What drives innovation (and success generally) is not what someone already knows, but what they’re capable of inventing or discovering, what new insights they can acquire. It’s a willingness to treat existing knowledge as a source of possibilities, rather than conclusions.
Promoting innovation isn’t just about getting people to volunteer their ideas. It’s about moving away from traditional top-down, command-and-control, closed loop management techniques. Moving instead towards a more challenging, more flexible, more appreciative style that’s not only more productive and successful; it’s a whole lot more fun.
Despite a lot of talk about so-called enlightened leadership, the reigning cultural norms are still to conform, follow the program, and don’t question authority. Unfortunately many of our most time-honored management practices are a sure way to undermine innovation.
What is it about goals that makes them such a valuable tool? The simplistic answer is, “So you know where you’re going.” Certainly, any leader needs to have objectives. But a more enlightening answer to the “Why?” question is: Because defined outcomes provide clarity.
If someone is in a position of authority and nothing is changing, then all they’re really doing is command and control. That may be management but it’s not really leadership.
Without a robust and candid exchange of information, no one has reliable feedback. No one is in a position to put all the pieces together and accurately identify strengths and weaknesses. No one can fully measure performance good or bad and identify opportunities for improvement.
Do you lead a company, a division, or a team that seems to have a knack for solving problems—or do most of them end up on your desk? Do you have employees who come to you with their proposed solutions—or just their challenges? Do managers in your company celebrate their successes—or whine about failures (usually of someone else)?
Even after years of breaking down silos and decentralizing decision-making, most organizations still cling to the organizational chart. It’s perhaps flatter but it’s still there. So maybe we still need it. If that’s true, let me humbly suggest that at the very least it’s time to turn it upside down.
Unfortunately even a series of creative events, no matter how well executed, is not likely to change the underlying habits and relationships inside an organization. On the contrary, it may reinforce the impression that creativity is to be used occasionally, as just some tool that you pick up when you happen to need it and then put down again. In a true innovation culture, creativity is “always on”.