Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Innovation - Incubator or Graveyard? By Mike Manes, Square One Consulting

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Dale Dauten in his newspaper column got me thinking with this closing statement:

"If you have an idea you want to nurture, don't plant it with the forest of the status quo; place it in a fresh field, away from the old growth. Give it a new group or try it in an experimental store, surrounded by people who want it there, who want it to thrive" and "Which brings us to an IBP (Important Business Principle) with a lovely Zen weightless heft: It's easier to change people than to change people."

Dale is right on both counts. My question is: "Can you and your company culture innovate?" Before you say yes - remember, Casual Friday is not innovation!

Here's the first test:
You find someone intentionally destroying a computer in your office. It costs $600.00. What do you do? Ignore them? Fire them? Have them arrested? Send them to counseling?
I'm guessing you don't ignore them.

gravestone Here's a second test:
You introduce a great idea / innovation at your next management meeting and the first comment to follow is "Great idea but the devil's in the detail." More alarming is that all the heads are bobbing in agreement - "Yea - the devil's in the detail." Guess what - it's time to change the sheets in the bed because you've been sleeping with the status quo (devil) too long. Michelangelo said, "God is in the detail."
The devil's work will be done - innovation killed.
Time and space do not permit a thorough examination of all the reasons (a.k.a. excuses) you still believe you and your company are innovators. I'll just offer the following two explanations of why this ("devil's in the detail") is the reaction. If you agree - do something about it, INNOVATE. If you disagree - quit reading you're not going to change anyway! At least you'll die in the arms of your lover.

Draw your organizational chart - now frame the perimeter. It's a pyramid. You're at the top and your managers / supervisors rest near the pinnacle. The worker bees and the trainees (worker bees in incubation) stand between you and the marketplace - your customers. If you innovate it will require flattening the organization - that's not going to happen since your managers / supervisors have spent years clawing their way to the top and you want to do what - flatten the system? NO WAY!

Now superimpose a bell curve on the pyramid. At the front end are 20% of the folks willing to embrace the new. They are enthusiastic but will burn out quickly without change. On the back end are 20% who are retired in place. You send them a check each week in spite of the fact that they quit working for you years ago. The remaining 60% aren't bad people - they are bad innovators. They kill ideas to protect you from yourself - you mean well but "the devil's in the detail." They've done it before - they'll do it again. It's what's best. See IBP in paragraph # 1!

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Comments from Dale...

You smash a computer worth $600 and get fired. Kill an idea worth $6 million and you get thanked for coming to the meeting. That's the power of the status quo - to quote an old song, bureaucracy is the art of "killing softly."

Since I wrote the column Mike quoted above, I've been doing work with companies where we go in and change the culture without changing the people. We've now proven that can get an immediate break-out of ideas and experiments from the same old people in the same old jobs, if they are given new requirements. (By new "requirements," I mean that they are required to get involved in idea generation and in experimentation.)

(If you'd like a copy of a booklet I've written on how you can create a culture of innovation, call the delightful Paula Wigboldy at 480-785-2886, or email Paula and we'll send you one.)

Not every employee is skilled at innovating, of course, but do it right and that's OK - you only need a few. What I love about Mike's piece is his notion of replacing the pyramid with a Bell Curve. You get the "early adopters" to join in and you get ideas flowing. That's the easy part -- any good brainstorming trainer can get you a list of good ideas. The hard part is anticipating the resistance and figuring out how to hammer away at it. ("Hammer" is the right analogy, because you have to chip away at the cement of the old culture.)

Here's the IBP (Important Business Principle): Ideas don't have a "time" that "has come" when they magically overcome obstacles. Ideas are work and take time and almost no one has any of either to spare. So if they are to move forward, they must get pounded or dragged or sneaked into the future. Ideas don't need "a time"; they need hero, one who is willing to make time.

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