“It’s easy to be creative if you are on a two-day off-site. It is a lot harder when you are back at work and you have to make it happen alongside your regular duties.”
Innovation and creativity are on everybody’s minds. Everyone claims to be innovative and creative. Executives require it from their teams. Companies need it to survive and prosper. There are now innovation initiatives, innovation workshops, creative weekends and even creative innovation team days.
Imagine a company sending their senior staff to a brainstorm retreat. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, no suits required. It’s a wonderful place where there are no bad ideas, just smiles and head nodding. Everybody leaves the brainstorm retreat fully refreshed and with renewed vigor, the iPad filled with fresh approaches and each person determined to get the best results from the best people through inspirational and creative leadership. But after a few days, despite best intentions, the promises fade away. The team watches senior staff shift from inspirational force to normal management. In reality, nothing is achieved. And nothing changes.
Innovation experts Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg suggest a better approach. They recommend that leaders at all levels become “innovation architects,” developing an ecosystem in which people engage in key innovation behaviors as part of their daily work. Their advice results in a remarkable book that does not merely focus on the importance of innovation, but suggests that it is more important to achieve a sustainable state of innovation. The goal is to reach a point where you are truly innovating, where this kind of thinking becomes a routine and is not just reserved for retreats or executive meetings.
“If you are a leader working in a regular company, how can you help your people become better at innovation, not as a one-off event, but as part of their daily life?”
Too many people equate creativity with Google-style work environments: volleyball courts, foosball tables, quirky shorts and dogs roaming the floor. In a traditional company, this can be counterproductive and relegate innovation and creativity to an isolated box. “Instead, find a way to make innovation happen as a regular, inconspicuous part of the culture,” the authors suggest. “In the short term, it’s not about changing culture; it’s about changing creativity so it fits into the culture.”
Real innovation doesn’t happen on the two-day retreat. It happens on the remaining 363 days.
To make the other 363 days of the year count, the authors ask leaders to redefine their roles. It’s good to be creative yourself but it’s more important that your leadership promotes innovation on an organization-wide level. Leaders have to execute the paradigm of “innovation as usual,” changing the way a company works. “A lot of books take a high-level, management-consulting perspective on innovation and say, ‘Here is the model you have to implement in the entire organization to make it happen’. But that’s not very helpful if you are the head of a department somewhere. What we are saying in the book is this: ‘Here are some things you can do to promote innovation, even if you are leading a small team in an otherwise innovation-resistant organization.’”
If you want to make innovation a core activity, part of the daily workflow that is supported by your team, examine some key concepts outlined in the book:
Focus – Direct the search for innovation and help people focus on what matters
Connect – Help people connect outside the organization for new insight
Tweak – Make people test and challenge their understanding of the problem.
Filter – Help people evaluate and discard ideas continually.
Stealthstorm – Help people navigate the politics of innovation inside the organization.
Persist – Motivate innovators to keep going. For innovation to happen, it has to become part of the daily work.
Regardless of the size of your organization, if your priority is to get your people to think or act more innovatively, consider picking up a copy of this book. Try your hand at using the techniques suggested. Innovation might just turn into a routine.