Companies love to talk about (and make inspiring, yet vague, commercials about) innovation. But rarely do organizations take meaningful steps and accept the risks required to truly foster an innovative workplace. Maybe you put a poster in the lobby with a wind turbine with a headline of “Innovation” or put a pinball machine near the break room. Yeah, those are awesome, but itâ€™s not a strategy for transforming your company. Thereâ€™s often resistance to innovate because innovation can be messy (see Jackson Pollock’s floor), risky (look at Lenny Bruce’s career) and expensive (witness NASA).
I think one big reason innovation never goes beyond being a buzzword at companies is fear. For a lot of business owners, innovation means giving up control or not being the one with the best idea. I say, clear a path for your teams to think and work and care about what they do and youâ€™ll come out looking better than you ever imagined. Remember: A general does not fire every shot in a war.
I’m a big believer in letting everyone have a say on what’s right and whatâ€™s next for the company (if you set the right goals and hire the right people, this shouldn’t scare you.) I believe it because I’ve seen it work. Not only is it a great method for challenging and testing your team, but it’s also a morale builder. People perform better when they’re engaged, energized and excited to come to work. Good ideas do come from anywhere and they are often accelerated by having a variety of people collaborating — letting ideas, impulses and flurries of “what ifs” collide (Steven Johnson’s excellent book “Where Good Ideas Come From” documents this better than I ever could). I say, invite new hires, underlings and interns to meetings with the top people of your company and give them a free pass to ask tough questions (because your clients and competitors are going to anyway) and propose (even the stupidest) ideas and challenge the norms. Otherwise, youâ€™ll just hear what you want to hear from yes men and women who want to move the company horizontally, not forward. Even if the ideas arenâ€™t good, youâ€™ve been forced to rethink how you do things and perhaps explain it in a new way.
Iâ€™m not saying: throw out all the rules, Iâ€™m just saying â€œimagineâ€ there are no rules, no consequences, no limitations every once in a while. Would your team still do things the same way? Probably not.
In short, there will never be a best seller called: â€œAccepting Things The Way They Are: 10 Status Quo Strategies for Success.â€
So give it a try. Ask. Listen. Fail. Learn. Repeatâ€¦ Win.