Innovation. The very word conjures breakthrough products, magazine covers, and celebrity status. But those associations are too good to be the whole story. It requires a closer, more balanced, look. Innovation comes at a cost to leaders, teams and the organization.
Organizational Culture and Policy Change
Attention to measures, accountability and efficiencies have dominated organizational initiatives in the last few years. Innovation thrives on exploration, curiosity and discovery, rather than productive performance. It takes time to identify new options or synergies. Google and 3M are known for providing some of their employee’s discretionary time. How much time are you willing to provide? Which employees would be eligible? Can you shift from a short-term mindset to a longer time frame to develop and test those ideas? What changes to your reward system are necessary to support and maintain innovation?
Change in Leadership Practices
A leader’s role is typically defined as setting goals and measuring performance. While coaching and analytical thinking have been added in the last decade, leading for innovation requires additional skills. Engagement, risk taking, supporting setbacks and building resilience have become critical to innovation.
Overcoming the fear of failure or the stigma attached to anything less than stellar success stems from leaders who are willing to challenge thinking and insist on asking hard questions. One leader I worked with had a practice of starting each staff meeting with the question: What mistake have you made and what have you learned from it? It certainly set a standard for creative thought. Great ideas can come from any part of the organization. What are you doing as a leader to support the probing questions and assumption testing? You might be surprised what a brand new team member might ask and the opportunities those questions open.
New Support for Collaboration and Cross Functional Teaming
Did you know that the Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison worked with a team? In fact, several of his patents included the name of his teammates. While we have the image of the lone inventor, innovation thrives in teams. Cross-functional teams have one of the strongest track records for innovation. Combining engineering and medicine has provided breakthroughs in cardiology, orthopedics and more. The field of bioinformatics is just one example of how new fields of study can arise at crossroads of traditional functional definitions. What kind of teaming are you relying on? Is the team’s culture based on competition or collaboration? Is it siloed in one functional area or expanded across areas of expertise. And, how is teamwork rewarded?
Stand Up for Cancer Research efforts (SU2C) have demonstrated how the hero inventor must be transformed into a more collaborative effort not only across disciplines but also across organizations. Instead of researchers striving to be singled out for a Nobel Prize, the need to digest a torrent of data and complex interactions mandates a different approach across research centers. How can leaders build teams, overcome turfdoms, and create collaboration to identify new opportunities and solve intricate problems?
Is Innovation Worth the Price?
Recognizing the fact that there is a cost associated with innovation, does not mean that the costs outweigh the benefits. The pay-off in market leadership, new business models, product introduction and extension, service to customers and personal significance more than compensate for the adopting the quest for innovation. Just because a lunch is not free, does mean that you forgo the meal. It can still be a delicious delight.