Steer Clear of these Five Innovation Killers
By Steven L. Blue
Innovation is difficult to come by. It is a fleeting concept that eludes most companies. In fact, experts say the odds of a new product idea reaching full commercialization are less than four percent. That said, innovation is difficult, but not impossible. Chances are, if your organization is struggling to innovate, you’re doing one or more of the following:
1. You don’t make innovation a top priority and an all-hands-on-deck job requirement. Many CEOs want innovation but only after the “real work” gets done. Here’s a news flash: If you want to survive, you had better make innovation the real work. Make it a top priority for everyone in the company, not just the engineering department. Write it into every job description, and reward and recognize people who take innovation seriously.
2. Your company doesn’t give people the training they need to innovate. When you make everyone responsible for innovation, it can be scary. People will be afraid that they aren’t up to the job because they are not creative. But studies have debunked the myth that you’re either born an Einstein or you’re not. The truth is everyone can be creative if they are trained in the principles of creativity. Train every single employee on how to generate new and novel ideas. Seek help from the outside if you are unsure of how to do this. My company recently hired the chief creativity officer from QVC to show our workforce how it’s done.
3. You don’t give people the time to innovate. Employees are going to naturally default to the tasks at hand: making the widgets. After all, they get paid to make the widgets. They are comfortable making the widgets. Unless you give them permission to do otherwise, that is all they will do. I tell my employees that I expect 20 percent of their time to be spent on innovation. And I hire extra people so the widgets still get made.
4. Your organization doesn’t give people a place to innovate. At my company, we built a place specifically for innovation. Our employees named it the Creation Station. Everyone is welcome to gather there whenever they want to collaborate in the pursuit of new products or processes. Some people will tell you such a space is a waste of money and it has no return on investment (ROI), but I can tell you that our Creation Station has returned orders of magnitude in ROI with new products and improved internal processes. Other critics may say that building such a space only gives employees the excuse to goof off there. To that I respond, “It sounds like you have the wrong employees. Get the right ones.”
5. You don’t take risks to innovate. The world of innovation is murky and uncertain. You must give people permission to fail. I tell CEOs all the time: Don’t take risks; take big risks. Little risks have puny returns. Little risks don’t motivate people to do extraordinary things. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Take the big risks and encourage your employees to do the same. And if they take a risk and fail, celebrate! Reinforce the “risk is a good thing” philosophy because that is the only way true innovation will happen.
Steven L. Blue is the president & CEO of Miller Ingenuity.