Innovation Killer: Leave Your Innovation Team Alone If You Want Great Ideas

how leaders enable innovationAs a leader, to enable innovation in your teams, you need to create the conditions necessary for innovation to happen. That means setting bold goals, providing support and getting out of the way; but it isn’t easy.

A common innovation challenge inside established organizations is getting out of people’s way to let them put their talent to use and develop ideas that could change the course of the company.

A common strategy that is executed to overcome this challenge is to create a dedicated innovation team, one that doesn’t work on core business challenges; rather it is given time to find the next revolution by letting them play with ideas.

I recently sat down with the Director of a well known education software company in Mexico who is in the initial stage of creating a dedicated team, a la Alphabet’s X, that thinks and develops ideas that will transform their business.

But already there are signs that the approach won’t work. For example, Senior Management is already putting their hands in the pot, suggesting ideas that they want as opposed to ideas that are grounded on insights.

And that’s the problem.

You can’t become a world class company, one that delivers innovates continuously, without changing a single thing. One of those things is how management teams decide what new ideas to fast-track and fund. The sad truth is innovation dies inside most established organizations because someone from Senior Management, the one with the loudest voice, sway lobbies for their favorite idea without considering differing opinions or evidence to the contrary.

Also, when Senior Management starts giving the team more tasks related to the core business, it gets in the way of finding the next revolution. It’s the beginning of the end because innovation is seen as “just another activity”, one that has to be micromanaged and evaluated the same way as the core business.

True innovative organizations don’t have a culture that aims to please the boss. You turn into a world class innovation company when you are ruled by ideas based on insight, not on hierarchy.

When you create a dedicated innovation team, get out of their way. The reason you create one is precisely because it will challenge the status quo, provide alternate ‘what if’ ideas that provoke new thoughts that could become the basis for new products, services and business models.

Senior Management stifles innovation when it puts more projects on the innovation team’s table, just because they want to; this is an innovation killer. So, if you want great ideas, leave your innovation team alone.

Bottom line: Innovation teams need to be left alone think for themselves, find insights and experiment. When people are poked, prodded, measured, evaluated and spied on at every moment, you can kiss any hopes for innovation good-bye!

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  • Brian Pagán

    Thanks for this one, Jorge! While I agree with the idea that “too much involvement from above stifles innovation,” I think there is a limit to how hands-off (senior) management should be. When left completely alone, a great innovation team might focus on things that are irrelevant to a company’s / organization’s goals or values.

    I feel like it’s necessary for leaders and innovation teams to establish their goals and values together. That way, innovators have a general direction to focus their attention and general goals toward which to work, without specific directives on how to do that. What do you think, Jorge? 🙂

    • Hello Brian, you are right. It’s not completely hands off. As you point out, goals and values should be set together but the “how” should be left to the team to figure out.

      Thanks for pointing this out, left it off the post.

      Cheers,

      Jorge