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?