I recently worked with a group of leaders on innovation in their company. The starting point was discussing why it is so hard to be creative at work? If people in general are not creative and problem-solvers, then that is one thing. But given the access to knowledge we all have now, it is hard to find people who have a need in their personal lives and with a few minutes of clicking, cannot find a creative solution to their problem. Since most of us are very creative and resourceful, then something must happen in the workplace that stifles innovation. If you agree with this, then innovation in the workplace is less about installing new systems and processes, and more about removing barriers to unleash what employees already do outside of work.
The primary culprit, and I’ve blogged about this before, is fear – both personal and institutional. Personally, the thought for some of doing something with failure as a possible outcome is simply too threatening and they feel they are better off tagging along with other less creative ideas or just abandoning creative expression altogether. Institutionally, the social dynamics of doing something with the idea, no matter how good it is, is just too laborious. There are too many layers of approvals and people that will need to be on board with the concept that it is likely going to fail at some point in the process.
As leaders, it is incumbent on you to recognize these culprits and do what you can to remove them as much as is possible. I have done enough work in this area with enough organizations to know that most of the solutions required for innovation are both incremental and of the “smaller day-to-day” kind that only your people are aware of. It would take consultants too long to figure it out and their solutions are likely to be met with the same barriers anyway. A great measure of success in this area is to always ask yourself: What are we doing today, that we did in the same way a year ago?