What is inhibiting innovation in your organization? There might be many reasons, but have you considered that one of them might be you? What happens when a colleague or subordinate comes to you with a radical idea? Here are five good reasons why you are likely to reject it.
- You are smart. The more intelligent and experienced you are the more problems you can see with their idea. They suggest you create a clockwork radio. You can immediately see the problems. Programmes would halt midway, and you would have to get up, cross the room and wind up the radio. No-one is going to do that so let’s just bin this idea. “Nice idea Jane, but it is impractical and will never work.”
- You are busy. And so is everyone else in the department and the organization. Any fresh idea that needs time and effort to develop is just not going to get the resources it needs so let’s shelve it. “Nice proposal Jane, but we are just too busy to squeeze it in.”
- You are focussed on this quarter’s targets. You and most other people are working to meet short-term objectives. Jane’s idea has long-term benefits but they are a long way off and we may never see them. Will we still be in this post when the benefits come through? This reason for rejection applies at all levels but particularly in politics. “Great idea Jane but we might not be in office, and I will not be minister when this comes to pass. In the meantime, there is a lot of effort and suffering involved so let’s just park this one.”
- You are trained to husband resources, not waste them. Jane wants time and money to build a prototype to test the idea with customers. She wants IT to help build a prototype app and they have a backlog as long as your arm. Money is very tight in the organization right now so the easy decision for you to make is to kill the idea. “Really clever concept Jane but we cannot afford the resources to develop or test it.”
- You are decisive. You know that managers and leaders should be decisive and you dislike putting off decisions. You see yourself as focussed on the job in hand and purposeful, so you make a quick decision. “Cute idea Jane but the answer is no. There are just too many uncertainties.”
Trouble is, Jane stops coming to you with creative ideas. You were lucky to have her but, in the end, she quits the department to join a start-up.
What should you do instead? When someone comes to you with a crazy idea, bite your tongue, hold back on early criticism and say this magic sentence, “That sounds interesting, how could we make it work?” Then sit back and listen carefully. As Jane explains the idea in more detail you may see exciting possibilities. We could market the clockwork radio in poor countries where they do not have access to reliable electricity and are quite happy to wind up the device.
If you want to be a leader then you have to face this paradox. You need to be focussed and decisive but also open-minded and curious. There are always better ways to do things and novel ways to meet the needs of customers. Be receptive to fresh notions and ponder them. Ideas are the lifeblood of innovation. Don’t be the clot who blocks the flow of ideas in your organization.