As a general rule, organizations optimize for today. That is, they play the game not to lose; the status quo is more important than the future. But innovation led organizations optimize for both today and the future; but with a long-term focus on protecting the future.
What’s the difference between organizations that are future lead versus those that bend the knee to the status quo?
Hierarchy kills innovation when its focus is the short-term
Innovation led organizations put a bigger focus on ideas that enable the future today. To be idea led is to be open to ideas from anywhere; not just from the boss. Organizations that bend the knee to the status quo are obsessed with certainty and want to avoid any mess.
We’ve all worked at an organization that bends the knee, two things happen: it pays lip service to innovation, and innovation is seen as a waste of time and resources. Typically, the people leading these organizations are Chief Idea Killers; they are first and foremost concerned with maintaining efficiency. It’s their mandate to screen or kill any ideas, if ideas are even encouraged, that challenge the status quo.
And they do this with gusto!
I’ve gotten calls, texts and emails from people I’ve mentored and advised on leading innovation telling me how disappointed they are that their employer doesn’t value their new skills. Or how their boss sees them as a threat because they’re making an impact, in spite of hierarchy. These people work at organizations where hierarchy kills creativity; and this is mostly the norm.
I’m not saying hierarchy is bad. There’s good hierarchy and there’s bad hierarchy; the right kind of hierarchy can help people become better innovators, unfortunately the latter is the most predominant across organizations.
Hierarchy leads innovation when it gets out of its own way
Leaders at innovation led organizations create the context for others to be innovators. Leaders at these organizations lead innovation; they don’t demand it. They create the conditions for others to be the rock stars. They focus on unleashing potential by removing obstacles; not by creating them.
These leaders understand ideas beat hierarchy when trust exists in the organization. So if you want to lead by ideas, don’t hog the spotlight. Remember that it’s not about you; it’s about them. Trust your people, encourage dissent, celebrate the weird to create an organization where new and better worlds can be created.