Child in snazzy raincoat!

Sometimes innovation is just a tad outlandish!

Innovation is a hot topic in organizations. Innovation is not an innate talent; it can be developed and nurtured given the right environment and coaching.  We care about innovation because there are several important benefits to innovating. Important benefits include:

 Solving difficult problems.

  1.  Delivering large scale productivity improvements.
  2.  Disrupting markets through creative destruction.
  3.  Adapting to Black Swan events.

By definition, innovation represents non-linear change. Solving out of the ordinary problems or issues rarely occurs by taking small incremental steps. Generating innovative solutions requires experimentation, which will generate at least some number of failures. Failures expose parties to both organizational and personal risk. The fear of failure suppresses innovation unless an organization fosters an environment of trust. Innovators must trust that innovative experiments that fail and generate organizational knowledge will not be career limiting. Organizations that punish failed projects will still have failures, however, the failures will be costly and will tend to run longer (even after everyone knows they have failed in a vain attempt to avoid failure).

Innovation requires a free flow of information a few examples of the impact of low trust scenarios on the innovation process include:

  1.  Share and discuss problems early! If an organization’s dirty laundry is not shared internally it will be difficult to get the diverse perspectives and ideas need to solve difficult problems. Organizations need to recognize a problem before they will search for a solution.
  2.  Identify and share out of the box, perhaps even outlandish, ideas. Innovations are rarely “inside the box” nor are they the most comfortable solutions to an issue.
  3.  Leaders need to champion and fund stretch solutions along with solutions perceived as “safe”.

Coaches can impact the flow of information. For example, coaches can help to create safe environments that help to surface issues before they become critical. A popular concept is encapsulated in the statement, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Difficult or less tractable problems will not have solutions, organizations that embrace this form of self-censorship are making statements about trust, communication, and innovation. The “don’t bring me problems”statement or variants, are not useful and add to the cost of innovation and change. Nobel Prize winner, Ronald Coase, described the impact of transaction costs on the functioning of the economy. Trust improves the efficiency of transactions making innovation more efficient. Lean Startup practices highlight the need to pivot in order to more effectively meet customer and stakeholder needs. I recently heard Bill Premier, CEO of Hyland state that “Innovation is important because it advantages the customer.” Trust is a critical tool for creating an atmosphere of innovation.