Why Your Innovation Initiatives Aren’t Working

It seems that every business these days has some innovation initiative for its employees. Those initiatives have lots of different names. Sometimes we use words like “agile” or “creativity.” The intent is usually a good one: how does one tap into the collective talents and creativity of employees to move a company forward?

Those of us who’ve been through these realize pretty quickly that most of these initiatives fall short. In the worst cases, they leave a bad taste that allows employee cynicism to fester, the exact opposite of what business leaders and managers hope for. Here are a few reasons why your innovation initiatives may be lacking.

  1. You Confuse Brainstorming With Innovation. It’s interesting that when you ask people what innovation or design thinking looks like, they’ll usually say “It’s a lot of sticky notes on the wall.” The visual of sticky notes represents a lot of ideas and the thought is that those ideas are what drive innovation. Actually, they simply represent a lot of ideas, and not much more. Don’t get me wrong; lots of sticky notes on walls are a good thing. But it’s only a piece, a small piece of innovation.One of the things I often see is how organizations bring people together for brainstorms to generate a lot of ideas. The problem is that this is one step in the innovation process. For it to lead to innovation it needs proper framing beforehand and the incredibly hard work of follow through and implementation afterwards. Innovation is best described as applied creativity or design: it’s only when people act in a different way that innovation lives.

    Too often organizations shortchange a commitment to innovation with high energy brainstorming activities that rarely result in any significant change.

  1. You Have No Time Allotted to Innovate. Innovation is a process. To do it well, the steps in the process need the time it takes to complete them. Today, most employees are simply too busy trying to complete our many daily, pressing tasks. Managers and directors might want to induce innovation but they are also unwilling to carve out time during the workday because their main focus is on overseeing task completion.Google is famous for its 20% time where they gave employees one day a week to work on side projects. While they’ve restricted it to make it more focused, it’s not an idea that Google created. 3M had 15 percent time, while other companies pursue similar initiatives including internal hackathons or incubators.

    If you encourage employees to innovate yet won’t adjust their work schedules to give them free, structured or unstructured time to do so, don’t expect to see any results.

  1. Your Organizational Culture Doesn’t Encourage Change. Innovation means change. Most people and businesses don’t embrace or even like change. Even companies that have change and innovation in their mission statements see innovation projects scuttled by managers who put their own projects and bonuses ahead of overall business goals.A culture of change and innovation starts at the top. If your leaders and C levels talk about innovation but are pretty comfortable with the way things are and the structures that exist, innovation initiatives will usually be dead on arrival.

Don’t get me wrong: change and innovation is hard. It’s fun, but it’s hard. It’s much easier to talk about innovation than to actually put real resources to it. But recognizing why your innovation initiatives don’t deliver any results is a great way to start changing them.

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