Want a culture of innovation? Start from within.
By Mitch Ditkoff
These days almost all of my clients are talking about the need to establish a culture of innovation. Some, I’m happy to report, are actually doing something about it. Hallelujah! They are taking bold steps forward to turn theory into action.
The challenge for them is the same as it’s always been - and that is to find a simple, authentic way to address the challenge from the inside out - to water the root of the tree, not just the branches.
Systems are not sufficient to guarantee change. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Systems die. Instinct remains.”
This is not to say organizations should ignore systems and structures in their effort to establish a culture of innovation—they shouldn’t. But systems and structures all too often become the Holy Grail.
Unfortunately when the addiction to systems and structures rules the day, an organization’s quest for a culture of innovation degenerates into nothing much more than a cult of innovation. Organizations do not innovate. People innovate. Inspired people. Fascinated people. Creative people. Committed people. That’s where innovation comes from the inside out: on the inside.
The organization’s role - just like the individual manager’s role - is to get out of the way. And while this “getting out of the way” will undoubtedly include an effort to formulate supportive systems, processes and protocols, it is important to remember these things are not the answer. They are the context, not the content. They are the husk, not kernel. They are the menu, not the meal.
Ultimately, organizations are faced with the same challenge religions are faced with. Religious leaders may speak passionately about the virtues their congregation needs to be living by, but sermons only name the challenge and remind people to experience something - they don’t necessarily change behavior.
Change comes from within the heart and mind of each individual. It cannot be legislated or evangelized into reality.
What’s needed in organizations that aspire to a culture of innovation is an inner change. People need to experience something within themselves that will spark and sustain their effort to innovate - and when they experience this “something,” they will be self-sustaining.
They will think about projects in the shower, car, and in their dreams. They will need very little “management” from the outside. Inside out will rule the day - not outside in. Intrinsic motivation will flourish.
People will innovate not because they are told to, but because they want to. Open Space Technology is a good metaphor for this. When people are inspired, share a common, compelling goal and have the time and space to collaborate, the results become self-organizing.
You can create all the reward systems you want. You can reinvent your workspace until you’re blue in the face. You can license the latest and greatest idea management tool, but unless each person in your organization owns the need to innovate and finds a way to tap into his or her own innate brilliance, all you’ll end up with is a mixed bag of systems, processes and protocols—the husk, not the kernel—the innovation flotsam and jetsam that the next administration, CEO or key stakeholder will mock, reject or change at the drop of a hat if the ROI doesn’t show up in the next 20 minutes.
You want culture change? You want a culture of innovation?
Great. Then find a way to help each and every person in your organization come from the inside out. Deeply consider how you can awaken, nurture and develop the primal need all people have to create something extraordinary.
Note: This article has appeared on the Idea Champions website.
About Mitch Ditkoff
Mitch Ditkoff is Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, a management development company specializing in innovation, creative thinking and team development. He is the author of the award winning book, Awake at the Wheel, the very popular Heart of Innovation blog, and is a much sought after keynote speaker. In 2010, Mitch was voted as the #1 innovation blogger in the world by the readers of the most widely read innovation blog, Blogging Innovation.
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