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.

stagnant organizations

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. Provide time. New ideas are like newborns, feeble and dependent. Quick decisions almost always kill innovations. Ask, “What happens if this works?”
  3. Systematize conversations. In the next meeting, everyone defends the new idea, regardless of their personal opinion. Ask, “How could this work?”
  4. Develop a series of innovation questions. How will customers be served? Who could take this idea to the next level?
  5. Create a system for filtering and prioritizing ideas.
  6. 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?