How permission to innovate leads to accidental innovation

Two weeks ago I wrote about the four signs that show that you have a culture of innovation. Well here’s another one:

A good sign that you’re innovating is when employees don’t ask for permission to do so. They just do it. 

An article on MIT Technology Review shows how AutoDesk Disrupted Itself with a $2.99 app when two middle managers created an iPhone and iPad application without asking for permission:

The apps’ origins are a reminder that big companies can innovate too, although not necessarily in predictable ways. “You can’t institutionalize innovation. If you could, everyone would do it,” says Bass. He acknowledges he probably wouldn’t have put resources toward the app project—”But guess what? Two guys did it and didn’t ask anyone’s permission.”

As this example shows, not asking for permission and just following your nose may result in accidental innovation. And boy was it accidental! AutoDesk immediately reached a new audience, a bigger one than it ever had. And now AutoDesk is now in the consumer products business with a very popular consumer app. Who would’ve thought?

The above quote also brings up an important point: You can institutionalize innovation, you just have to make it part of business-as-usual by letting people follow their nose every once in awhile. Make it part of their job description.

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  • Kevin McFarthing

    Hi Jorge – it’s like many things in business.  If you aim for complete military style command and control, you will stifle creativity in your people.  They will only be creative under extreme circumstances, and only when you either give them permission or you aren’t there.

    It’s much better to give them the time, space and support to be creative, and to let them fill your innovation pipeline.  There’s an old saying that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  I’d take it one stage further and say that in the ideal innovation culture you don’t need to ask for either.


    • Hi @9c48014272e6dc60ae401afcbe70023a:disqus ,

      That’s a great line: In the ideal innovation culture you don’t need to ask for forgiveness or permission.

      For me Command and Control shows insecurity. It means you don’t trust people to do their best. Plus, in a world where people work from home and don’t need to see each other everyday, trust becomes more important.

      What do you think of the management models of W.L. Gore and Morning Star:

      It’s fits nicely with this issue of trust.



      • Kevin McFarthing

        Hi Jorge – it’s a very thought-provoking article.  In my corporate life I can recognize that I spent far too much time controlling and reviewing and being controlled and reviewed.  Contrast that with the downside of getting things wrong in a consumer products business with brands of very high value……   I honestly don’t know the answer but there has to be a better way.


        • Hi Kevin @innovationfixer:twitter ,

          I’m with you. Have been looking for a better way but first I had to put the control freak in me aside. I realized I didn’t like being controlled so the same might be for others. Have also found out that some people like being ‘soft-controlled’ but realized these are not fit for said model.

          It’s not easy but I’ve been testing a similar model to W.L. Gore myself. Work in progress.

          Here’s another example:

          From NASA Langley:



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