Teaching Innovation From The Top Down

These days, much is written about how to encourage employees to think more innovatively, to encourage their creativity. Every few days brings a new blog entry about encouraging design thinking and helping employees engage the right hemisphere of their brain as well as their left in order to facilitate more radical insight for problem-solving. And there is no doubt that most people have more innate creativity than their everyday lives and jobs encourage them to utilize. There is an increasing body of anecdotal evidence that this creativity, if nurtured, properly engaged and channeled can allow a company’s existing workforce to evolve into an army of ideators, problem solvers and potential innovators. But then what?

It seems that the biggest problem most corporations have when it comes to innovation is not generating ideas, it is implementing ideas, and there is no innovation without implementation. There are many, unsurprising reasons why implementation is the hardest part of corporate innovation; it’s often easier to come up with ideas than to actually action them once the real-world constraints of budget and resources are considered. But there are more than just these constraints at work here. The people who need to be encouraged to think more creatively, to engage the right hemisphere of their brains, to make connections across concepts, to recognize patterns and open their minds to unusual possibilities are the corporate executives, the decision makers. Without a re-education of the people in the very top tier of a company, having a corporate innovation strategy and program is less about reducing the barriers to innovation and more about raising them up higher; you may have eliminated the possibility of a middle manager not realizing the potential in an idea but now that idea just has further to move through your organization before being rejected.

Some of the areas in which the innovation re-education of corporate executives could be focused are outlined in this blog entry, the Island of Misfit Ideas and here is a thought provoking short list of 21 innovation-related things that “Great Bosses Believe and Do.” Ultimately, does this mean that companies may have to do some corporate soul-searching followed by a realignment of business strategy? Perhaps, but isn’t this what getting into the innovation game was supposed to be about? Isn’t the very reason that companies are putting together innovation teams, investing in idea management systems for internal and external crowd-sourcing, and reaching out to partners and vendors for open innovation partnerships, precisely because they realize that much of their traditional business strategy will probably not hold up in this new, emerging 21st century economy? As this Business Week article says, corporations will need to “Reconfigure operational models to deal with the increasingly complex nature of innovation”, and what better place to start this reconfiguring than with the executive mindset?

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7 Responses to Teaching Innovation From The Top Down

  1. Janelle says:

    Totally agree. ‘There is no innovation without implementation.’ Brightidea’s Pipeline product is designed to do exactly that- put valuable financial metrics around an idea in order to consider the pressing ‘real-world constraints of budget and resources’.

  2. Robert Knutsen says:

    I definitly agree. With my Idea Development program I am fortunate to have a Director of Operations who believes in the program. With his backing we have been able to implement many cost saving and process inproving ideas. We have had great results at L – 3 SDS with Idea development and implementation because of his support.

  3. Very good post. All to often I see people with great ideas. The problem is getting them to build a strategy to deliver that idea. Once that is done then delivery has to take place. These last two steps involve investment in time and sometimes money but as you correctly point out its the Executives that must have responsibility

  4. Sandra Foyt says:

    I wonder to what extent a fear of failure prevents corporate executives from implementing innovation. Perhaps business leaders should be required to absorb Carol Zweck’s “growth mindset.” See http://mindsetonline.com.

  5. I think leadership executives need to act more like venture capitalists when it comes to innovation: they need to invest in only partially baked ideas and realize that many will fail and perhaps if they get a little lucky, find a successful gem.

    • eric imbs says:

      I have to disagree with you there J.

      A consistent, robust and participative idea assessment & prioritisation process (followed by stage-gated implementation{or don’t implement} processes/es) will significantly reduce the need to ask leaders to speculate on half-baked ideas.

      Leadership will therefore be more likely to fund initiatives if they are confident that the the stage-gate approach allows them to make bite-size decisions along the process and reduce/limit risk exposure.

  6. Nasim Akhtar says:

    Innovation always emerge from grassroots activity..the design of post-it notes by an employee of 3M is a perfect example…The senior management should be patient and encouraging to bring out the creative genious of its employees…So yes.

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