Despite the vast majority of corporate leaders extolling the virtues of innovation these days, many companies seem to have trouble with it.
This is the view of Scott Anthony, writing for the HBR.org Blog Network.
Anthony rejects the notion that it is a human capital problem, i.e. that most people simply don’t have the necessary skills to innovate successfully.
He comments: "Academic research in fact shows that almost anyone can become a competent innovator (with sufficient practice). I've seen countless examples of ordinary individuals displaying the creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance of the world's great innovators."
The author points out that these people can only be effective "in the right context", and he says there are many things that leaders do to encourage innovation which actually hinders it. With that in mind, he highlights four types of "unintentional innovation assassins":
1) The Cowboy. This is someone "itching to create a corporate culture tolerant of creativity and innovation, [saying] something along the lines of, 'No boundaries! Just great ideas!'
While companies should strive to revise and push their boundaries on a continual basis, Anthony insists that every firm has a list of things it simply won't do.
Therefore, pretending there are no boundaries leads to people wasting their time on ideas that will never be pushed through.
Rather than taking this approach, employees should be encouraged to embark on highly focused challenges.
2) The Googlephile. Anthony explains: "Inspired by stories of how Google and 3M ask engineers to spend 15% of their time dreaming of new ideas, this executive asks everybody to spend a bit of time on innovation. Maybe carve off a half-day during the third Friday of the month for everyone to focus on innovation."
Unless there are sophisticated systems to assess, select and implement ideas, this approach will simply result in a long list of suggestions that will be ignored. Instead, therefore, a small number of people should spend a significant amount of time and effort on innovation.
3) The Astronaut. This is the executive who demands something big – the company's "moon shot". But big proposals often mean big risk, so most of these ideas won't stand up to scrutiny and never leave the launch pad. Anthony, therefore, advocates "little bets" which can be subjected to trial and error.
4) The Pirate. Anthony comments: "This swashbuckler says, 'We don't have a fixed budget for innovation – but we don't need one. We find the money when we need it.' While that statement sounds entrepreneurial, it can make the innovator's life a nightmare because it signals a lack of clear rules for obtaining resources."
The author insists that if these four assassins are identified and constrained, innovation efforts can soar.
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