Innovation Requires Courage

Innovation Starts with a Culture of Courage

The C-suite at your company has proclaimed that it’s time to amp up the innovation!

Companies say it all the time. They need to be more innovative. But the truth of the matter is that it’s just not that simple. Sure, some employees are, by nature, more innovative than others and maybe you can use them to spark larger innovation initiatives, but the problem is typically much bigger than that.

Maybe your company has gone so far as to hire a CIO. Surely that’ll turn things around, right? Not unless you address the bigger issue.

You can’t force innovation

Innovation is bred and nurtured by a corporate culture that encourages it.  

Your entire company (yes, the whole thing) must have innovation as part of its lifeblood. And when you really look at what it’ll take to really get there, well, it can tend to make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Companies go so far as to create entire departments devoted to innovation. A corporate “skunkworks” of sorts.  That works for awhile, as that group is usually allowed to operate isolated from the rest of the company, but eventually the non-innovative part of the company (which usually includes decision making departments lurking in the ether above the skunkworks) rears it’s ugly head and squelches creativity.

The fact that an isolated innovation team was needed in the first place might tell you there’s a problem.

Fear is the biggest stumbling block

The challenge is that to be innovative, truly innovative, takes courage. And it has to start from the top on down, in all levels of a company.

Not necessarily by having every single employee reinventing the wheel every day, but by allowing everyone the freedom to be innovative. Creating a culture that breeds innovation in all corners of your business.

Innovation involves risk because it can mean failing.

Sometimes a lot.

Sometimes repeatedly.

You can’t just flip a switch and say “let’s be more innovative now and this will turn out awesome”. It means trying out new ideas and processes and seeing if they work or not. And it means making it so your employees feel safe to try new things and express ideas without fear of failure, because fear is the biggest stumbling block of all.  

Fear of criticism, fear of bad performance reviews, and even fear of losing one’s job. In order to truly think in innovative ways employees need to feel it’s okay to try something that might not work.

And management must have their egos in check. Here are 3 ways managers can adjust their approach:

  1. Allow people and ideas to fail.
  2. Learn how to nurture innovation.  
  3. Accept the fact that someone below you may be the one getting the credit for an idea because people are going to be more motivated to come up with new ideas if they know they’ll get the recognition they deserve when they have a great one. Don’t steal their thunder.

Find Leaders that Can Recognize and Facilitate Innovators and Ideas

Another component of being innovative as a company involves finding the right people at a decision making level that don’t have to necessarily be  innovative themselves, but know how to evaluate creative ideas and use the best ones to help the company in innovative ways. Leaders that know how to draw it out of those they’re leading.

You need management in place that can look at all the ideas that are coming from your newly energized employees (because you’ve freed them up to take risks), be able to identify which ideas are the ones that you should pursue, flesh them out, and then chart a course for implementation.

And those choices lead to the last part of the equation.

Do you have the courage to produce a truly innovative idea or are you worried what the market will think? (There’s that fear again …) Out of all these ideas that your employees are producing, if you only pursue the “safe” ones eventually that will start pulling everything back to the least common denominator. Remember, true innovation involves risks. At all levels.

If you have the courage to do it, giving your employees the freedom to truly innovate by creating the proper environment can pay huge dividends.

But you have to be ready to let go of the reins a little bit, readjust course when the failures hit, and chart the new direction. Idea, test, evaluate, sometimes fail, repeat. Innovate.


JB Profile Jeff Bull – Partner

Jeff is an experienced product designer with a demonstrated history of leadership in developing real world solutions. An inventor on over 40 patents, Jeff is skilled in Design Strategy and Innovation, and is committed to user-driven product solutions.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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