Monday, November 17th, 2014

BREATHING SPACE FOR INNOVATION

There are many schools of thought about how to develop more innovation in an organization.  Do you bring it in?  Do you let it out?  Does it reside in the culture or in the person?  If you know how to hire creative people, would that solve the problem?  Do you need a special atmosphere?  Do you have to hire crazy risk takers and then never ever say ‘boo’ if they make big bad mistakes?

I don’t know.
But here is some of what I do know about innovation in companies from my own experience:

l. To create something new, people have to really really really have to have an idea or a goal that they are crazy about–intrigued with, nuts for, won’t be told “no” for. That’s the driving force, so assigned projects that need creativity may not get it. Let the passionate ones volunteer.

2. To create something new, people have to know how or be able to learn how to think flexibly–to turn things up side down, to come at a task or product from a new perspective. Look for the people who drive you nuts.  They say, “how about?, Why couldn’t we?, Why not try this? What if?”  Those people.

3.  Drilling down to a solution or a creation doesn’t work for creating something new. The opposite is true. Thinking broadly is needed–exploring in new areas, 
scanning other industries, following an interest or a curiosity to wherever it leads.  It’s a way of fluffing up the brain from rigid habits and patterns. Let your people stray. No more industry conferences. Try something very different.

4.  There does need to be a pressing demand at some point in the creative process—for a new product, a different solution, a drop dead end point.
This forces new thought from all of the above.  Here is where you distill all the work in preparation.  So create a mandate worth working toward and hold the importance and the deadline.  Pressure and tension are good for creativity.

5.  Innovation is tough work. It doesn’t have to be coddled or treated like it is oh so special and fragile. It takes diligence and experimentation without becoming defeated— over and over again. Provide some support occasionally.


6. A high risk, high failure environment is not necessary.  A high mess,
high million of small experiments, high learning as you go, high living in the real world attitude is necessary. High high high risk is for start-ups who have no other choice. An elaborate, complicated company is just not as able to be agile and risk crazy. Intrpreneuship, yes. Entrpreneurship inside a company, no.

7.  Play works miracles. A playful approach to work keeps people and projects malleable  and doen’t make the work so “important” that people are paralyzed by performance anxiety. Pilots are good fodder for innovation. Play with the idea before you work with the idea. Stay “light” until you hit execution mode.

8.  Innovation needs some protection from punishment (derision, extra tight budget constraints, jealousy) but mostly it need to be allowed to happen.

Innovation needs breathing space.




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