2016 / 17 March

Is Innovation Dead in Your Organization?!


I’m betting if you’ve gotten this far, you are already wondering if innovation in your company or organization is up to snuff. Maybe innovation isn’t completely dead but you suspect it’s got one foot in the grave or seems to be on an extended holiday.

So, how do you know?

There are some telltale signs that are generally easy to sniff out if you simply walk the halls, listen to the water cooler conversations, or ask a few pointed questions of the rank-and-file staff. So, let’s put on our lab coats, grab a clipboard and see if we put together a checklist to help diagnose the situation.

Below are statements and questions that you’ll never hear from a company with a healthy culture of innovation. If you hear any of these on a regular basis, you can bet it’s time to do a bit of soul searching:

  • Are we allowed to do that? – This question is a surefire indication that people do not fully understand the vision and objectives of the organization. If they did, there would be no need to ask. A clearly communicated vision helps frame everything that the organization does. A good vision should be a simple enough that everyone immediately knows if a new idea fits or doesn’t fit. If it doesn’t fit, then by all means ask for permission. A strong vision empowers people to do what is right for the company without needing to ask.
  • We’ll get fired or we can’t do that. – The fastest way to crush innovation is to punish people for taking smart risks. If people are afraid to try something new, you might as well shutter the windows and hang the “out of business” sign because that’s were you’re headed. Even the most prominent brands do not survive the test of time if they fail to innovate. Don’t believe me? History is littered with companies that dropped the ball because they got too comfortable in their own shoes. Remember companies like Kodak, DEC, Atari, Blockbuster, and Commodore … the list goes on and on!
  • It’s good enough. – Like most things, bringing a great idea to life requires 1% talent and 99% hard work (thanks Albert). Innovative companies do capitalize on quick wins but they never stop perfecting a solution. That doesn’t mean everything that you produce has to be perfect but it does mean you are not satisfied until it isperfect! “Good enough” is simply not … good enough.
  • That’s not my job. – When I hear this one, it makes me want to saddle up to a bar and cry over a stiff drink. If isolated to a specific individual, then perhaps it’s time for a little one-on-one mentoring. However, if it’s more pervasive in the organization you have a real problem on your hand. When people make this statement it means they feel more like a cog in the wheel rather than empowered to come up with new ideas.
  • That’s a dumb idea. – You’ve heard the expression “there are no dumb ideas”, right? Well, I’m here to tell you there absolutely are dumb ideas! However, you should cherish them almost as much as the good ideas. Dumb ideas are like little dreams – crush them and people eventually stop dreaming altogether. That doesn’t mean you should spend a bunch of time on bad ideas but keep the sluice gates and your mind open. Don’t humiliate people for bad ideas. Their next idea might be the big one!
  • That’s not our sandbox. – When you hear this sort of statement, it’s a sure sign that teams are probably focused more on themselves than they are the broader goals of the company. Game changing innovation typically involves multiple functional areas and if folks aren’t playing well together, you might as well hang up your cleats.
  • We don’t have a budget for that. – If you don’t budget for innovation, you are telling people, pure and simple, that innovation isn’t a priority. You don’t have to break the bank, but as one of my old bosses used to say, “Budgeting zero is clearly the wrong answer”.
  • The R&D guys come up with all the new cool ideas. – Innovation can come from anyone at any level in the organization. The instant you limit “good ideas” to only those coming out of some elite group, you’ve immediately discarded a large part of the intellectual capital. I’m a fan R&D teams, or whatever you want to call them, but that shouldn’t be the only source of innovation. Make everyone feel like they are part of the team.

That’s it! How many checkmarks on you clipboard? What other things have you heard that tell you innovation is alive and well or struggling? Share your comments below.

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You can also find me on twitter at @NewFrontierCIO for more commentary on the frontiers of technology, leadership, space exploration, and science.


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