You can’t mandate innovation, but you can plant the seeds and watch it grow.
From the Desk of the CEO
Monday: Go forth and innovate!
Tuesday: Really, I mean it. Innovate away.
Wednesday: Well? Why aren’t you innovating?
Innovation is not typically something that can be mandated. Support for innovation from above is a good thing, but innovation works better when it’s more of a grassroots movement.
So how do you foster this grassroots innovation?
There’s nothing magical about it. Being good at innovation—like being good at anything you want to do in life—takes practice. You have to develop the habit of being innovative.
For a lot of people, that might seem counterintuitive. Isn’t innovation a bunch of geniuses catching lightening in a bottle? Isn’t it the domain of that one super-creative science guy in R&D?
Actually, no, it’s not.
Just like anyone can learn a foreign language, anyone can learn to be innovative. It’s true that some people have a natural proclivity for innovation, just like with learning a language. However, even for those lucky ones it still takes practice, and that goes double or triple for the rest of us.
So how do you plant the seeds for innovation?
You can start by reading books on it. The Innovator's DNA by Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen is excellent. But that’s like learning to drive by reading the state driving guidelines; you’ll learn some of the basics of what you need to know, but you’re not going to really learn to drive. To do that, you have to practice driving with someone who already knows how. The same applies for innovation.
Keep Innovative Company
If you want to be innovative, you need to surround yourself with innovators. Whether your company has five or 50,000 employees, innovation needs to be ingrained in the culture. It has to start from the bottom up and be supported from the top down.
Provide the Right Atmosphere
Innovation flourishes in friendly, open environments and is squashed by experts and devil’s advocates. When you provide a safe and open-minded venue for innovation, you’ll find that anyone can provide an idea that sparks the next great product for your company.
Another ingredient for successful innovation is having the right mix of people. Encourage diversity of background, job title, subject matter knowledge, and anything else you can think of that will bring in varied opinions. Include the administrative assistant who has been at the company for 35 years. I guarantee you his or her perspective will be unique and could be just the thing you need.
Matthew Kelly will lead a workshop on Moving from Designing to Design Thinking Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at the upcoming MD&M East conference in New York City.
[image courtesy of ZIRCONICUSSO/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET]