During my last 4 years of corporate training and business coaching on innovation I’ve seen and heard more than 1,500 employees and managers complaining about innovation not working within their environment. This is what I found: #1. not really listening to new ideas, #2. rules instead of limits, #3. forcing versus liberating. Stop doing all these 3 in order to have your employees love innovating.
#1. Not really listening to new ideas.
People I’ve guided through innovation matters, report that this is the most demotivating manner in which a ‘company’ ruins its innovative potential.
‘I’ve got an idea…’
‘Bla, bla, bla and so on …’
‘Not applicable’. ‘Too expensive’. ‘Not now’. ‘Tried and failed before’. ‘Obsolete’. ‘Let’s analyze’. ‘Let’s talk about it next month’.
Have you heard yourself this kind of conversation? It’s the killing attitude against any initiative of improving something. It’s the naysayers’ language against change. It’s the confort zone of ‘it is what it is and this is good as it is’.
- Reformulate focus-questions like ‘Why Not…?’, ‘How Else…?’ and ‘What If…?’ and lead meetings where everybody should concentrate on answers to these types of questions. Search for different ways of replacing the usual problem-solving process. This kind of meetings will generate a more innovation-driven manner of conversation within the regular employee and the managers in a company.[‘The Leadership Spark’ — page 159]
- Have a ‘Yes, and…’ day in your company. Everybody should play along by not blocking anything that’s being said or shown. Each employee should be aware that he should start his dialogue by repeatedly saying ‘Yes, and…’ This improvisational exercise will help open up the souls, ideas and emotions. ‘Blocking is a form of aggression’ (Keith Johnstone). [‘The Leadership Spark’ — page 170]
- Transform discontent into an idea for progress. Use clients’, employees’, suppliers’ and collaborators’ discontent to find new ideas and solutions to address your business problems. And, of course, use your own discontent. Bring these up during each meeting of the unit you lead and decide upon them immediately. Completely transform the culture of your company into a ‘learning from discontent’ one; make it a priority of each meeting, working agenda, reunion or coffee chat. [‘The Leadership Spark’ — page 171]
- Let employees’ ideas be certified by the power of the masses. Use crowdfunding. Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform will tell you instantly whether one idea is worth developing or not, and how big an idea is. Be aware that, nowadays, great ideas do not need an organisation to emerge. Big companies develop in less than a year starting from a garage idea which is funded collectively. [‘The Leadership Spark’ — page 168]
#2. Rules instead of limits.
I have two boys. Fighting, arguments, different opinions. They come to me asking for my judgement. Instead of doing so, I send them in a separate room and ask them to come back with an agreement and a resolution for their fight. What I do? I teach them to deal with their own truths, reasoning and be responsible for their decisions. Instead of heading towards the risky path of sharing justice left and right and receive one’s or other’s discontent. I give them limits (make peace, any way you consider) instead of rules (‘you are right this time and you are not’).
This is not what usually happens within a company. The manager is a ‘judge’ of fights, arguments and tensions and goes down through the slippery slopes of sharing justice. This usually turns around in the form of demotivation (of the ‘looser’) and partial motivation from the ‘winner’.
In terms of innovation, this form of management limits creativity and imagination of employees. When you set up all the procedures, rules, flows (explicitly or implicitly), you give the rules. Here fall all the usual ‘I need some cost efficient and feasible working solutions nw!’ sayings. When you search for a limit (‘let’s have some ideas on this issue for the next meeting’) you impose limits.
There are certain benefits in having a system of innovation but this is not enough.
- Have ‘no reason’ meetings, that is, meetings where anyone can argue, share, tell anything about his work, hobby, last book read, last movie watched, anything. Twenty minutes of such meetings per day will burn out the formality of ‘agenda meetings’ and will ignite the logs of creativity. Let the ideas ow one from the other in a chaotic burst, with no apparent logic or meaning or goal. Great ideas have long incubation periods. Be sure that your company’s (or team’s) environment is an incubator, not a cofin. And wait: Months, years, or decades. Do not try to control the birth of ideas. You are not God. What you can merely do is to cherish life! [‘The Leadership Spark’ — page 169]
#3. Forcing versus Liberating
Theories about creativity that focus on the existence of organisational creativity and innovation systems show how systems for stimulating creativity by rewarding ideas have sometimes led to an increase in economic and commercial innovation. Even these practices are currently disappearing, as recent studies show the negative aspect of rewarding employees for imaginative ideas. With what should we replace this otherwise good system? We should replace it with a way of collecting small ideas from employees, with a permanent request for ideas from managers to their employees, accompanied by a strong vision for their usage. Otherwise, hierarchical organisations are places in which ‘everyone has their face toward the CEO and their ass toward the customer’ (Jack Welch).
When we talk about the most adequate leadership system in which the employees of a company can be extremely creative and generate remarkable innovation, we are talking about a type of leadership system that is almost non-existent nowadays. It is that type of leadership that ensures both freedom and adequate constraints, in a mix which is favourable to the corporate environment.
‘What you do not want to do is govern your organisation based on human “ego” needs, but rather based on what is needed for the purpose, and likewise, you do not want organisations to end up dominating the people, creating drones. Instead, you want people to be free, to be themselves’ (Brian Robertson, author of Holacracy).
- Completely change your managerial system to an open one meant to inquire for people’s solutions. As a high-ranking manager in large corporations, I began as a directive type. Then I shifted towards a more collaborative style and ended up as a ‘one-minute manager’, as a manager-coach. I would never return to directive style. Ask any manager-coach about the power he has over his people. Ask any such manager about the power his reports have over their problems. Being a manager-coach is a generative solution to any corporate problem as it opens the virtuous circle of trial and error, learning, evolution, the exploitation of full potential. Each and every person has a soul, emotions, thinking ability, knowledge, desires, so use them fully. Avoid telling them what to do, how to do it and why they should do it. Look at any history of ‘innovative’ companies and you will find 100% examples of such managing systems: SEMCO, Morning Star, GoreTex, AES, FAVI, BSO/Origin, Patagonia, Sun Hydraulics and the like. Holacracy is a new ‘word’, a word describing the new emergent planetary level of consciousness rising in business and human civilisation lately, the ‘teal’ level (Ken Wilber, Frederic Laloux, Don Beck). [‘The Leadership Spark’ — page 171]
As employees are aware and responsible for each part of their own job, innovation arises and ows when needed in the most natural way. You may keep them love innovating by:
- really listening to any idea; at first, many of them seem crazy. What’s needed is to have many in order to benefit of maybe only one.
- creating a framework to spur imagination and creativity and turn it into practical innovations. Innovation is what comes out from seeding some special seeds into a special soil and watering it with everyone’s belief that ‘I’m creative!’.
- waiting for ideas, not forcing them out of your employees minds. Innovation was never a matter of mettering it, of quantifying and asking for numbers but an uncertain and sometimes messy product of long incubation periods.