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You Can’t Force Innovation

Posted on October 27th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence


Innovation is often held up as a yardstick by which companies are measured. There’s a need to always be creating something new, to be regularly launching an exciting product or development and to be seen by the world as innovative.

And some companies will stop at nothing to be awarded that coveted label. Being called innovative counts.

Investment in innovation

Millions and millions of dollars are spent on innovation labs, innovation programs and innovation training. For many, innovation is the goal. It’s what they’re aiming for. It’s what will secure the future of their business, their livelihood, their legacy.

But innovative ideas often seem to come from the edges. They come from the small companies rather than the giants with well-resourced innovation spaces. They’re born from the individual worker who’s been doing her/his day job as well as an extra project on the side. Those creative sparks seem to come from spaces which are not necessarily earmarked for innovation.

Investment in innovation labs and other innovation programs is certainly helpful. In fact, it’s in those spaces that innovative ideas can be fostered, grown and developed into something tangible. But those spaces do not seem to be the source or origin of the real disruptive innovative sparks.

We can’t force it

Innovation isn’t something any of us can force to happen. We can’t tell people to spend more time on it, or hire more people to do it and expect innovation to just happen. Even the famed 20% time put in place at Google doesn’t seem to be doing its job especially well.

Innovation doesn’t work like that. Creativity (which is right at the core of innovation) doesn’t work like that.

So what can we do?

Innovation doesn’t happen simply because we throw more resources at it. Innovation happens when there’s a culture where it’s prized and celebrated. And it’s not just the “good bits” of innovation that need to be embraced. We need to celebrate all of the mess that comes with innovation too.

The reason creative sparks and innovative ideas are born in the fringes, in the small companies and in the extra project someone takes on while doing all of their “normal” work, is because people tend to feel more permission to be creative there. In those spaces, often much more than in an “innovation lab” where people are under pressure to come up with something new, people are able to try new things and fail without consequences.

The very act of trying something new, no matter what the result or outcome, should be something to celebrate if we’re looking to foster an innovative culture. It’s not enough to cheer only when people make progress on the next item on the product roadmap. It’s not enough to give praise when something “valuable” is produced. Trying something new, no matter what it is or whether anyone else gave their permission, needs to be enough of a reason to celebrate.

It’s those small steps of trying something new and being rewarded for it in some way that gradually, over time, begins to foster a culture of innovation. It’s in those steps that people learn to become innovators.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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