Human nature is understandably skeptical about “the new.” Bringing innovation to life, however, will require you to overcome this reflex.
Being skeptical about change is largely related to limitations put on yourself, which is highlighted in this quote from author Richard Bach:
“Argue for your limitations and they are yours.”
It’s a reminder of the hidden forces against any attempt to innovate.
Many can come up with a brilliant idea – that’s the easy part. However, far too many innovations fail in the execution of the original idea due to an inadequate strategy. Don’t let that happen. (For an alternative view on using breakthroughs to make a difference in the real world, check out Harvard’s Vijay Govindarajan’s “Executing on Innovation.”)
We have already delved into how to “Create intention and a shared vision” when it comes to innovation, and that takes getting past some “self-imposed limitations” itself. Once your team shares a common goal and feels the urgency of turning this innovation into a reality, however, the real work begins and it is time to socialize and organize resources. In doing so, you are going to “unlimit” your team’s creative problem-solving abilities, unshackling them and you from that skepticism about new ideas and projects.
The following suggestions will help guide corporate leaders as they work to get innovation projects off the ground. As you move beyond establishing your vision, look to bring ideas to life by focusing on the following socialization and organization factors.
Internal Networking and Growing Influence
It all begins when you identify the best sources of insights inside your company. Your team will have to network within the organization and bring supporters on board. You may find that there are many different people and departments that could be instrumental to your project. As author Michael D. Watkins said in his book, The First 90 Days, it is up to your team to discover, “Who is capable and who is not?” and “Who can be trusted and who cannot?”
Most organizations are filled with highly talented people that could be vital to your project’s success. Some of them may even have the excess capacity to help you at the moment. An innovation project that energizes underutilized employees, gets them excited about the company and motivates them to do their best becomes a win-win initiative.
Some employees carry more weight than others in their respective departments when it comes to power. By employing team members who have greater influence to get the word out, you expand the buzz around your project and accrue more supporters who are eager to help. Identify and target those who may be highly invested in your success. You are looking for coworkers who want to see the project succeed and are motivated for the good of the team.
When you have built up a network of people who are both excited and devoted to putting their talents to work in the name of innovation, don’t let them slip away or lose interest. Often, project leaders simply hand out assignments and then leave them alone. This is your moment. Make the most out of their involvement and really listen carefully to their ideas.
Watkins surveyed more than 1,300 senior HR executives for his book to find out which factors determine the success of a business leader. He concluded that the first three months is a strong predictor of the overall success or failure in a new job. What happens at the very beginning determines the shape of their leadership for years to come. The same lessons microcosmically apply to the start of an innovative project.
Watkins wrote that the “action imperative” is a common trap that destroys many leaders and projects:
“You feel as if you need to take action and you try too hard, too early to put your own stamp on the organization. You are too busy to learn, make bad decisions and catalyze resistance to your initiatives.”
One of the critical strategies Watkins identified during this startup phase was accelerating the learning process by listening more intently to those doing the work before you make any sudden moves. The inclination among many managers is to simply dive in and start trying to fix the things they see as wrong. That never works until you have a true lay of the land.
Develop a structural approach to soliciting candid, relevant information about the department from workers, but put the appropriate weight on their observations based on what each has to gain. Active listening and comparing accounts will give you deeper insight into a department’s capabilities, culture and office politics. Their ideas may prove to be invaluable to your success.
After you listen to them, prioritize their suggestions. To bring them on board with your innovation, “find the pain” that it addresses. Demonstrate how your innovation makes the process easier, faster or more profitable.
Accept the Unexpected
Remember, you intentionally set out on a road less traveled with this innovation project. You got over any initial skepticism about change so now it is time to find and embrace those who wish to further enhance the project and will push back against those feelings of doubt. This feedback loop should continue throughout the life of the project because a structured, productive and reproducible process is required.
Get across to all of those participating in the project that they must be committed to change, not supporting the status quo. Your idea is probably something the company has never attempted before. Therefore, it will take some measures that have not been implemented or even thought of in the past — that’s OK. Your whole team needs to embrace that and overcome their resistance to the new. Impossible just means it hasn’t been done yet.
You will come across unexpected partners in this journey — maybe people you knew, but had never worked with before. Maybe they are potential partners who you never knew existed. Surprises like these along the way can make for an exciting project as many people with different skill sets come together to move the team forward on a successful path.
Develop a Plan Aligned With the Talent and Resources You Have
The combination of dedicated talent and a great deal of hard work leads to breakthroughs in corporate innovation. This work has to start with an aligned, shared vision of what you want to make into a reality. In the next blog, we will bridge these concepts to the next phase of the innovation process: “Establish a Plan Aligned with Core Competencies and Capacities.” This next step is to take what you have learned so far and develop the strategic plan of action.
In the meantime, always remember that some of your best resources are not always what you think. You never know what kind of work you can truly do together until you try. Some of the most valuable pieces of this innovation puzzle will fall into place as you gain support from unexpected sources and collectively push back against any feelings of resistance to change.