I don’t think most leaders and organizations set out to squelch innovation. I really don’t. But there are some things leaders and organizations do that have the effect of snuffing out any flames of innovation that start to flicker. Even though we may be well-intentioned at times, we…
1. Nod and smile when people bring up ideas, but don’t do much else to make those ideas happen. Soon, folks will see through this.
2. Only listen to our favorite folks. Because we’re all humans with unique wiring, we tend to get along decently with some folks, really well with others, and not well at all with others. Just listening to folks we especially like is not only narrow-minded, but also detrimental to our teams. I’m not saying we have to get along with everyone in the organization as well as we get along with our closest friends; that’s impossible. But I am saying we need to work not to allow interpersonal dynamics to evolve into prejudice against the ideas of folks we may not especially want to grab a beer with after work.
3. Ask employees to make stuff happen, but then put so many obstacles in the way that there’s no realistic path for an idea to travel from conception to implementation. Too often, employees have ideas, pass those on to their managers, and then…nothing. And because we’ve not always been as intentional about building truly collaborative environments as we should be, ideas aren’t freely flowing throughout the organization. Consequently, organizations sometimes have idea logjams (or, if you’re slightly more irreverent, you could think of it as idea constipation). When this happens, all that employees are able to do is relay their thoughts to their managers and then cross their fingers and hope their managers are in especially good moods, or maybe a little tipsy, or maybe both. The moral of the story is this: don’t make your employees smuggle liquor into work so they can spike your Coca-Cola Classic in hopes that you being a little buzzed will make you more likely to listen to their thoughts.
4. Devote only an insignificant portion of the budget to innovation. We invest in what we care about, right?
5. Make it difficult for employees to connect with others outside the organization. (Like, say, on social media.) Ideas don’t happen in a vacuum. Most of the time, ideas are sparked by looking at something, reading something, or being in conversations with others. The more you limit people’s ability to interact with others, the more you limit their ability to innovate.
6. Settle for just our ideas. Unless you think you’re the smartest, most creative person on the planet, you need to be dissatisfied until you get input and ideas from others. And the more you consider and use only your ideas, the more others will realize that their ideas really don’t matter to you. Eventually, they’ll just stop coming up with ideas altogether, or they’ll go somewhere where their ideas are valued.
7. Don’t create space for employees to develop and share ideas. We can’t ask employees to come up with ideas but not give them time and space to do it. Maybe it needs to become part of a meeting once a month. Maybe it’s once a week. Maybe it’s a couple minutes every morning that you ask for ideas. However we do it, we need to work toward providing ample opportunity for people to toss around ideas.
So has it been a while since your team has come up with a creative solution to a team or organizational challenge? Are you frustrated because your team doesn’t ever seem to innovate? We need to regularly take a look at this sort of thing from our teammates’ perspective. We may be accidentally sabotaging our own efforts to help our teams be more innovative.