Friday, November 09, 2007

Innovation: It takes a village

Ok - I'll step back from the edge just a bit. When I start quoting Hillary Clinton, you know the oxygen in the room is a bit thin. But, in this case, the metaphor is right. Let's look at why innovation may require a "village" for success, starting by looking at the reasons innovation often struggles in organizations:

Innovation fails in many firms for the following reasons:

- No one can commit enough time and energy to innovation since they have "day" jobs
- There's no clarity about what innovation is or what returns the executives expect - not
every firm or industry has an "iPod" opportunity
- There's no passion or excitement about the possibilities of innovation
- Communities of interest are blocked by vertical stovepipes
- Communication and collaboration is difficult or non-existent
- Rewards and disciplinary actions are remote from the team

Really, what innovation requires for success is the ability for people with passion and interest to volunteer their time, knowledge and energy to create a team, community or "village" to create a sustainable capability.

OK, so if that's what's necessary, where are we failing currently?

- In most firms innovation is a top-down edict (this isn't all bad as we'll see later)
- People are assigned to innovation rather than drawn to it or volunteered
- Risks are high, rewards uncertain, failure punished
- We ask people to do something new with the old processes, communication systems, tools
and reward structures

Reading the new book The Future of Management (reviewed here on my "other" blog), many of these topics are addressed as well. Without getting too mystical about it, innovation provokes, and in some cases requires, an esprit d'corps that isn't necessary for most other work in a business. Passionate, interested volunteers are necessary because the work is difficult and possibly dangerous. We need volunteers, not draftees.

Next, we need to tell these folks what we want, but not how to create it. Painting the picture of a potential future is important, but we need to then get out of the way and let the teams decide how to get there, and perhaps even suggest other future outcomes. We need management's direction and involvement to direct the innovation teams, but then the teams need the ability to determine the methods and outcomes.

The compensation and motivations are different as well. Volunteers, and people drawn to a cause, will work together and motivate each other for the sake of the opportunity. We need to reduce the risk of failure and encourage and motivate these teams. Also, we need to allow these teams to form across functional or organizational boundaries. Too often the concept of innovation starts and ends within one function, but the capabilities to generate, evaluate and launch a new product or service are not housed within one function or process.

Finally, provide new tools, new methods, new perspectives so that the team doesn't try to do new things with old methods and approaches. Why do we starve the people most likely to create the next new thing?

If it takes a village to raise a child, because no one person or couple can do it effectively alone, then doesn't the logic of creating and launching a innovative product or service require a broadly supportive organization - a village or community within your organization?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:09 AM

3 Comments:

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