Innovating like the Marines
The old joke about the US military says that the Marines have a rule: That which isn't forbidden is permitted, and the Army has a similar rule: That which isn't permitted is forbidden. I suspect a bit of inter-service rivalry exists here especially since I grew up in a Marine household, but there is a larger truth at work. If your team operates from the standpoint that something not expressly permitted is absolutely forbidden, you'll have an exceptionally difficult time innovating. The rule attributed to the Marines provides a lot more leeway and latitude to the decision makers - unless something is expressly forbidden, it is permitted.
I come to make this post because there's been several articles in the news lately about the importance of innovation in this recent (Early 2009) business climate and the psychological and environmental barriers. One article in Time points out that the "survivors" of the downsizing in many firms have no desire to "stick their necks out" and have a significant amount of anxiety and survivor guilt. Another article in ComputerWorld reminds us of the Google 20% expectation and asks whether or not that is still operable in this environment. Both come to the conclusion that there is still great need for innovation, and good managers will recognize the range of barriers that are present to innovation and take steps to reduce those barriers and get people innovating again.
Clearly in this economy we need to be cognizant of the enormous financial pressures being exerted on our businesses, but we cannot allow those pressures to halt all innovation activities and to force innovators to pull back from their important activities. The difference between those firms that can and will invest in their innovative capabilities and those that won't will be evident as the economy turns around later in 2009.