“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” — Howard Aiken
This quote really rams it home for me. It goes to the number one reason innovation teams don’t achieve the kinds of success they imagine they deserve.
They fail because they’re not that good at turning good ideas into anything other than more good ideas.
Why, oh why, I wonder, do so many people in innovation roles not get this?
And how is it the whole innovation management industry managed to fixate itself on the idea that it is ideas that are important anyway?
Academics have known the inherent value of ideas is something of a mirage for some time. Warren Bennis, the scholar who established leadership as a credible academic discipline had this to say about it:
“Innovation— any new idea—by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires courageous patience.”
Unfortunately, “courageous patience” is not a quality many organisations are endowed with. Particularly not in the context of innovation programmes, which almost always have unrealistic expectations associated with them.
It is my view that those of us who design innovation systems for a living have got to get with the real programme: building system that create courageous patience, and then deliver it to the place it really matters.
That place is the operational edge of organisations, because it is there where the most important ideas happen. It’s there the customer interface is most tangible, and where small changes can have extraordinary impacts.
It is also the place the least empowered, least influential people in organisations live.
That’s because most organisations are command-and-control oriented, and in such organisations, the important people demonstrate their importance by being as far away form the edge as possible.
And where are most innovation programmes presently located? Yes, at the centre.
It is for those people at the edge we must design systems that deliver courageous patience.
Such systems aren’t about workflows, and database and processes. Those are things that support command and control and its tendency to dis-empower the edge. They’re also the bread and butter of the whole innovation management industry.
Systems that deliver courageous patience are about creating the psychological supports necessary to empower the edge, in spite of any objections from the center.
They make it possible for those the center considers the least significant to go beyond ideas, by making it OK to have repeated attempts, endless demonstrations and monotonous rehearsals whilst not getting fired in the process for not doing their “real jobs”.
Apart from a few independent consultants, is anyone really doing this kind of work right now?
Not really, and the reason is today, innovation buying decisions are made at the center, not the edge.
The times, however, are changing. Our work at Spigit is changing. Some of our major customers, even, are changing with us. It is exciting, like watching a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis.
Here’s a final quote, from British politician Tony Benn:
“It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”