Innovating is difficult. Innovating in a controlled environment is more difficult. Dissatisfaction is perhaps the first requisite to develop innovation as a culture. The second is to consider innovation not as a management buzzword, but defined ideation process with important organizational characteristics that helps increase the number of choices for innovation management. Maintaining a culture of innovation in an ongoing and sustainable way requires….
I can hear some readers saying to themselves ‘but I have not got any multi layered problems’. Well have I got news for you (sorry for the plagiarism there). Most problems bar the very simplest are multi level. Asking ‘Why’ over and over again is considered to be an alternative or creative technique for investigating issues. Let us consider the following scenario from a medium sized business.
Initially there are reports that sales are not as good as forecast and so the spotlight falls on the sales force. There are cries to sack and replace salesmen but one thoughtful soul begins to ask why? The following scenario unfolds:
Not just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten ways to help your business get along in challenging times.
Knowledge is a key Innovation component. Use what you already have and try to learn from as many different sources as you can. Read things you might not normally read or do things that you might not normally do.
Many of the rules of creativity touch on judging. Build up rather than say ‘yes but’ and try to see things through the eyes of others.
Many business people only ‘see’ things that are written in documents. To get different views why not model in some way (play doh, Lego, rich pictures) or perform some sort of visualisation for which many scripts are available.
Teresa Amabile compares much of work life to running on a treadmill. People constantly try to keep up with the demands of meetings, email, interruptions, deadlines, and the never-ending need to be more productive and creative. Yet on many days they seem to make no progress at all, especially in creative endeavours.
“Many companies are running much too lean right now in terms of the number of employees,” said Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a director of research at Harvard Business School. So the treadmill speeds up, compelling time-strapped employees to do ever more with less.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- “Our business is more complicated than other businesses.”
- “Our products are regulated…must be in compliance…are more sophisticated…and so what you don’t understand is…”
- “That’s not how things are done around here. We can’t make money that way.”
- “Our technology won’t let us do that.”
- “That’s not what our customers want”
The so called experts in your organisation are likely to be the source of such comments. They are also likely to keep repeating these statements, not because they are true but because their minds are closed to other possibilities.
Your experts are unlikely to help you with innovating within your company or industry. Doctors are unlikely to revolutionise health care, teachers won’t change the way schools teach, and your financial advisor won’t be coming telling you about cheaper or simpler products in the near future.
Expert language is often a symptom of frightened leadership, usually within a mature industry or sector. The CEO who uses such language is firmly clutching onto ideas that ‘used to work’ not creating ideas that ‘will work’.
This is not all bad news because for every such CEO an opportunity is created. How many readers remember the well know Apple advertisement that boldly stated “because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”? Such crazy people are considered idiots by the experts but they often turn out to be winners in the end. Many people in the UK will remember Amazon’s entry into the marketplace and the huge losses it sustained initially. Now who’s laughing?
Crazy people are now challenging how we think about health care, legal services, accountancy, education, insurance, banking, energy, publishing and more, yet the experts remain set in their ways. Our experts derive their power having shown that their way of solving a problem works well. I love a great solution but the issue is that nobody like to challenge these experts. Over time their solutions might still be good (or not). How will we know?
Things change, and fast. It is thus reasonable to assume that our solutions will not remain valid for all time. The greater the speed of change, the more we need to check that what we are doing is still ok. So what can we do? Here are 3 things that will help but you can always goa little crazy and think of more.
- Do not hire experts from within your industry. They are likely to see things as your people do. Instead, look for people with a specific problem-solving ability. For example, if you are having issues with queuing in a bank or supermarket why not look for experts who have similar experience at Disney World?
- Engage with your newest recruits who are not set in their ways. Ask them how they see your biggest challenges.
- Use negative or reverse brainstorming. Gather a team of smart people and give them the challenge of generating ideas and strategies that would drive your business into the ground or simply beat it. This exercise should highlight previously unforeseen threats and also unforeseen opportunities.
It is widely thought that intrinsic motivation has the greatest effect on creativity and that extrinsic motivation has a detrimental effect. One wonders, is this really true?
In the workplace we find that employees fully apply their skills and expertise and devote more time and energy when they are challenged or curious. This intrinsic motivation thus has a direct effect on the creative outcomes that we are looking for. So in order to get more and better ‘creative outcomes’ we should reward teh behaviour that helps create them. Right?
Many organisations do attempt to use rewards such as money or recognition to stimulate creativity in employees. Psychologists in particular, argue that this may actually have a detrimental effect. Put simply, motivation can be thought of having two components, extrinsic and extrinsic (instead of being two separate types of motivation). They can be of differing magnitudes so that one component can dominate. Creative behaviour is stimulated by intrinsic motivation but if a large monetary reward is offered this will ‘drown out’ the intrinsic component. The effect is twofold. Firstly the wrong sort of motivation is being applied and secondly employees will begin to associate creative outcomes with extrinsic and not intrinsic motivation. Employees get the wrong idea and management do not get the creative outcomes they desire.
Think about other outcomes that depend on intrinsic motivation such as volunteering for charitable organisations. Offering significant rewards does not significantly increase output but does link output to monetary gain in the eyes of staff.
Common sense tells us that it should be possible to get the right blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation but this will depend on the type of people that we are trying to motivate and the types of jobs that they do. Research suggests that monetary rewards do actually work for employees that have routine jobs. These are typically jobs where employees have little or no personal control. A reward system acts as a sort of feedback mechanism, telling such employees that their contributions are valued and enhancing their feelings of control.
If employees are already feeling motivated and with a degree of personal control then monetary rewards may act as a distraction and cause a loss of focus. It is therefore clear that monetary reward systems do not suit everybody. We could be wasting our money!
If it matters what types of job people undertake, does it matter what sort of behaviour we are trying to stimulate? In short the answer is yes. If original, high quality ideas are rewarded, employees are more likely to come up with high quality ideas in subsequent tasks. On the other hand, if any kind of ideas is rewarded, employees tend not to engage themselves fully in the generation of further creative ideas, lowering the ‘quality’ of their creativity.
In conclusion, it seems that the effect of rewarding creativity with money or recognition is more complicated than we think. In the right conditions, creativity can be stimulated using extrinsic rewards. Yet extrinsic rewards can lower the creativity of highly motivated employees working on challenging and complex tasks e.g. employees working in research or innovation programmes.
We must be cautious when designing systems targeted at increasing organisational creativity. The reward system must be matched to the job at hand (especially the degree of complexity) and the types of people who work on those jobs, as well as the type of creativity that the organisation so desperately needs.
- yes but…
- we have no time for that
- can’t be done
- let’s be realistic
- that’s not logical
- we need more research
not my responsibility
that is a MAJOR change
the market is not ready yet
we will consider the option
that’s in our future plans
since when are you the expert ?
Entropreneurship is a term that I have invented to describe the qualities and behaviours required for the type of leader that all organisations need NOW. This is why I strongly believe that in calling it Leadership for TODAY not tomorrow. Who wants to wait for something that is going to improve the fortunes of their organisation?
So what are we talking about? Borrowing Entropy from the second law of thermodynamics we have the concept of chaos or randomness which always increases. I am not suggesting that we make our organisations become ever more chaotic. I would like to give you two ideas to think about for now.
Firstly, you may remember a science experiment at school that introduced you to Brownian motion. Particles within smoke were shown to dart around like the lottery balls on a Saturday night Lotto draw. We also know that when people are allowed to interact then ideas tend to be created, modified and come to life. By increasing the ‘organisational temperature’ we can increase the likelihood of of people interacting (rather like our smoke particles). This means more ideas (and also an improved culture).
Secondly, we cannot let chaos or ambiguity increase indefinitely, nor should we waste our time trying to control it completely. Let us use another metaphor here. Imagine we have a flammable material in a barrel with no openings in the barrel. Once ignited, the barrel will explode unless we spend more and more energy trying to contain the fire/explosion. What if we do try and contain the flammable material but leave an opening for combustible gases. We are not now expending so much energy but we have now built a rocket!!
Metaphor is the best way to express the ideas but they do translate readily into business. We do not want traditional constraints (managers) but want visionary leaders who will allow a certain degree of organised, focused and healthy chaos. The leaders will set the direction but the organisation will actually be run by those at the sharp end.