Abolish myths that stifle innovators

Becoming an innovation-centric organization is about targeting key behaviors that help a person introduce game-changing ideas to the enterprise.

Driving innovation, or the symbiotic relationship between people, processes, and technology continues to remain a challenge for organizations. Exemplar organizations that have built a reputation for innovation have shown the world that a culture of innovation is not driven as much by an annual business agenda as much as it is by a change in the enterprise mindset. While all aspire to be leading-edge innovators, few know how to get there. Managing the symbiosis between the three is about targeting the key behaviors that drive a culture of innovation with the enterprise.

Steve Jobs, once commented, “there is always change and improvement, this is life in the technology game.” China Gorman, CEO of CMG Group reflects that nothing can be more apt lesson for the HR fraternity than Steve Job’s vision of the innovative mindset. The innovative mindset is one that applies cognitive skills for the creation of a hot new product. Sue Marks, Founder and CEO, of Pinstripe Inc. highlights five cognitive skills that an innovator possesses― associations, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

In order to recognize and foster innovation skills, it is important to abolish five behavioral myths that organizations traditionally possess.

Myth #1― Innovation is an individual effort

Innovative organizations reveal that all innovations need not be the genius of an individual mind. An organization that provides opportunities to crowd-source ideas achieves sizeable ROI from innovation efforts. HCL, an IT services company, has an online innovation forum where individuals and groups can post innovative ideas. The forum is a place where innovation ideas are reviewed and ranked and the organization ensures sponsorship and support to see a winning idea through to its completion. Across the years, the organization has seen a significant rise in the number of process-level and small-incremental innovations through the crowd-sourcing model.

Myth #2― Discovery is the sole backbone of innovation

There are two types of people in an enterprise who drive innovation― discovery-driven people and delivery-driven people. Organizations rely too heavily on discovery-driven people often failing to recognize important delivery innovations. Any innovation that can make a delivery process shorter and more efficient without incurring incremental cost needs to be recognized and rewarded. Sue Marks highlights that small and incremental delivery innovations are more impactful and permanent than large discovery innovations.

Myth #3― The organization role stops at encouragement

 While organizations continue to try and foster a culture of innovation, most remark that despite best efforts, their best hope is to wait until someone comes up with a bright idea. Progressive organizations pull forward innovations by providing experiences that push people to innovate. Schlumberger is an example of a company where every employee is a potential innovator.  The way Schlumberger achieves this is by providing stretch roles to every employee at various stages of the employment experience that ingrains innovation in the employees’ DNA.

Myth #4― Failure is fatal

Fear of failure is one of the one of the key inhibitors of innovation. For an organization to truly commit to a culture of innovation is by ‘celebrating failures.’ R. Gopalakrishnan, Director of Tata Sons holding company highlights that celebrating failures is their way of encouraging innovation across the company. The company rewards innovative project failures at their formal annual banquet by awarding the three best unsuccessful innovations in the company. In two years, the company witnessed a steep rise in people applying for innovative ideas from 12 to 200. No other effort to encourage innovation in the company has seen such a steep rise in numbers.

While companies continue to find more ways to drive innovation, it has to recognize that abolishing conventional myths will help them create a culture of innovation that is impactful as well as sustainable.