“Everybody believes in innovation until they see it. Then they think, ‘Oh no; that’ll never work. It’s too different.’“ – Nolan Bushnell
If there is one word I hear more than any other as I visit with business leaders it’s “innovation”. Everybody wants to talk about how great innovation is, how innovation is the key to future success, how focused they are on innovation, etc. Then you sit with the leader and their management team and you hear a hundred variations of the above quote. We give lip service to wanting innovation, but in reality, innovation is change, and change scares most people to death.
It’s up to you as a leader to change that mindset. You have to create an environment where innovation is a constant activity and is encouraged and rewarded. Part of that is modeling how you respond to innovation and creative ideas.
Too often, the first thing we do when a member of the group brings up something new is to come up with all the reasons why it won’t work. After a few minutes of that you can feel the energy leaving the room. And you can forget about anybody else bringing up something new. Nobody wants to go through that punishment.
So forbid that whole scenario. Make a rule that when someone brings a new idea to the group, you have to spend the first 10 minutes talking only about what’s good about the idea and how well it will work. That might sound silly, but we’re trying to change how we think. To do that, you have to force yourself to think positively. If you think it’s a good idea, then it might be. If you think it’s a bad idea, then it definitely will be.
As long as we’re changing culture, how about rewarding innovation? We reward lots of other things – how about that? There are businesses in the world that give out awards for the best idea that didn’t work. The idea being that we want our people to be constantly trying to innovate in everything we do.
Obviously there are going to be ideas that just don’t work out, and certainly there are some that are probably just plain bad. But you can’t respond to those as though someone failed by bringing them up; you can’t have innovation without failure, and if people are afraid to fail they’ll be afraid to innovate. And without innovation, you organization is as good as done.