The Myth of Innovation as a Stand-Alone Goal
It is a myth that you can “make” your company innovative as if by announcing it to your staff it will suddenly happen. It is not like ordering a new coffee machine and seeing it suddenly installed.
It’s not even like unveiling a new project and giving people assigned tasks and then settling back with the relative certainty that everything will turn out as you planned it.
Innovation is not a distinct thing that is divorced from your day-to-day excellence. It is something that happens simultaneously with it.
It is like mashed potatoes and gravy. The two go together, but the gravy goes on top of the mashed potatoes, not underneath it. Innovation goes on top of what you are already doing that is good.
Nonetheless, you still need to schedule some thinking time for innovation. If you don’t, you tend to get caught up totally in the activity of your work and not in the thinking about it, not in asking the “what if” questions, not in considering “this is good, but could be better” questions.
Innovation can be as simple as a course correction. A project is launched and going smoothly, but it lacks the wow factor. A quick session to consider what else could be done to take it to the next level may yield the answers you are seeking.
Whenever I think of really innovative companies, I focus on 3M Corporation.
Their management defines innovation as the ability for their employees to see and act on opportunities, to maintain a laser focus on outcomes, and to avoid getting caught in the activity trap.
What they do in particular is to send scientists out into the field to observe customers and understand their pain points. Customers are also invited inside to their Innovation Centers to explore possibilities for solving problems and generating new product ideas.
Meanwhile, employees are also given a chance to go into Innovation Centers and create a pool of practical ideas that can be nurtured.
One thing the company is keen on maintaining is a critical balance between present and future issues. Staying on top of new trends and innovating cannot hinder day to day production, but they find a way to blend it all together.
The way they do that is to employ what they call “The Thirty Percent Rule.”
That means that for each department, 30 percent of their revenue must come from products introduced in the last four years. They track this rigorously and employee bonuses hinge on ensuring this goal is attained.
They build their great innovative success (like Post-It notes, for example) into the story of the corporate culture, so that each new generation can be inspired. They set up a series of structures and systems that allow for new ideas to be explored and developed. They tolerate mistakes.
In addition to their Thirty Percent Rule, they have a Fifteen Percent Rule. That means that 3M’s engineers and scientists can spend up to 15 percent of their own time pursuing projects of their own choice, free to look for unexpected, unscripted opportunities for breakthrough innovations.
One of the results was the invention of the first electronic stethoscope with Bluetooth technology that allows doctors to listen to a patient’s heart and lung sounds as they go on their rounds, transferring the data to software programs for deeper analysis.
From the top, the company insists that if you put fences around people, you get sheep. They do everything they can to give people the room they need.
So if you want to bring innovation into your company, don’t encourage your team to be sheep. Start a process that encourages a culture of innovation and let it evolve with creative ideas that allow for day to day production coupled with thinking time.
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
Check out Paula’s best selling books: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and due to be released December 6th “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth” go to Amazon http://ow.ly/i8yW307ix67
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