“Innovation: why and how”, is the title of the article that I wrote last year in the month of June ( I’ll link it at the end of this article for you to read), in which I expressed my views around building the blocks of innovation in an organization. A few months before that I had resumed the role of leading innovation efforts for my then employer, a multi-billion dollar concern, spread across the length and breadth of our planet, for its global delivery businesses in India .. it was an exciting experience, never before had I ventured into anything that did not really exist as a department. All my previous roles have been about leading a certain section of business .. pulling performance of key metrics… working hard to beat the competition blue and then being happy about it.
This, however, was different .. in the sense, from framework to measurement techniques, to milestones .. everything was to be set up.. 100% ground up. We were a great team and we managed to put a spectacular show. Ever since, I moved ahead in life.. with different set of responsibilities but innovation in many ways remained an inseparable part of my work life. My current job responsibilities have it, too, with another very respected and reputable business house.
I’ve been reading, observing, conversing, consulting and mulling over this subject intensely for nearly 2 years now. As I spend more time on it my understanding of the subject changes .. I certainly need to learn a lot more, for my knowledge to become definitive but, I see no harm in refreshing the accumulation of last 1.7 years on to the previous write up on innovation, with this one.
Here we go!
Firstly, let me just admit … it is incredibly difficult for individuals like us to get people excited about that fact that we drive innovation for a living. That very introduction, almost always, in matters of moments, makes the listener carve out an impression about us, they think that those who work in innovation aren’t ‘doers’ and therefore perhaps not as hardworking or as stressed as they are with their traditional day jobs. It is not unnatural for people to undervalue anything which is not about the muscular part of the execution. We tend to see greater value in labor and that is attributed to our history and the path of evolution that we have undertaken as a race .. perhaps thousand years from now, muscular part of the doing will get flipped by neural part of it, but the reality of today is in front of us and we gotta deal with it.
The good news is that all leaders unanimously recognize the need to “innovate” and therefore are willing to invest time, effort and money in making it happen. In the previous write-up, I have dealt with why it is a need and some part for the how as well.
In this attempt, let me take a step back and ask this question – what comes before innovation? Or in another word.. if innovation were to be a behavior or let’s say the culture of an organization is there a prelude or prerequisite for it? If yes, what is it? Let’s stay with this for a while.
Innovation is about the ‘new’ .. it is about ‘better’ ways of doing what is needed in cases where nothing ‘new’ comes out of it as a product/service offering. And so it essentially means discarding the old, which means ‘change’, change can’t happen without the willingness and ability to ‘adopt’. So it is then safe to say that innovation is about anti-conformity to precedents. One must have the courage to question the status quo to invent new ways to open fresh avenues.
So before you set out to make innovation a culture in your organization you’ll need to make grounds for below two virtues to thrive unrestricted.
Let’s pick curiosity first, there is a chemical called dopamine that our body naturally produces when we are faced with a problem, a situation or a challenge bigger or deeper than choices what we encounter routinely and therefore the urge to jump into solving it comes first and inherently to humans. What we often forget is that before doing, we must “think”. We take a lot of pride in our troubleshooting ability, despite knowing that in most cases we do not go any further than treating the symptom. Mastery actually lies in killing the underlying cause, symptomatic redressal is the drug of the gimmick. 95% of times solutions tabled in an organization are superficially designed solely to doze the fire off. Very few stays with the problem for long enough to think, to investigate the real cause, to establish facts to back their claim and then attempt to solve it. Which is why problems often reoccur causing enormous time and resources to get trapped in a never-ending daily battle. Having practiced the half-baked approach over and over again a vast majority of the workforce sadly starts enjoying it and therefore without knowing even propagates incurious methods in pursuit of immediate fixes. “Fix it now” .. “I do not care” are popular phrases of those who think ‘thinking’ is a such a waste of time.
Nothing great was ever archived overnight .. the famous expression; “Rome wasn’t built in a day” exists for centuries ..for a reason.
I’m not trying to argue against speed .. what I’m trying to put to the table is that we should attach another dimension to speed, let’s say ‘direction’ for it to become meaningful and then be crazy about it. Therefore not speed but ‘velocity’ is the value that we must aspire for. The urgency of the situation will get you to the estimate of speed that you must have without you really querying hard but only thoughtful consideration will guide you to the right direction, therefore before you get into the ‘doing’ spare time and THINK!
Thinking is essentially being curious.
As business leaders, we must promote curiosity in our people and thus in our organizations. Here are a few things that we could do for that.
Encourage people/staff to as WHY relentlessly till they get fact-based answers, not just from their subordinates but also supervisors. Asking seniors a lot of useful questions is very important. They must not have a free pass.
Make your people aware of the context .. great ideas do not work if they are not designed for the environment in which their application is due.
Inhibition of learning from others is a real roadblock. Be willing to take inspiration from people .. copy ideas ( do give credit to the original thinker, that is a good manner) & implement.
Adopting a bigger mindset is important. You do not solve a complex problem if you are stuck in petty conflicts of interests, behaviors and people. If you have an irritant around, ignore it.
Alternatives are good to have even for those items/things/tasks that are operating at an optimum level .. it is part of being future ready. Make people explore it.
Be a doer .. roll your sleeve up, be ready to dirty your hands. People who sermon are priests and not workers.
Incurious set of people do not grow!
Had the daughter of the inventor of the Polaroid camera not asked “ why do we have to wait to get pictures”, the father wouldn’t have got the motivation to find a solution and the industry wouldn’t have changed. The right question is just as powerful as the insightful answer .. ask them!
Persistence, because the road to success is often laid by the brick of failures. If you get discouraged by setbacks far too quickly .. it isn’t going to work. There is light at the end of the tunnel but only those who walk the entire dark tunnel will get to bask in its glory.STAY PUT.
It is ok, if you’re having to try harder than others .. perhaps your purpose is more meaningful.. keep at it and you’ll find the answer, for sure.
Business leaders need to recognize the merit in following the below chain for creative innovation to happen.
“Preparation — Incubation — Illumination — Verification” .. & then repeat of it.