways…”)
I’ve only scratched the surface here regarding employee partnership in innovation. Please, share your ideas, experiences, and success stories!
[i] Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work, John Putzier. AMACOM, 2001.
[iii] “The World’s Most Innovative Companies,” Bloomberg Business Week. (April 24, 2007).
[vii] Jim Miller, “Ten Crucial Elements of Building an Innovative Company”
[viii] “Get Creative,” Bloomberg Businessweek
[ix] Boston Consulting Group, “Innovation 2010: A Return to Prominence and the Emergence of a New World Order”
This week, we'll take a not-so-happy look at the state of affairs in many organizations: underlying blocks to innovation. Gotta look at what’s broke to be able to fix it! Next week, I promise the happier view, looking at solutions and inspiring best practices being used by innovative companies.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek’s “Most Innovative Companies” article, “Most businesses operate in ways that are antithetical to innovation. They want stability, predictability, avoidance of risk…” But “innovation is more about managing risk” than avoiding it…” [i] The functions of quality control and Six Sigma are about “control.” “The cultures of most organizations are set up to resist fluctuation and purge deviants,”[ii] known to others as “the innovator’s DNA.”
“But innovation is all about novelty and the unexpected…. innovators upset the apple cart, and move the cheese!” [iv] “In almost every company there are the ‘rebel’ thinkers, people who are always looking for ways to improve things, solve problems, individuals that look to the future, not the present or the past.” [v] Research varies, but reports that 50-90% [vi] of all new product innovations “fail” at even the most successful companies.
Given this predominant modus operandi, most organizations have a lot of work to do so that employees will feel safe enough to openly share their ideas and take risks. A great amount of trust must exist in an environment in order for innovation to take place. Very hierarchical “Win-lose organizations usually are not trusting environments…” [vii] In short, a sense of trust, safety, and partnership are key to innovation which is “a collaborative endeavor… There is little innovation without collaboration, and there is no collaboration without trust.” [viii]
Parallel Organizations: “Skunk Works”:
Some believe that it may be more efficient for large organizations to start satellite entrepreneurial organizations to germinate and develop the innovative ideas, rather than undertaking the significant task of changing the ways and culture of the primary organization. These sub-organizations are often called “skunk works” or “skunkworks”: “groups within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy,” tasked with working on various projects. (Wikipedia) The term "Skunk Works" is a registered trademark of Lockheed Martin, which by some accounts, was responsible for the creation of both the practice and term around 1943.
This model will be explored in an upcoming post, as well. However, I will say that I am highly skeptical about the wisdom of viewing this approach as the panacea. It may be best for some rapid solutions or time-to-market “hits.” However, it does not solve two significant and interrelated problems. By simply handing over creative thinking and innovation to the parallel, more agile “David” structure versus forcing the larger "Goliath" organization to reshape its management practices leaves the same problem in place: the creative ideas and full range of talents of all of its employees continue to be blocked and wasted. “Skunk work” organizations can only do so much. What if the creative genius of everyone within the entire primary organization was cultivated and set to work – what would be possible then?
As the 2010 Boston Consulting Group report recently summarized in this blog pointed out (and other studies concur) – U.S. businesses do not have time to leave the creative thinking to the few. All hands are needed on deck. For the first time since Bloomberg Businessweek began ranking the Most Innovative Companies in 2005, the majority of corporations in the Top 25 are outside the U.S. as new global leaders emerge from Asia.
From My Soapbox…
I believe the primary shifts that need to occur boil down to this: “In many organizations, the real thinking is seen as the purview of a privileged few.”[ix] There’s the rub! From my professional experience, from what I learned in my organizational development master's program, and based on the research I have conducted thus far, innovation and management bottle-necking cannot co-exist. That’s what many of the IBM CEO study innovation leaders were telling their colleagues. “Flatten thy organizations!” Lose, or certainly lessen the hierarchy.
“People are dying to bring their passionate, authentic selves to their jobs. In most cases, their jobs often won’t let them. These people often represent the undervalued intellectual capital in a company. Choke personal creativity, and you choke that organization’s chance to flourish.” [x]
As the saying goes, “A good mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Sadly, most organizations, from corporations to small nonprofits to governmental agencies, are wastelands of brilliant, potentially profitable or otherwise beneficial ideas that were smothered by others before they were allowed to see the light of day.
And on a More Cheerful Note…
In the next post, I’ll share specific practices being utilized by some to create a “thinking organization that encourages discovery and celebrates new ideas and the people who generate them.” And then how they gather, vet, and prototype those ideas. I hope you'll send in suggestions for some of the best practices you've encountered, as well!
[ii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[iv] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[vi] “50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation,” Idea Champions puts it at 50-70% and Wikipedia offers the 50-90% figure.
[vii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[viii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[ix] “Fostering an Innovative Company Culture,” EOS Strategies White Paper (2010) attributed to Daniel D. Elash, Ph.D., “Thought Partnerships Build A Company's Thinking Skills.” (2003).
[x] “Fostering an Innovative Company Culture,” EOS Strategies White Paper. (2010).
It seems to me that, along with demonstrating a humbling range of strengths and courage, the Egyptians just showed the world what can happen when people use divergent thinking to focus on open-ended possibilities — versus limited, convergent "That's just the way things are" thinking.
Collective creative problem solving and innovation are inherently egalitarian, if they have any chance of succeeding. It may have not been their intentions to start with, but the "stand-out" leaders in the IBM study found themselves flattening their organizations, backing away from "command and control" management styles, removing unnecessary layers of communications that had been barriers, and streamlining processes in order to be responsive to rapidly changing conditions and opportunities.
The Egyptians at Tahrir Square would know something about being prepared and responsive to rapidly changing conditions. I don't know the extent to which it remained the case afterwards, but according to the NBC Nightly News report on February 1st, much of the organizing for the demonstrations was coordinated by a small office of ten volunteers led by a soft-spoken single mother in her 30's (Girl power! 🙂 ). Volunteer coordinators using collaborative brainstorming and creative problem solving; mobilizing armies of volunteers serving on teams as medical personnel, security people, food and tea vendors, sanitation people, and leaders reinforcing the practices of restraint and non-violence among the thousands; and cell phones — It can't get much flatter than that!
Here was the combination of collective wisdom, need for self-expression, and human integrity at their very best.
Subscribe to receive new blogposts below
- Adapting to Change & overcoming Fear
- Ambiguity and embracing the Unknown
- Apple and/or Steve Jobs
- Business Reports: 2010 IBM CEO & 2010 BCG
- Changing Cultures to become Innovative
- Collaboration vs. Silos
- Continuous Improvement or Process Improvement
- Creative Arts & Innovation
- Creative Genius among Staff
- Creative Problem Solving
- Creative Thinking Practices & Exercises
- Critical Thinking
- Curiosity & Asking Questions
- Divergent vs. Convergent thinking
- Employee Engagement
- Fun and innovation
- Hierarchy vs. Innovation
- How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
- Innovation & the Economy
- Innovation in Government
- Innovation in History
- Integrity; Following own drummer
- Langdon Morris
- Leadership & Management Best Practices
- Learning from Mistakes
- Lifelong Learning and innovation
- Mentoring and innovation
- Model Innovative Organizations
- Podcasts on innovation
- Processes and Structures for Innovation
- Redefining Innovation
- Scenario Planning
- Six Sigma and LEAN vs. innovation
- Social Change and Innovation
- Spirituality in Workplace and innovation
- Trust and Respect in Engagement and Innovation
- Types of Innovation
- Weirdness and Creativity
- Whole Brain Thinking
- YouTube Videos