the innovation challenge: don’t get left behind
Companies are born from good ideas, and they continue to grow and evolve by developing a continuous stream of better ideas. Innovation is the lifeblood of an organization’s vitality and sustainability. Companies need to consistently generate relevant and actionable new ideas, or risk being eclipsed by competitors from around the globe.
Innovation has previously been associated with the development of new products or technologies, and only a select group of employees had responsibility for innovating within the company. However, more and more, leaders now view innovation as the responsibility of the entire organization.
One of the biggest challenges: would-be innovators need to break free of pre-existing views within their departments and organizations. Unfortunately, the human brain is surprisingly adroit at supporting its deep-seated ways of viewing the world and ignoring evidence to the contrary. Academic research suggests that even when presented with overwhelming facts, many people simply won’t abandon their deeply-held beliefs and opinions.
By identifying and then systematically challenging the long-held core beliefs within an organization, companies can improve their ability to embrace new ideas and gain an advantage on the competition. Many thought leaders believe continuous innovation is the only path forward for sustaining business.
Professors Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen tested and observed 3,000 executives over a six-year period. In a Harvard Business Review article, they noted five important “discovery” skills for innovators: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. The most powerful overall driver of innovation they discovered was associating—making connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”
Another strategy to encourage creativity is to impose artificial constraints on your business model. This tactic injects some much-needed “stark necessity” into an otherwise low-risk exercise. Imposing constraints to spark innovation may seem counter-intuitive, yet without some old-fashioned forcing mechanisms, many potential creative thinkers spin their wheels aimlessly—or never leave their intellectual comfort zones.
The hyper-competitive market in which we find ourselves has created the need for companies to look for innovation and competitive advantages in every aspect of their business. And that requires everyone to think about new ways to approach their work and improve the business through both conventional and non-conventional means.
Creativity need not be a trait reserved only for a lucky few, and we all can make innovation a cornerstone of our corporate strategy. By immersing employees in unexpected environments, confronting ingrained orthodoxies, using analogies, and challenging our organization to overcome difficult constraints, we can dramatically boost creative output. What will you do today to up the innovation quotient in your company?