The advantages of innovativeness are understood by both product and service-oriented firms. Although some firms may be more innovative than others due to their leaders innate ability to inspire innovation, many firms struggle with cultivating, maintaining and accelerating their innovativeness. The natural response would be to somehow improve innovativeness by stroking the fire of innovation within personnel. Business leaders can take a preemptive approach by shaping the innovative space within their organization to make innovation more conducive and enhance the firm’s ability to produce innovation. What if that is not the problem? Encouraging positive conflict may backfire and is no guarantee the innovativeness will be switched on. A more strategic approach would be to understand the barriers to innovativeness that an innovation strategy can be developed around to ultimately eliminate issues that are preventing innovativeness from flourishing.
To be clear, shaping innovative space assumes that the environment has already been primed from innovation and is free from cultural dysfunction, which is the most daunting barrier of innovativeness. Cultural dysfunction is the appropriate diagnosis for an organization suffering from a number of adverse characteristics that aggregated present a major impediment for the cultivation, maintenance and acceleration of innovation. When we consider an organization’s ability to generate new ideas and capacity to commercialize these ideas for the enhancement of its competitive advantage and create customer value, an organization’s innovativeness is vital to its long-term viability and even more important to its short-term sustainability. Consequently, addressing all or some of the symptoms of cultural dysfunction favorably impact innovativeness.
Lack of curiosity
In a previous post discussing the elements of an innovative culture, one of those elements was an inquisitive environment. An organization, department, or group that is not asking “why”, “why not”, and “what if” is not allowing innovativeness to be cultivated. While some people are just born with a curious disposition, others are fine with going with the flow. Settling for the way things have been as the way things are going to be, suggests a level of complacency that prevents innovativeness.
Distorted view of self / environment
Research has shown that the way a person perceives themselves and their environment impacts their ability to performance at a high level. It’s sometimes referred to as a winner’s mentality, which fundamentally stands on whether the business leader believes they can be innovative or that they deserve the rewards of innovativeness. Paul Brouwer suggested that conflict in self-concepts manifest in behavior that challenges ideas of self-worth and protracts self-development which ultimately prevents innovativeness.
Lack of accountability
On one end of the spectrum there’s Enron and MCI Worldcom as examples of the effects of a lack of accountability. The other end of the unchecked power spectrum would be the mother of the CEO that was playing matchmaker with an employee. In other words any activity within the range of lack of accountability will prevent innovativeness from flourishing. Business leaders need positive accountability to encourage innovativeness as well as limit the effects of investing in innovation on operations.
Problem identification vs. problem solving
Who really likes to work with complainers? Complaining has so many adverse affects on people that its best just to avoid it all together. There is a fine line between identifying a problem in the course of developing a solution and identifying a problem to add to the list of other problems the company is facing. The former frames the problem as an opportunity and the latter is burdensome and ineffective.
Pessimistic (loser) mentality
Framing the situation accurately is a matter of perspective. As business leaders we have the ability to shape the culture and encourage the perspective that will allow innovativeness to flourish. Complainers are indicative of a pessimistic mentality and block innovativeness sometimes without even realizing it. The idea that there are undiscovered possibilities as opposed to settling on the decision that we know all that we will ever know or there are no other possibilities out there.
Now that we know what the barriers are, how do we avoid them? Or if you recognize a barrier that you're facing how do you get your innovativeness to the next level? Simply put, to avoid the barriers of innovativeness an innovative culture has to be nurtured and vehemently encouraged. Here are some tactics to help build a resilient innovative culture:
Facilitate curiosity across the organization, not just in customer-facing groups. Let your support or operations groups know that its perfectly fine to be innovative, to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Take a honest look at your firm and determine whether there is a winner's or loser's mentality within the networks of personnel. This maybe a bit more difficult to execute especially in a small firm where the leader is probably the owner or founder and work closely with personnel. Be creative; have a town-hall style meeting but strategically ask the "mentality" questions to evaluate where is the collective thinking.
Lack of accountability is not only a barrier to innovativeness but its detrimental to the livelihood of the organization. As a business leader, there needs to be a layer of accountability inside or outside the organization. While this may be uncomfortable for the business leader, the benefits outweigh the discomfort by a large margin. Mentors or accountability partners are good sources.
Coach complainers in a more positive approach to problem solving and determine whether they are actually complainers or just problem identifiers that don't know how deal with their angst. Obviously, some people are more receptive to coaching than others and as rule of thumb coaching should continue as long as necessary to have the breakthrough.
If there is a pessimistic perspective pervading your organization, BE THE CHANGE. Take responsibility and act on reversing the how personnel see themselves and the organization. Also, be mindful that you be the cause of the pessimism within the organization. If that's the case, you can still do this, own it and act on reversing your pessimistic view. Mentors and accountability partners are great for fulfilling personal change.