The Recipe for Innovation
Establishing a culture of creativity and innovation is not easy. It requires a management process comprised of specific tools, resources, rules and discipline. Think of innovation in terms of planting seeds for a vegetable garden or flower bed. The right combination of soil, water, sunshine and air will determine how well the plants grow. For innovations to thrive, the conditions must be right.
Research indicates that there are five essential ingredients to the recipe for innovation – leadership, acceptance of failure, openness, patience and motivation.
The innovative leader is a fearless visionary committed to backing bold ideas. He or she is keenly aware of the benefits of an environment where people feel comfortable and confident in voicing opinions about the firm’s business model. The innovative leader also understands the implications of rewarding creative thinkers.
The innovative leader encourages questioning, risk taking, openness and a healthy attitude toward failure. He or she encourages the staff to challenge the status quo through questions such as, Is there a better way? What if we…? What would be impact if…? How would the customer react to…?
Many organizations – especially larger ones – have hierarchical structures which impede idea creation. The innovative leader recognizes this and responds accordingly. Innovation cannot flourish unless the barriers to creativity are removed in order to foster a culture of collaboration and free flow of ideas.
Acceptance of Failure
Even the most beautiful garden has weeds. Innovative organizations must not only water and fertilize, but also kill off ideas that hold no potential for future growth. The acceptance of failure is a necessary step in the process of innovation. The willingness of a senior management team to be open and tolerant of failure encourages people to explore new ideas, take risks and be up front about problems.
It goes without saying that failure can impact the bottom line of an organization. It is for this reason that a “check and balance” system is required to spot potential problems so necessary alterations can be made. Open discussion and dialog is the best remedy to avoid costly failures. In innovative cultures, employees are encouraged to expose their ideas for early feedback and collaboration. If a creative idea does not appear to have merit, alternative strategies should be explored in a patient setting before the idea is put to rest.
Fed Ex has a corporate wide initiative that it calls “purple promise” – each employee’s commitment to making the Fed Ex experience remarkable. This shared mission encourages everyone at Fed Ex – from employees sorting and delivering packages to those answering phones, maintaining planes and developing new IT systems – to suggest ideas each and every day.
While innovative breakthroughs sometimes come from a single source, the vast majority of innovations draw on many contributors. Open source innovation – the ability for a person to tap into the ingenuity of others – offers enormous potential for creative output.
Creativity flourishes in a vibrant culture that encourages people to imagine, think about possibilities and have the freedom to innovate. Positive cultures have open channels of communication that encourage people to bring forward new ideas so they may be captured, vetted and prioritized. These channels include, but are not limited to, casual brain storming sessions, strategic planning sessions, suggestion boxes and online tools.
The age old adage “patience is a virtue” applies to the process of creative innovations. Patience is required if innovation is to thrive.
In The Big Moo, Seth Godin states “There isn’t a logical, proven, step by step formula you can follow. Instead, there’s a chaotic path through the woods, a path that includes side routes encompassing customer service, unconventional dedication, unparalleled leadership, and daring to dream.” In some cases, innovations take time because corporate infrastructure must be tweaked. History taught us that the automobile was a plaything until highway systems were built. The telephone system didn’t work until millions of miles of wires were strung. Innovative leaders demonstrate patience to let creative ideas ripen. “The Purple Cow is not a cheap short cut. It is, however, your best (perhaps only) strategy for growth”, states Godin.
Creative ideas come in spades when people are motivated. An uninspired employee is not likely to wrap his or her arms around a problem. On the other hand, a motivated person can’t wait to find a solution to a challenging issue.
The keys to motivation include intellectual challenge, independence and proper matching with a challenge. When an employee feels that work is meaningful, he or she will explore, design and build. 3M used the practice of letting researchers spend a significant percentage of their time on projects of their own choosing. Google mastered a similar formula. 3M and Google noticed enhanced motivation when the employee was given ownership of a project that was appropriate and intellectually challenging.
The recipe to create an innovation culture – leadership, acceptance of failure, openness, patience and motivation. This combination represents the recipe for innovation.