Innovate or die: but how?

February 4, 2011

Companies that continuously come up with new and exciting stuff have one thing in common: little management and lots of leadership. The company has a goal, everyone knows what the goal is and does their part, in helping the company achieve that goal.

The cumbersome, not-fun, uninspiring company has a plan. Everyone in the company has a job to do. “Your part in the great plan is to serve customers water.” Management has reduced every task to a manual. There is a clear hierarchy and everything is being measured for efficiency. Redundancies are quickly eliminated. People work to prove their importance for the plan, but no one knows what the goal is. Turf wars are more important than customers.

The former company innovates daily. The latter company optimizes daily.

The danger to the former company is to become like the latter company. The latter company is likely to become extinct. You can blame management for both scenarios.

Managers optimize. Leaders empower. Innovation requires both, but if management and optimization becomes too important then innovation will disappear. Innovation requires that people are motivated about their jobs and that they continuously think about what could be done better AND that they have the power to implement their ideas. Management doesn’t like unstructured, unplanned activities because they are inefficient.

People having inspiring ideas are inefficient, because they won’t have the ideas on schedule. That messes up the whole production cycle. Therefore if the manager has to approve a budget for the engineers to come up with improvements but he’s not sure that the engineers will be on time or on budget, then it’s easier to say no to the whole thing. After all, no manager has been fired for reducing risk. Of course, in three years time, when the company is about to go out of business because there hasn’t been a new idea for 10 years, taking risks will seem awfully safe.

Innovate or die: but how?

Innovation can be learnt. Innovation depends on people who can be empowered. Innovation depends on communication and trust, which can be built up again. Innovation depends on leadership, the right of which can be earned. Innovation cannot be managed, it must be allowed to thrive. Innovation pays off in the long-term. Continuous innovation pays off continuously. Optimization pays off in the short term and over time, less and less.

We developed Innovation ABC following the success of our Branding ABC course. Whereas Branding ABC looks at how brands are built in companies, involving the whole company then Innovation ABC looks narrowly at the process of coming up with new ideas.

  • How to build up a company structure that supports innovation and nurtures it.
  • How to keep the business focus on the idea, not the method of execution of the business plan.
  • How to motivate people and how to work with them so that innovative ideas just happen.
  • And most importantly, how to handle the fuzzy front end of innovation projects, where you don’t know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and how it is all going to end.

For more information check out our website.