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Monday, February 22, 2010

Innovation From the Inside Out

by Mitch Ditkoff

Innovation From the Inside OutThese 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.

Still, the challenge remains the same for them as it does thousands of other forward-thinking companies - 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.

In today's process-driven, OD-centric, Six-Sigma savvy organization, the tendency is to focus on systems as opposed to people - as if systems were sufficient to guarantee change.

Guess what? Systems are not sufficient to guarantee change. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Systems die. Instinct remains."

This is not to say that 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 - much in the same way that Six Sigma has 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 begins. 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 the effort to formulate supportive systems, processes, and protocols, it is important to remember that systems, processes, and protocols are never 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 that 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 who 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 their projects in the shower, in their 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 their 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 or next CEO or next 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.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Anonymous Elizabeth Usovicz said...

Wonderful blog post! I agree that systems do not create change. My perspective is that at their best, they separate repeatable processes from human skills and creativity, and allow that human skill and creativity to be used to its best advantage. And yes, that is a challenge I also work through with my clients on a regular basis.

Thank you for sharing this eloquent and provocative post.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Heidi said...

Excellent points here. I couldn't agree more that organizations so often forget that people innovate - not organizations. If people do what they love and it's aligned with their talents, innovation appears effortless and comes up all the time (like in the shower as you mentioned). I do think the other key point her besides recognizing the importance of individual's connecting to their heart and passion - is that structure is needed to keep these ideas going. Creativity comes from insight and it's important to create the space/environment for that insight. But we do need to put a container around those ideas and identify what's needed to move forward next. Ideation without action is hallucination.

10:42 AM  
Blogger David Mottershead said...

While I agree with the idea that people are the source of creativity and innovation within our organisations, I question what will ignite this magical inner spark within the people who work within? Don't we need a source of inspiration, a catalyst, that will spark people's interest and focus people's efforts? And what better inspiration than the very group that the business is there to server - the customers. And what of this mystical culture of innovation, is it just like religion where things can go horribly wrong. In order to keep people on track, we need a single source of innovation inspiration (the customer) and a framework to guide our people in the right direction otherwise a lot of time and effort will be wasted.

3:18 PM  

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