Can you train someone to be innovative?
Much of that training has focused on the latest management trends like Six Sigma and Lean. Now, many of those universities and internal training programs are turning their attention to training individuals to become more innovative, through the way they think, the way they organize and the way they reward. My question is: can you train someone to be more innovative, or does the culture and his or her surroundings and reinforcements enable or inhibit innovation? Can a very restrictive culture force even a well-trained individual to struggle at innovation, while a very supportive culture helps an untrained person to succeed at innovation?
To become more innovative and to innovate repeatedly, sustainably, successfully, a firm needs three key ingredients: individuals who are willing to innovate, a culture that enables and rewards innovation and the tools and processes that support the efforts. Focusing attention on the individuals is great - that's part of becoming a learning organization. For too long we've reinforced behaviors that focused on the small items and may have left people afraid to take risks and see what's possible. Innovators ask questions, take risks, go where others don't, and that behavior has not been encouraged or taught.
However, let's make sure we set the right expectations and smooth the way for these innovators. People coming out of training want to implement what they've learned. If the culture, motivation and tools aren't supportive of innovation, most of these new innovators will end up frustrated and jaded. It's not merely a question of education of the people, but also how much the organization as a whole will change to support those willing to innovate.
Don't get me wrong - training people to become more aware of the possibilities of innovation is a good thing. What we don't want to do is motivate them and then set them loose in an atmosphere that will work against all the training they've received. And innovation training is not like other types of training. To train someone in Six Sigma or Lean usually reinforces the firm's goals to cut costs or reduce wastes. To train someone in innovation may mean to increase experimentation and increase failure - which could be at odds with prevailing culture.
So, can you train someone to become more innovative? I think the answer is yes. The real question is whether or not that person or team can use that new training in an organization that may not be ready to change to accomodate innovation.