Ever heard your people say…
“What we need in this organization is innovation” or “Creativity will give us the edge”.
Executives and leaders often utter these words with little realisation of the difficulties of bringing about a fundamental shift in the behaviour necessary to create an innovation culture across the organization. “We can empower people to bring new ideas, we’ll run some workshops on creativity” if only it were that simple. But alas this Procrustean approach is unlikely to reap rich rewards.
You remember Procrustes of course, the famous innkeeper of Greek mythology? According to legend he was single-minded in his approach to hospitality, he kept an inn on the road to Athens and what distinguished this inn from any other was that it had only one room containing only one bed. Procrustes believed that all travelers who stayed in his hostel should fit in the bed, and this is where he was single-minded, those who were too tall swiftly had their feet cut off whilst those too short were stretched to fit. An unfortunate side effect of this unwarranted attention to detail meant that by the time he had executed the necessary adjustments many of his guests were, well, dead!
A one size fits all approach denies the reality that people are different and in developing an approach towards encouraging innovation these differences need to be surfaced and reconciled.
One organization has devised a more enlightened strategy. Recognising early on that building a culture of innovation requires some foresight and hard graft in building a critical mass of people who understand their own, and others innovation style they targeted successive intakes of graduates to build new ways of thinking and acting to realise their innovation potential.
Around 40 graduates a year participate in the graduate development programme, after successfully completing an assessment centre. Critical reasoning tests are part of the selection process but interestingly, so too is a creative thinking test that explores, fluency – the number of ideas generated, originality – how original are the ideas and lateral flexibility – how diverse these ideas are. Candidates are chosen according to their strengths either in critical reasoning or creativity – some even have strengths in both domains! Importantly, whatever their strengths each have a vital role in the innovation process.
At the very first module of their development programme they are introduced to two important topics – learning and innovation. Each individual learns about their own preferences for learning which involves a combination of thinking and action (after Kolb) and understand the strengths and limitations of each preference. Prior to the module they are asked to complete a Creatrix™ inventory and when attending are introduced to the underlying concepts that describe innovation capacity – creativity and risk taking. The blend of these constructs gives unique profiles that describe typical approaches and attitudes towards the behaviours associated with innovation. Through an understanding of their own approach and strengths towards innovation the groups develop awareness of the need to balance innovation teams, too many innovators and a surfeit of ideas but no action, too many sustainers and no ideas will see the light of day. Appreciating their own and others styles helps in several ways; they recognise their own unique contribution to the innovation process; they identify potential barriers and possible levers that can help navigate from ideas to action; they develop a language for describing and understanding innovation; they identify ways of making things happen by circumventing the organisational “permafrost” that kill possibilities prematurely; they develop individual action plans for switching on their own capacity for innovation; and build a network across the organisation to act on those thorny cross functional problems.
This fresh approach of seeding the organization with new entrants untainted by the inevitable cynicism seasoned campaigners in the organisation is beginning to bear fruit. Hungry to make a mark many of the graduates are pushing new ideas and making a succession of small wins from streamlining processes to developing new products – and what’s more getting the support of the person at the top. As this population grows with each successive stream a critical mass of young innovators is being formed who want to push the boundaries even further.
For this group in the organisation, change and innovation is not a threat, they feel empowered to drive it and, for them, it is the opportunity for more learning.
With innovation, as in other aspects of life, diversity brings real advantages, a concept that was lost on poor Procrustes.
Increasingly the concept of executive innovation is on the corporate agenda, but is it just another fad? No not if used appropriately and owned at the top. When the executives in an organization “walk the talk” and work pro-actively to create a culture of innovation, rather than the typical attitude of creating an “innovation team”. Innovation needs to permeate throughout the fabric of the organization…top through to customer facing people. The behavioural approach of the Creatrix model is a powerful way of starting the journey of innovation in your company.
By Mike Morrison & Vince Whittle © 2004-2008