Can People Be Trained To Be Innovators?

Ideas are the seeds of innovation, and all people are creative. So, the answer is yes. But it comes with a caveat: Most every organization wants innovation but rejects creativity.

Think about that.

Before I explain what I mean, let’s look at how innovation attempts usually die inside established organizations. In general, there are three types of people that interact with each other on a day to day basis:

  1. Innovators.
  2. Operators.
  3. Maintainers.

The most innovative people have traits in common. They are the true black sheep, the Rebels, at the extreme of thinking and behaving. So these people don’t need to be trained, they need to be unleashed or they will leave. It’s the people in the middle who need to be trained on new creative thinking skills and how to apply them, and it’s these people who have the most difficult time doing anything innovative because they have to deal with the people at the other end; the maintainers.

Maintainers are the people who get in the way of innovation and undermine other people’s ideas; they are the maintainers of the status quo. It is these people who have to become aware of how their behavior is detrimental to the success of the organization, and what they can do to be less of a drag on the process.

So yes, everyone can innovate but not everyone will because their organization will not let them.

Culture and internal politics are the biggest threat to innovation

the biggest threat to innovation is culture

Traditionally managed businesses with a short-term, profit maximization mindset are hard-wired to reject innovation. They are the archetype for the most common innovation challenges that culture and internal politics create; the challenges that need to be solved in order to make room for the behavior that drives innovation.

Leaders of established organizations might preach the need for creativity but most reject it. Inside established organizations, innovation happens because of skills, culture and processes. As I said above, you can build the skills, but the culture and internal politics will likely kill any attempts at innovation before they even get a chance of getting started.

And, any attempt at innovation will have to deal with existing practices and processes that were developed to maintain the day to day business running smoothly.

So, aspiring innovators who want to make a difference have multiple obstacles to clear. And this is the sad part for me: When I’ve trained people I know they’ll most likely be unable to put their new skills into action. Pretty soon I receive follow up emails on how jaded and frustrated they are because they are being blocked by internal politics; I can feel their enthusiasm dying.

So, organizations with innovation aspirations have a lot of work to do because they are killing employee enthusiasm and inspiration; not knowingly they are also killing their business in the long run.

Bottom line: As a leader, your job is to create the conditions for innovation to happen. Start by removing the obstacles that impede it.