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Rules for Nurturing Innovation

Leaders who seek to foster, build and sustain a culture of innovation within their teams or organizations could benefit from a set of rules to guide their actions. For those who seek this guidance, I offer up the following seven “rules” for your consideration:

Exert direct, assertive leadership in developing and communicating your innovation vision.

There must be clear direction from the top and it must permeate throughout the organization in order to ensure appropriate understanding, motivation, support and recognition of the activities that you believe are necessary to encourage innovation.

Integrate your strategy into the business model and operating mentality.

Innovation is not something you just run up the flagpole to capture attention on special occasions. It must become an integral part of the way the organization operates every single day. It requires a conscious and conscientious effort to not only build it into the organization’s DNA but also to address or prevent the occurrence of innovation antibodies.

Align the amount and type of innovation you seek with the realities of the business.

Innovation may or may not be “the key to success” in your overall business strategy. Therefore, you must determine the specific type and amounts of innovation you think will be necessary to support the business model and the chosen strategic direction. More is not necessarily better. Are you seeking innovations to enable you to better run your business, grow your business or transform your business? The answer to this question will the initiatives required.

Ameliorate or remove the antibodies that constrain and retard innovation.

Innovation requires some very real changes in how people interrelate and how business is done. And change, almost by definition, stimulates explicit routines and cultural norms that can act to block or negate the desired effects. Keep perspective – realize that change is accompanied by predictable dips in both productivity and quality. These are not antibodies; they are symptoms of people working through the change initiative.

Manage the natural tensions among creativity, focus, efficiency and value  creation.

An organization needs strength (and investments) in all of these critical areas to compete and prosper. Unbridled creativity without realistic parameters and the ability to actually translate new ideas into profits can be fun but it isn’t likely to be sustainable over time. On the other hand, achieving higher revenues without a continuing investment in innovation may prove rewarding but it will probably only work in the short-term. To manage this necessary tension, keep focussed on the dictates of smart leadership.

Recognize that innovation requires infusions of both external and internal  stimuli.

The fundamental building block of innovation is a network that includes people and knowledge both inside and outside the organization. In a word, the objective is to create a collective intelligence where sharing is encouraged and rewarded. A successful organization excels at fusing its internal resources with appropriately selected portions of the vast resources of the world’s global, knowledge-based capitalist economy. Understand the requirements of the information/innovation economy and look for trends and insights both within and outside the organization.

Create the right metrics and appropriatly reward progress.

It is a law of human nature – people react to both positive and negative stimuli. Your organization’s efforts to change and innovate are no exception to this rule. You will never achieve the level of innovation that you need to thrive in today’s competitive business world if your people do not receive the proper rewards. And remember that “one size does not fit all.” Acknowledge generational differences and customize your rewards to fit the individual.

Jim Murray
CEO, optimal solutions international
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