Six Ways to Innovate in Rigid Organizations
The future rides on a horse called innovation. Organizations that can’t innovate stagnate. Some organizations have innovation in their blood. But, many are mired in systems and bureaucracy.
It’s easier to begin innovating within rigid cultures than it is to change them. Think skunkworks.
Systematize innovation in organizations driven by systems.
Evolution or revolution:
Innovation may be revolutionary, but, it’s more likely evolutionary. It’s easier to evolve than give birth. Lift or extend existing products or ideas to new levels.
Evolution is easier than revolution.
Innovation, like everything that gets done, needs champions. Revolutionary innovation is often driven by inspired champions who sweat and bleed for new ideas. If you’re in a bureaucratic – procedure driven – organization begin with evolutionary not revolution.
Develop an innovation system with rigid rules. For example:
- Withhold NO. Rigid organizations say NO quickly and YES slowly. But, innovation requires YES. The next time someone offers a new idea, say, “Tell me more.”
- Provide time. New ideas are like newborns, feeble and dependent. Quick decisions almost always kill innovations. Ask, “What happens if this works?”
- Systematize conversations. In the next meeting, everyone defends the new idea, regardless of their personal opinion. Ask, “How could this work?”
- Develop a series of innovation questions. How will customers be served? Who could take this idea to the next level?
- Create a system for filtering and prioritizing ideas.
- Kill or take a next step. Innovation collapses on itself without next steps. After giving it some time to grow legs, take ideas to the next step or toss them. Don’t circle them like buzzards.
Resolve and exploit natural tensions. Dreamers look at doers and think you never like anything. Doers look at dreamers and think you never finish anything. Find ways to work “with” not against.
Facebook fans respond: “Leaders ignite innovation when _______.”
How would you systematize innovation in a rigid organization?
A colleague suggested to me that innovate is often perceived as “buy some new technology” and asking for “BIG IDEAS” was a better way to start an innovation culture. As mentioned in the post, it is often a process of evolution with pitfalls and failures to be expected along the way.
Are companies prepared to accept that innovation takes time, includes some trial and error and can never really have a guaranteed positive outcome?
My colleague compared a true innovator to a “mad scientist” doing all kinds of experiments, causing some havoc, looking for something, but ultimately finding something else! How many corporate cultures have room for that these days? 🙂
(P.S.: Just to be clear, I am, in fact, a true believer in the power of innovation!)
Thanks Paul. The “mad scientist” idea is cool. I think it applies most to the revolutionary aspect of innovation.
The idea that innovation is predictable may be one of the silliest things one could hold to…
Your comment feels like a bit of a rant… Love it.
Great post Dan! I loved the emphasis on evolution being better than revolution. (So many companies have yet to figure that out!) And I LOVE the questions! …I got caught up imagining what those meetings would look like if everyone was defending the new idea regardless…
Thanks Chery. Great seeing you here. I hope that seeing innovation as evolution might sit more comfortably with rigid organizations. Perhaps, if enough evolution happens, the end result is a backdoor revolution. One day people look around and ask, “how did we get here?” 🙂
I think #6 is especially true. 🙂
It can be hard to let go of a “good” idea. But, it seems that a good idea isn’t so good if we can’t think of a next step. Cheers!
The ability to ‘let go’ is powerful. Nice post Dan. 🙂
I would add fostering a spirit of true collaboration and rewarding teamwork.
Thanks Karin. If we can learn to reward teamwork, you would hope to see teams performing better. Cheers!
I like what you say. However, I would also add something more to this. Organizations need to reward learning. Evolution and Innovation imply change, and not all change is successful. It is important for organizations to reward the spirit of innovation, to learn from the mistakes, and also from the successes.
For the innovator, patience is key.
Thanks Rajiv. Absolutely. The question is “what have we learned from failure” more than “why did we fail.
Let’s patiently pursue. Cheers!
I like the learning part, Rajiv. It’s important to capture the learning if you “kill” the innovative attempt. What is learned in the experience can improve the next attempt and eventually lead to success.
Thanks Chip. I’ve heard it said that the only time we don’t fail is the first time we succeed. In other words, failure is a stepping stone to success. I think it’s easier to type on the screen than live in real life. Cheers!
I especially like #3 and, like Chery, my mind went off imagining how popular those meetings could quickly become, with people being curious about playing such a backwards – and seductive – game.
Thanks Susan. Wouldn’t you love to see the person who always finds fault, forced to explain why a new idea would work?… hahaha!
On #6, David and Tom Kelly wrote a book titled “Creative Confidence” that supports this step. They speak of rapid prototyping as a way to get an idea out there, get some initial thoughts/feedback on it, then decide whether it’s worth investing in or not.
Projects/products/ideas that haven’t taken too much time and little to no resources, as presented with the rapid prototyping method, are much easier to kill because there hasn’t been a large investment in the project. It’s also easier for the creator to let go because he/she is not as attached to it.
In answer to your question, I would suggest promoting the idea of innovation by encouraging rapid prototyping in your rigid workplace. Direct the individual to form a small team (and give them just a little time flexibility) to work on the idea and get a very rough prototype out there for discussion. The organization won’t be investing much at the onset, but the potential is great – not only financially (if the product is successful), but in encouraging an innovative workplace that fuels itself.
Great topic, Dan!
Thanks Jerry. Love it! I had a conversation with an innovator who said the worst product they ever launched was the one they tried to perfect before they launched it. Cheers!
Thanks, you have given me two new terms, ‘creative confidence’ and ‘rapid prototyping’. I especially support rapid prototyping. People lose less energy and confidence when a series of prototypes don’t work out as the investment is smaller. Keeps things moving forward with a team that continues to grow.
The six System suggestions are terrific and immediately useful. The questions, particularly number 3, get to the heart of the issue in a non-confrontational way. But ground rule number one must always be that the answer “It can’t.” is not allowed. Value again, Dan. Thanks.
Thanks Steven. It took me years to learn the “withhold NO” rule. We would bring up ideas and, of course, the first responses were some for of NO – why it won’t work or why it shouldn’t be done.
Then, after saying no, we wondered why we didn’t come up with any new ideas. hahaha.
By the way, now I see the NO answer coming from a mile away. I have a standard response. “I see what we can’t do. What do you think we CAN do?”
A couple of observations today Dan.
Would consider expanding #2 from Provide Time to Provide Resources. Allowing time without the talent, tools, and/or training may be an exercise in frustration that stifles future interest/efforts, all four are necessary. The training is very big…often given lip service, but not proper allocation. Commitment to innovation has to mean commitment to training and learning.
And your observations about champions—they too need that early support, time, training, and tools. They often are your most passionate folks, deeply engaged and motivated who can surmount hurdles most might skulk from. They need time to observe, reflect, and overt leadership endorsement on many levels.
Thanks Doc. Absolutely. So glad you added these ideas. Put your money/resources where your mouth is.
Well my take, just means it is my take!!!!
As what Simon says saturates my brain two things gurgle from the deep recesses of my disturbed grey matter!
One is call a spade a spade! I want what I want when I want it. Call it change, call it innovation to make it sound cooler. It still is I think I have a better way and I want everyone else to see it.
Two reasons one so everyone will see how incredibly brilliant I am and I really do think my way will work better.
So lets let go if the symantics already. Get to the real stuff.
You know how our basic personalities are set really early? What if businesses are kinda the same?
In other words rigid environments are likely to stay rigid. The agreement there is, “we like rigid”!
So to change THAT, gonna have to come up with sumptin way better than innovating.
Ponder this, change yep!!!!! Where you work!!!!
If you fancy yourself hip slick and cool and flexible and just awesome…..find a place that will pay you to join them and pay you to help them get er done! Whatever get er done to them happens to be in their agreement.
One will put forth effort either way right!! Trying to change rigid to flexible OR find a place better suited to be with people who believe what you believe.
Time and effort spent either way. Right?
Ok if you are hard headed then here you go!!
Google businesses who have had transformational changes. Find out how they did it and do what they did. Use whatever words you want just do what they did and get similar result.
Ok back to work!!!
SP back to oxy production!!
Thanks Scott. This post is based on the idea that rigid organizations love being rigid. I’m suggestion ways to innovate within that context.
Dan I understood you completely!
I just completely disagree. Lol, politely and with no malicious intent!!!!
Does not mean I am right and you are wrong just means I got a different opinion.
My opinion is time is better spent not trying the impossible but rather spend that time finding a place where you do not have to try the impossible.
I have worked in rigid workplaces. Still do, just not trying to change it anymore, what’s the use?
It is laughable when I think of going to higher ups with these 6 suggestions. I am going to get the same response I have gotten with the other 50,000 suggestions. Real world stuff, not nice sounding theory.
Know you might not realize this Dan but I am as bull headed and determined as they come. Hehe
You know what I got after banging my head, call it evolution, revolution, whatever suits you to call it years of trying this changy thing in organizations?
A sore head!
Here is an idea! Try a mental framework of 6 suggestions. Right!!!!!
I do not see Dan how trying to influence and persuade a place that has agreed rigid is cool makes any sense.
The bottom line I think we can 100% agree on is if this change were to occur it would not be accomplished alone, right?
Well if what you got is u and these 6 suggestions what do u really have? You and 6 suggestions and that is IT!! By yourself! First thing you need Leader is a follower!!!
Sorry just do not see how that is gonna open the granite walls of the close minded. Sounds good but in practical real world situations…..its bringing a knife to a bazooka fight!
So if it is to be done isn’t the question how do I create a group to change? Good luck!!! If you are the only one inspired and wiling to die for your beliefs, good luck wit dat!!!!!
Problem is if the group don’t want to change these 6 suggestions are like taking a knife to a bazooka fight. Oops said it again!!!!
Winning? Not very likely.
I say spend more time before taking a job! Go find a better place for yourself and be real sure what u are getting into.
Or just get sick and tired of the whole mess and become an entrepreneur!!!!
Just my take Dan does not invalidate the inherent worth of your post or usefulness to others if they really like it. Just means not the way I sees it, at all.
SP back to start another job!!!!!
Scott, you summed up very well why I am an entrepreneur. Let the closed minded be closed mined. I’m out of here! 🙂
This is a little too good. I may have to NOT share this out for fear of our competition getting a hold of it 🙂
I can only think of ONE organization where EVERY staff member is empowered to say YES! That classy, high-priced organization is NORDSTROM. And, while I’m retired and live on fixed income, I love
shopping there–even though my heart goes into tachycardia when buying their great cotton shirts for $70 bucks or a cashmere sweater for $300. (heck, I have to save for 5 years.)
And while everyone at Nordstrom can and do say YES, we never hear any staff member there use the most negative and contrarian word in the dictionary, BUT. For example, “It’s a great idea, BUT…” or, “I think your concept might work, BUT…” Anytime anyone uses the word BUT, it voids everything that just went before the BUT. When someone tells us, “I’m coming to your party, BUT I’ll have to see if I can get a babysitter.” That person is NOT coming to your party.
Here’s an example of a most painful line: “I love you, but.”
Here’s a most beautiful line: “But I love you.”
What a difference! Sorry, I get carried away…
Thanks Rick. Your comment lifted my spirits. Made me smile and chuckle just enough that if anyone heard me, they might have thought I was a bit nuts. Cheers!
I shared this blog on my business Facebook page. I think this is so true for educators and other businesses or organizations that are “rigid” or at least slow to change too. There are many ways work from within – “evolution instead of revolution” was a great catch phrase for that! The comparison to giving birth was priceless! I also agree with one of the comments that “yes, but” is a real downer when it comes to implementing change.
Great article! Due to rigid organizations, I believe more and more people are starting their own businesses because they are tired of every single idea of theirs being shot down. Every leader needs to read this.
It seems the trend with some leaders is, “Have we ever done this before?” Look at how your organization is doing! If you continue on this path, the organization will be extinct in so many years. Either that or it will be so out of date and inefficient that no one will want to be a part of it!
In the context of innovating in a rigid organization, the evolution vs. revolution refrain is a harmful false dichotomy. The only real difference between a rigid org and a flexible one is the amount of pageantry involved in launching and executing a change initiative (e.g. charters, sponsorship, funding, steering committees, change controls, etc.). This is true whether the change is revolutionary or evolutionary.
Further, the revolution vs. evolution decision is not based on how much change an organization can tolerate, as seems to be commonly implied by tired management phrases like “we want evolution, not revolution”. It is actually a binary decision made by deciding whether a process, service, or product should be a)enhanced or b) eliminated entirely in favor of disruptive innovation. The test is fairly simple: if the process is valuable but could function better, evolution is in order. If the process is not very valuable, regardless of how well it performs, it is time for revolution.
It’s important for leaders to understand the difference and be able to articulate it passionately to their stakeholders. Otherwise, support will lack because there is no sound innovation methodology in place.