Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Innovation Gene

I was speaking with a person recently about innovation. She told me she didn't think anyone in her firm had the "innovation gene". It was all I could do to keep from falling on the floor.

I guess there are three ways to interpret what she was saying. One, the people within her firm don't have any ideas. They are all tapped out. Or two, what she is saying is that only "special" people who are creative or genetically disposed have great new ideas. Or three, perhaps its a cultural thing - no one is allowed to have good ideas.

I'm interested in the second assertion - that there is a "gene" or that only certain people are innovative or creative. What's up with that? Would you knowingly hire a person you thought would not be able to contribute new ideas - if not to the organization as a whole, at least within his or her working team? There is some mystic belief among many people, especially in larger organizations, that specialization has set in and only the white coated lab guys from R&D or the really sharply dressed folks with the little square glasses and european shoes from the marketing agency can create cool new ideas.

Let's put those ideas through the debunking engine. Who knows more about your product, your service, your business model than the people who live with it every day? Who understands the problems within the business model or product? Who has the best insight into how to change or completely eliminate your product? The people who work with and for you. The average guy down the hall in the fourth cube from the left. The guy in accounting whose white socks don't always match his dark suits. In other words, the people within the process or the people involved in all stages of the "value chain" of a product understand the opportunities and limitations, and are fully capable of contributing new ideas. There's no specific innovation gene. But there is an innovation "ear".

That is, what is your management willing to hear, and willing to do, with the ideas that are generated by the team. That's where the real genetic problem exists.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:49 PM

36 Comments:

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Is management willing to ask? Are they willing to allow people to try (and maybe fail)? There may not be a 'gene' but there is a way to cultivate ideas.

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