Innovation cannot be a hollow mantra, called upon only when leaders are trying to force change.
In early December 2006, Chuck Frey posed this question to InnovationTools readers:
"What is the most important lesson you learned regarding innovation during 2006?" This reply came from Darlene Waldmiller:
In order for an Innovation program to work in any company, the innovation process must be a ubiquitous tool for all levels and all facets of the company, from the company maintenance worker to the CEO. No one can be excluded and no one is exempt. Everyone must try to contribute, to think in newly developed ways to incubate creative processes.
This is how any company will continue to foster growth and a climate of interdependence. It can never be us vs. them, whether the "us" is hourly manufacturing workers and the "them" is salaried marketing exempts, or the "us" is the company and the "them" is the competition. We are interconnected and must innovate systematically, utilizing all the parts and making a new engine together. Don't bash the competition, take what is working for them and build on it. Don't brush off an hourly worker's idea as a complaint about working conditions. Take the idea and polish and make it something really worthwhile.
Do this together by really listening without judgment. The social interaction and value free considerations are what will really drive your Innovation process to become the force driving your company.
I love Darlene's idea of "listening without judgment." I notice how often people react rather than really listen. They sort information quickly into known categories rather than notice or explore what's different. They see threats that do not exist, instead of exploring possibilities. I call this the "USA Today" syndrome - people scan for headlines and feel they know what's happening. Compare that experience to reading a book - digging into an idea deeply enough that it gets a chance to be fully developed, where we reach some new information and wonder whether it rings true, where it might apply, how it might help us explore new territory. When we give ourselves the chance to really explore an idea and allow ourselves to be confused for a few moments, all of a sudden, new possibilities emerge.
To generate more innovative ideas, judgement must be temporarily suspended. In the process, we become better innovators, better leaders, better salespeople and just a heck of a lot more fun to be around.
Happy New Year!