Innovation Needs Space

Innovation is a muscle, you can’t preserve it and hope that it will work on game day.  Organizations need to flex and build this muscle every day.

How do we weave space for innovation into our everyday lives, while still getting work done?  Here are some tips on how to make room for innovative thinking and some pitfalls to look out for.

The value is in collective dreaming.  My husband and I like to look at real estate listings when we visit a city, particularly if it’s near a beach.  We’ve been doing it for 19 years and we’ll probably never invest in any of these properties. But it’s fun and we enjoy it debating the merits of these places. “I think we the extra $1.4M is worth it because it has a helipad, don’t you lovey?”  It’s not about the investment, it’s about the connection. We get to deeply understand what the other person values.

When teams have space to dream together, it gets them aligned.  It allows them to build their innovation muscle. They are practicing thinking outside the space of “what is” and into the space of “what could be.”

Being perfect kills innovation.  My process improvement friends get nuts when I say that we’ll explore 90 ideas and maybe one good idea will emerge.  They feel that we wasted time on 89 ideas.  The truth is that you needed those 89 in order to get to the one good idea.  We’ve all heard the Thomas Edison quote that “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work”, but we don’t culturally accept that we need to fail as part of the process.  The #1 innovation killer is the need for perfection. Sometimes the need to be perfect takes the form of process improvement or operational excellence or fear of being messy.  In any form, it kills innovation.

Outsourcing innovation kills innovation.  Creativity is not only for the Design Team.  You can’t outsource innovation.  Innovation is not something that one department handles while everyone else is ‘working’.  It’s got to be woven into the DNA of the organization. When one department handles innovation, the organization lurches from one idea to the next.  When it’s part of the DNA, innovation just happens.

Being busy kills innovation.  Finding opportunities to create space helps innovation build.  Are you running from meeting to meeting, and each meeting has a packed agenda?  Do people have time to consider an idea from all perspectives? Do they have time to play around with new ideas?  There’s no time to innovate when you are busy.

Brain Twist.  What if next time someone comes up with an outrageous idea, you build on it?  Let it grow and see where it goes. Don’t worry, if it’s not feasible it will die on its own.  But on the other hand, it might have a gem inside.