Think your business has what it takes to innovate? Ask yourself this question

unlock employee innovationYou have an idea, potentially a great one, you tell your boss and colleagues about it and they all think it’s crazy. So, no go. Not even a chance to explore the subtleties; just no. Sound familiar?

Yes, it’s the same old story in any type of organization that stands for doing more of the same. But if businesses want to have some kind of existence in the near future, this attitude has to stop.

A litmus test for great ideas is they seem crazy and are rejected immediately by most everyone. And they are out there. But, they’re rarely given air time and oxygen to see the light.

Put simply, if people can’t be given a fair hearing then don’t expect them to care about your business. Maybe someone in your organization has the next great idea that will revolutionize your industry, how are you giving them a space to talk about it?

Great ideas come from everywhere

What destroys your, or any, organization’s ability to innovate? Killing people’s enthusiasm.

The reason is simple: when there is no opportunity to make progress, people’s enthusiasm gets stalled. People need to make progress, it’s what keeps the fire burning.

Last week I wrote about how you can’t mandate innovation, rather you must create the context for it to happen. For that context to exist and innovation to flourish, all organizations must provide employees three things: freedom, challenge and support.

These three conditions foster innovation in the workplace.

Though criticism and innovation go hand in hand, the last one, support, is critical because people must feel safe to be creative. That means psychological safety where no one expects immediate criticism and judgment; just a good old idea exchange.

Innovators embrace conflict, they don’t avoid it. It all starts with an understanding that honest feedback enables everyone to be creative without fear of being judged. So, a key for unleashing innovation in any type of organization is the willingness to let employees try stuff without feeling that they will be punished if they fail. Creativity is only unleashed when people feel safe that they won’t be judged.

That’s what it means to manage for creativity.

At a tactical level, what does this look like?

Greg Satell, author of Digital Tonto, touches on this point on a fantastic post about the questions every business needs to answer. One of those questions is critical for innovation to flourish: how would someone sell a transformative idea?

Satell explains further:

One way to address the problem of adaptation is to ask yourself, if someone had an idea that could transform my company, how would they sell it?  If Sam Walton came to you with a new retail concept, or Reed Hastings with a new way to rent videos, how would they get through the front door?  Who would they talk to?  How would they be received?  What if the next great entrepreneur already works for you?  Would she fare any better?

These days, every enterprise needs to develop a culture of change.  What’s yours?

Very simple.

Bottom line: A true culture of innovation contains the ingredients necessary for inspiration to flourish and eliminates the obstacles that stand in the way of turning inspiration into action. Remember, the primary impediment to innovation inside large organizations is a corporate culture that kills ideas before they have a chance to breathe; one that punishes failure. So, ask yourself: In what ways is our culture deliberately ignoring great ideas?

Next Article

You can't mandate innovation