Are You Innovation Inept? Why Most Organizations Just Aren't That Innovative
Recently Fast Company published its 2009 list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies. Team Obama topped the list (which could, and probably will be the subject of another post). But as amazing as that news was, what struck me was that 33 of the previous year's 50 did not make the list.
Wait... 33 of 2008's 50 most innovative companies fell from innovation grace just one year later? How is this possible? How can 33 of the world's most innovative organizations fail to continue being innovative, or at least exceptionally innovative? Wasn't there innovative prowess enough to keep them innovative?
Better yet - what about the 33 million companies that weren't even in the running? In this era of "innovate or perish," a topic we discuss often, how is it that so few companies are really doing much that's innovative - even when they've managed to do some of it in the past?
One of our most popular, recent Tweets stated that thinking about innovation isn't the same as innovative thinking. And that gets to the crux of the matter. There is a lot of talk about innovation these days. But when it comes right down to it, most organizations don't really do much about it, or at least not much that leads to real, ongoing innovation.
Bringing in management consultants doesn't do it. Announcing a new era of corporate innovation doesn't do it. Adding the word to the mission statement doesn't do it, and neither does charging managers with the task of fostering more innovation in their teams.
In fact, simply "creating a culture of innovation" alone doesn't do it.
Of course, innovation does require a fertile culture, in the sense that an environment must exist in which it can actually happen. Innovation requires creative thinking that is allowed to be freely expressed and acted upon. A culture that reacts to "think different" - even "think different" that ultimately fails - with disapproval, will not inspire the courage it takes to put one's ideas on the line.
But it's the people, not the culture, who innovate.
In the end, what is really needed for innovation to happen is a combination of motivation, freedom, systems, knowledge and responsibility.
Motivation to make the effort in the first place.
Freedom to explore and express, without fear of reprisal.
Systems for sharing, developing and promoting ideas throughout an organization.
Knowledge, talent and skills required to actually transform an idea into a viable plan and, ultimately, a reality.
And responsibility for ensuring that it all happens.
Who is responsible for ensuring that these various, essential elements are in place? Leadership, of course. If history and the news tell us nothing else, it proves that real, ongoing, effective innovation is a top-down process. It must be mandated, inspired, nurtured and championed by the company leader. Apple, Google, Amazon, Zappos - oh, and of course, Team Obama - all have innovative leaders driving the process. Why? Because others in an organization will rarely have the courage or freedom to take on the challenge. Only a leader will.
Innovation is a complex process that involves emotional, psychological, technical and operational factors. If you're missing just one, you will never (or no longer) find yourself on the "most innovative" list.
Better luck next year!