You can’t mandate innovation

state of global innovation report 2015Pretty much every “state of corporate innovation” report confirms what we already know about corporate innovation:

  • Innovation matters more than ever and organizations view it as a priority.
  • Most organizations have plenty of ideas, but struggle mightily to convert promising ideas into real-world innovations.
  • More than leadership, or funding, or anything else, corporate culture is the primary impediment to innovation success.

Imaginatik’s most recent state of innovation 2015 report isn’t that different.

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing these reports, the problem is that most nothing changes from one report to another.

You can’t tell people to be innovative when you won’t let them be

If you connect the dots on these reports, the main point is that corporate organizations are really trying to mandate innovation; rather than enable it. Let me put it bluntly:

Innovation can’t be ordained. And it can’t be mandated. You can’t tell people to be innovative. But you can allow them to be if you let them be.

It might seem like a joke but it’s true: employees are asked to be daring but corporate obstacles exist to impede them from doing anything.

There are generally two ways to become more innovative

We can add things to what we’re already doing (innovation by addition) or we can take things away that get in the way of innovation (innovation by subtraction).

We tend to focus on additive innovation because it’s a lot easier than subtractive innovation because you can point out things you are doing.

For example, simply putting someone in charge of innovation, a Chief Innovation Officer, is enough of a signal that you are mandating innovation because it means someone has to manage it. It’s the classic illusion of addition: the belief that more activities will equal innovation.

This is the reason why most organizations keep sucking at innovation. The truth is that to make space for the new you have to eliminate the old; that means subtracting that which stands in the way of innovation.

Most business leaders ask themselves the wrong question: what can we do to add more innovation to our business?

Instead, they should ask themselves: how are we destroying our ability to innovate?

What is one thing that destroys your organization’s ability to innovate? Here’s a hint: kill people’s enthusiasm.

Instead, today, a leader’s job (CEO) is to create the context for innovation to happen; by killing stupid rules and fostering an environment of trust and collaboration. In other words, inspiring and unleashing the black sheep and then getting out of the way.

Bottom line: Yes, culture is and will always be the primary impediment to innovation success. The prerequisite for innovation is leadership, and titles with responsibilities don’t necessarily translate to leadership. Smart, transformative leaders create the conditions for innovation to happen by eliminating obstacles that impede enthusiasm and progress.