Innovation is for everyone
I first heard this in the context of corporate-wide idea generation. This approach to innovation encourages everyone in the business to submit their best ideas to some central repository where they are collected and evaluated. I guess if I were to follow the logic of Innovation is for everyone, but not everyone can innovate, we'd have to say thanks very much for your ideas, now we'll turn them over to the experts who will bring them to fruition. Is that really what we want? Seems to me that people who generate good ideas may have some insight into a problem and have taken the time to think through a possible solution. Taking their idea and implementing it without involving them will only lead to less idea generation, since people will feel left out of their own ideas and creations.
Later, I heard this statement as a defense for traditional "R&D" style innovation. Ideas should come from experts within our Research and Development labs, not from regular line workers or marketers or finance types. Well, there's usually some admission that some ideas are acceptable from outside R&D, if they are about small improvements to business processes. There's an unstated bigotry in many firms that seems to say that only "certain" people are capable of innovating. No, it's just that most people have never had the opportunity and means to work an idea through the maze of the organization. Since there's no clear definition for generating and managing an idea through most organizations, it is almost impossible for most people to innovate. But this is a comment on the organization and its processes and stumbling blocks to innovation, not on the quality or caliber of the people.
Think about this for a second. Would your organization argue that "Customer service is for everyone, but not everyone can provide service to customers?" I suspect the Ritz Carlton, Hilton and Marriott chains would argue that anyone who interacts with a customer - from the bell hop to the front desk clerk to the hotel manager to the cleaning crew - provide customer interaction and customer service, whether that's their primary job or not. The reason it's easier to provide customer service rather than innovation is that the customer and the hotel staff interact on a frequent basis - face to face. Innovation is more difficult because it is often impossible to understand for the average person in an organization 1) who to raise the idea to 2) how it will get evaluated and 3) what should happen next. Again, not a fault of the person who raised the idea - this is a lack of definition and process.
Here's a good example. In the most recent Fast Company (Nov 2006 issue), there's a brief article about a guy who created a "TV Taco". A project manager in Best Buy's service division noticed that many large screen TVs were being damaged during delivery and set out to create some reuseable packaging to protect the TV during delivery. His first ideas and concepts didn't succeed, but his management team encouraged him and he created the TV Taco, which is now being rolled out across the Best Buy organization. (Fast Company, November 2006, p. 66). The article is headlined "How do you get enough ideas into the pipeline? We're doing it by trying to get our 128,000 plus employees to give us their ideas". It seems at Best Buy, innovation is for everyone, and everyone can innovate.
The challenge for broad scale innovation across your business is not how smart or capable your people are, but how ready and able your organization is to accept, manage and test the ideas. This is a cultural and process problem, not a people problem.