CEOs talk incessantly about innovation.
They want innovation, but they can’t get it. Their teams disappoint them by failing to come up with big, out-of-the-box ideas at the rate the CEO is looking for.
CEOs who get upset by their team’s inability to innovate are blind to the reality that the innovation problem rests squarely on their shoulders.
You can’t legislate big ideas. You can’t force people to come up with radical concepts.
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As CEO you either create a culture for innovation and get the innovation you want, or you don’t create that culture — and then you complain about it.
You will never get new ideas out of people who are chained to their desks trying to hit daily and weekly targets. Where would they find time to come up with new ideas, much less pursue them?
You will never get out-of-the-box thinking from people who know that in your company, new ideas get shot down unless they come from designated “idea people.”
In some organizations, only managers are allowed to have ideas.
CEOs talk about the fact that great ideas can come from anywhere, but in real life departments are protective of their turf.
Innovation means letting go of prescribed notions about what will work and what won’t.
Innovation requires risk-taking and many or most organizations are not set up for that.
Innovation means being open to the power of whimsy.
Unbounded, creative thinking is at odds with everything we’ve learned about the business world, like these ideas that business people take for granted:
1. Business is all about planning. Responsible businesses make a plan and then work the plan.
2. Everything we do must be measured. It is critical that our measurements match the plan. People who fall down in their metrics cannot succeed and will eventually be replaced.
3. Linear thinking is the only kind of thinking we recognize.
4. If you have an argument to make, you’d better have data to back it up!
5. If you say something random or off-the-wall at a meeting or in conversation with your boss, you will embarrass yourself. Non-rational, non-linear observations and questions mark the speaker as unprofessional and amateurish.
6. Keep your emotions to yourself. No one cares about them. Do not insert your emotions, dreams or visions into business conversations.
7. If you think you know a better way to do something and you want to suggest it, you had better have a deep expertise in the subject matter. If you don’t, you will be cut to ribbons and humiliated.
How could any rational CEO expect, much less bank on, innovation from people who are hemmed in by goals, constant evaluation, rules and hierarchy?
It is ridiculous to expect big ideas to come from people working in a top-down, metrics-obsessed, data-worshiping culture.
Employees only dream up big, crazy ideas that just might work when they feel light and excited.
Their minds wander to places where great business ideas emerge because it is fun to let your mind wander.
A CEO’s job is to create the conditions in which whimsy and flights of fancy can thrive. A CEO’s job is to make their workplace fun.
1. If you want innovation, your employees must feel safe in their jobs.
2. If you want big ideas, your employees must know that there are no penalties for messing up or hitting a brick wall.
3. If you want out-of-the-box thinking, your employees must have the time and trust level to laugh, joke, have non-business conversations and generally bring their hearts and souls to work with them.
For traditional businesses, these are difficult conditions to create. Traditional business is all about square corners and data-backed argumentation.
It is all about chain of command, daily and weekly yardsticks and no variation in the established procedures.
Job descriptions inhibit innovation.
The constant assessment of employees prevents innovation, and so do Performance Management systems.
Your company’s employee handbooks, Best Practices manuals and rules make innovation nearly impossible.
Innovation is a cultural issue. It has little to do with practices.
If your employees aren’t innovating, it’s because you have not created an environment when innovation can flourish.
That’s a leadership issue.
It is 2017, and now we know: a leader’s sole job is to create a culture where trust overpowers fear. When you do that, you’ll have all the innovation you could wish for — and many other benefits, besides.