Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Who do you need on your side to innovate?

I was glancing through my Twitter feeds looking at all the good ideas that flow through the many people I follow.  One in particular caught my eye, which was about How to Lead a Business Revolution.  Having grown up a fan of Thomas Jefferson and many of the other "founding fathers" who had the vision, and the guts, to challenge the status quo, I'm always interested in what helps a revolution succeed.  And make no mistake, innovation in many firms is a revolution.

Thomas Stewart, in the article linked above, notes that a senior GE executive told him that you need three constituents on your side to lead an effective revolution:  the broadcast stations, the schools and the police.  In less radical terms more suited for innovation, we can create analogies for these groups.  For innovation to succeed, you need excellent communication, new and extensive education and to win the hearts and minds of the people who reinforce the "rules" that exist.  How innovation differs from revolution in many firms is that we are trying to shift the dominant thinking to a new way of thinking, rather than deposing a head of state.  In fact, innovation can be a revolutionary act imposed by a senior executive.

Let's consider these three factors in slightly more detail.  For innovation to succeed, you need good command of the communication messages and channels.  Today, most people will argue that they receive far too much communication in various forms, but the communication has little meaning.  Too many firms stuff all available channels with mass quantities of "messaging" that say very little.  Innovation requires changing mindsets and attitudes, and ensuring people we are seriously committed to change.  That means the goals and purpose must be effectively, and consistently, communicated.  That's difficult in an era where people believe there is too much communication.  I think the best way to provide innovation communication is by whatever means causes the most "commotion" in your organization.  Perhaps your CEO is notoriously reticent.  Have him or her film a video and distribute it on your intranet site.  What's important is a consistent, continuous and clearly articulated messaging campaign about the importance of innovation, and its permanence as a strategy.

Second, consider education.  We have trained people how to think about their businesses and the tools and techniques to apply.  Now we seek to encourage them to also incorporate innovation in their daily lives.  While we've given great focus to education and training around their business functions, communication, leadership, teamwork and a host of tools and techniques, many innovation efforts assume that people have the requisite knowledge and skills to start and sustain an innovation project.  Few people are innately good corporate innovators, able to do all of the important tasks associated with innovation.  If you want more innovation, teach people the tools and have them apply them in real settings.  Revolutionaries who don't understand the philosophies are just anarchists.  Innovators who don't understand the tools and techniques will simply frustrate everyone.

Finally, win over the "hearts and minds" of the people who control the processes and the rules.  In any revolution, as is now evident in Egypt, who controls the police and the army wins.  In a business, we don't have police or armies, but we do have powerful constituents who must come aboard for innovation to be successful.  Those constituents are the people who control the funds and the people who control the processes.  If you can't bring these people onboard and change the way they think, and especially the way they plan, then innovation won't be successful.  More likely, they need to 1) hear and understand the communications and 2) receive training in new tools and techniques to 3) apply the funds and the processes to innovation goals.

Messaging, education, hearts and minds.  A recipe for cultural change, revolution or successful innovation.  And all three are necessary.  Communication without education is fruitless.  Education without changing hearts and minds results in frustrated people who "know" better but can't deliver.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:25 AM


Blogger said...

All 3 good tips! My belief for company to engage into innovation, is that you need to create first necessity for change. Change factors can be competition, market trends, deregulation, social, financial, etc Innovation becomes then an answer to the question: we need to change, but how?
More on stop fighting against the organiztion, create necessity for change.

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