3 Things That Will Change Innovation at Your Company Forever

I recently delivered my “un-kill innovation” executive workshop to the leadership team of a Fortune 500 technology company in Florida. It was a great experience all around, but at the end, I was asked for the key takeaways and I narrowed them down to the following three things.

These are the top three things that will increase innovation in your company the most. They are small things that have no investment or budget associated with them. They don’t require you to roll out new processes or infrastructure. They don’t need companywide training. All they need is a change of attitude — yours.

Accept that you are not driving (or even fostering) innovation. You are allowing innovation.

Your employees already know how important innovation is. They know it’s good. You don’t have to convince them. All they need is the autonomy to do it. Innovation is like curling. It is not the driving of the stone that gets it there — it’s the swiping and altering the state of the ice in front of it that allows the stone to reach its destination. Most companies try to drive innovation. They announce their commitment to innovation. They make room, and they make time, but at the end of the day — they do not allow their employees to be innovative. If you don’t believe me, see 2 and 3.

Accept that there will be trial and error on the way to success.

Ask yourself: “How do I react when one of my employees tells me that he (or she) tried something I didn’t authorize and failed?”

If you react severely, punitively, and let them know that there will be consequences for trying unauthorized things — they will never try it again. But here is the thing — you know who never fails? Only those who never try. They never succeed, either.

Accept that there will be trial and error on the way to success.

Let your employees try, and help them get on their feet again after they fail. This will give them the autonomy and creative freedom to try again. When your toddlers start walking, soon thereafter they start running. Very quickly they fall. What is the first thing they do after they fall? No, the first thing is not crying.

The first thing they do is look at you to see your reaction. Your reaction will tell them whether they should cry, or get up and keep going. If you yell “oh, no!” or show signs of panic, they will cry. But if you yell, “Get up! Keep going!” they will get up and keep going.

When an employee comes to you with an idea, avoid “I’ll be the judge of that” or “I’ll know it when I see it.” Replace them with “let me tell you what will make me say yes.”

One of the most powerful factors affecting creativity (and thus innovation) is sharing the “big picture.”

One of the most powerful factors affecting creativity (and thus innovation) is sharing the “big picture.”

If you share the big picture with your employees and let them know what will make you approve a product idea (and the budget and other resources they are looking for), you will effectively be forcing them to consider all aspects of their idea, and not just throw it over the fence to you for approval. You also will reduce your workload (what a concept …), empower your employees, and increase the probability that ideas are well-vetted (your employees are on the front line of technology and customers, and are better-positioned to assess the viability of their idea).

Next time an employee comes with an idea, ask: “What do you need?”

In most cases, they will go back to find out. When they do, tell them, “Here is what will make me say, yes.” Empower them. Throw it back at them. And when they deliver, if they deliver, give them what they asked for.

Do those three things and you are guaranteed to increase the level of innovation in your company by orders of magnitude. As one of the participants in my workshop last week said: “It will be transformative to the organization.”

Try it.


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