Innovation is simple, so why is it so hard?

innovation Quotes-on-Innovation_15

Love this quote from the author of one of my favourite books, “The Little Prince” (post about that book here).

Often when I work with leaders and their businesses and organisations, they seem to find innovation hard.

To me, innovation is simple, so why do we often find it hard to, as Saint-Exupery says, turns a pile of rocks into a cathedral?

Today I’ll give you three top thematic blockers to innovation for you to consider.

After you’ve read them, I invite you to ask yourself to what level do they exist in you and your organisation, then to consider what you can commit to in order to reduce their presence.

“Innovation is simply doing things differently and doing different things”

This is the definition of innovation I distilled many years ago, with a full post on it here.

Why, then, do we find it difficult to do things differently and do different things.

I could talk for days rather than a relatively concise post, as the answers can be innumerable. I’ll just give three thematic examples for you here that I see again and again.

  1. Diversity (Lack of)
  2. Fear
  3. Time

DIVERSITY (Lack of)

I do take some good-natured jabs about my articles from academic and other friends from backgrounds where every publication must be evidence-based, referenced, peer-reviewed. So, let’s use a well researched and reported concept as our first reason why we find it hard to innovate.

Confirmation bias. “the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.”

Put another way, it is about lack of diversity of thought.

Search that term on this site at the “My Writing” page and you will see quite a number of posts, as this has many themes and bears repetition, repetition, repetition.

If you find yourself asked to speak at a conference, ask them first if it is a “manel”. If you get invited to a business-related golf trip, just say no (please) as the gender bias there is particularly extreme. If the board of your company is predominantly white males from one country, similarly.

I highlight one post on this: “Diversity of Thought – Challenge Yourself!“, with the story of an inspiring mentee who told me once: ““I need to spend more time with people I disagree with”

How many people do you spend time with that you disagree with?

How open are you to people who disagree with you in your organisation?

FEAR

This then leads me onto a second blocker to innovation, to doing things differently and doing different things.

All too often leaders instil fear in their people, typically through well-meaning controls and the need to seek permission and approval for anything outside strict norms.

The opening paragraph on my home page defines the need for what I call #OpenLeadership:

“Command-and-control leadership is losing its grip. A new way of thinking is emerging: leadership that embraces change as constant, encourages individual thought, relies on intuition more than data, fluidity more than hierarchy, trust more than fear, and the common good more than profit.”

Wonder why your business or organisation is failing to innovate?

Start with reviewing that paragraph and see whether or not you follow #OpenLeadership

Oh, and also listen for the six most dangerous words in business. In “Humble Leadership and Trust” I reference these words:

“We’ve always done it this way”

I note today that, in that blog, I then reference Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft:

“Satya Nadella of Microsoft has transformed that organisation, and perhaps the simplest example of what he has brought is shown in this article on “the best leadership advice in seven words” and the seven words he used were :

“Make it happen. You have full authority.“

I note today that in the last week, Microsoft’s share price rose to a point where it is the highest valued corporation in the world once again.

Hmm. Commit to removing fear from your organisation and what might happen?

So, to the third blocker of innovation today.

TIME

Yesterday I wrote in “Using Time to create Space“:

“We live in a “go go go” world, where we set ourselves targets and feel we need to achieve them right away, asap, now, now, now!”

That post then goes on to consider how we often set targets based on time, based on dates in the diary, fiscal years etc. We often run into trouble when circumstances change, constraints are added or removed, yet we don’t change those target dates.

In a more general sense, we seem to face the tyranny of time all the time, feeling that industrial era measure of growth and productivity are the only way to run a company.

We invest less and less money as developed societies in education in anything other than subjects linked closely to future employment, we shrink pure research and R&D budgets.

Even more than that, though, we don’t create space for unstructured thought.

This also links to the first two blockers.

Imagine we can actively structure (eg hiring) for diversity of thought, that we can act consciously and strongly to reduce fear and encourage trust and empowerment. These will truly support innovation, yet without allowing for more time to create space for both thought and action, innovation will still be largely stymied.

RELEASING INNOVATION

So, I’ve outlined three top themes for blockers to innovation for you:

  1. Diversity (Lack of)
  2. Fear
  3. Time

These show up again and again and are deeply rooted both in human nature and in organisational structures and leadership paradigms and behaviours.

What can you do to shift these blockers and release the power of your people to innovate, to do things differently and do different things?


Also published on Medium.

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