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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Innovation Perspectives - Do you need permission to innovate?

This is the first of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'What is the most dangerous current misconception in innovation?'. To kick it off, here is Steve Todd's perspective:

by Steve Todd

Permission to InnovateWho Needs Permission?

The most dangerous misconception that I often see in potential innovators is their belief that they need permission to innovate. Or approval. Or funding. Or a specific job title, for that matter.

Some innovators may be living in a culture where personal innovation is discouraged. Not to worry. Start a skunkworks and apologize later.

Most innovators, I fear, are waiting for someone to tell them to "go innovate". When this type of mentality is held by the majority of the corporate masses, the treadmill of incrementalism will take its toll on creativity.

It's a worthwhile exercise to compare the need for permission against my favorite equation:

Innovation = Productivity + Initiative + Collaboration.


Do I need permission to be productive? Absolutely not! Productive people earn the right to innovate. When an employee not only meets but exceeds their corporate goals, they've given themselves the right to explore new opportunities. So go ahead and get started. The worst thing that can happen is that management might be surprised to see your extra effort (hopefully they'll be pleasantly surprised). Managers are also likely to be forgiving if they know that you're someone who delivers.

Of course, lack of productivity works against you. If you can't do your day job effectively, who's going to believe you when you propose something innovative?


If productivity is the foundation of building an innovative career, initiative is the stairway out of the trenches and into creativity. When you find a problem that you'd like to sink your teeth into, and you can't think of a ready solution, take the initiative to learn more. Search for adjacent technologies that you feel may be relevant.

Do you need permission to take the initiative to learn? Of course not. Yet many employees fret that their managers might catch them learning about something that's not directly related to their day job. Remember: you've earned it because you're productive.


Your ability to innovate multiplies exponentially when you pull experts in to help solve your problem. Experts frequently appear as part of your learning process. You may read a paper, or join a forum, or post a question. Discussions occur and your learning accelerates as you connect directly. Do you need permission to connect with experts in adjacent spheres? Of course not. But your involvement and engagement is about to grow to a whole new level.

The collaboration stage is where the rubber meets the road. You've been productive in your day job. You've found a problem that you'd like to solve. You've taken initiative on your own, and you've made connections on your own. Your manager has either looked the other way or supported you because of your productivity.

Do you need permission to proceed any further?

The likely answer is "Yes".

So before you get started, you might want to make sure that you're working on a problem that solves a deep and compelling customer need. Because ultimately you will need permission from your company to deliver your solution into the hands of customers.

Delivery is the difference between an inventor (generates ideas) and an intrapreneur (generates and deliver ideas).

Want to innovate? Go ahead, you have my permission.

You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'What is the most dangerous current misconception in innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.

Steve ToddSteve Todd is a high-tech inventor and author of the book Innovate With Influence. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 140 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground.

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Anonymous Jose Baldaia said...

Hello Steve!
This is a very clear and motivational article.
I think besides your permission an innovator needs her permission. In fact fear must be changed by audacity. Being part of productive people he may consider the permission already given.
If it is necessary, sometimes big ideas need it, he may forgot the command chain and make deliveries directly to the top. And if he had strong collaboration he has all the supports he needs to not have unethical behavior.
An innovator without initiative is a like a ticket for a train in the open ocean.
Thanks for this article

2:11 PM  

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