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Live from FEI 2013: Colin Nelson on Creating a Culture for Sustainable Innovation

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Author's intro: After Colin Nelson's fun talk last year on developing open innovation, people are excited to hear his ideas about creating a culture for sustainable innovation.

It is no surprise that innovation can come from anywhere and that, to get it, people need to be empowered to share ideas and insights, collaborate, and elicit their hidden knowledge.  But, even though companies have supposedly jumped on the innovation bandwagon, many of them discover that the desire to innovate does not guarantee high participation or quality.  What companies need is a sustainable culture of enterprise innovation.

What does a sustainable program look like?
-Engagement -- Do people like to get involved and stay involved?
-Innovation -- Over time, do we end up creating more high-quality innovations?
-Value -- In the long term, are our developments highly valuable?  Do we create value?

The problem is, there are many threats to sustainability in the corporate sector:
-Organization lacks belief in value of innovation program
-Organization is too interested in short-term returns -- it is hard to keep people engaged on that long journey
-A lack of quick successes and feedback

In order to solve these problems, we need to backtrack and go to the bedrock of enterprise innovation and ask some key questions:

Which behaviors do we want to see?
-People share ideas and insights when asked
-People to help build on others' ideas (in particular, they engage in giving)
-People share because they trust the organization

When do we want to see those behaviors?
-When people are inspired
-When people have something to add/test
-When people can stop mistakes from occurring
-When people can make connections between disparate people/constructs

But, if it is that simple to lay out, then why is it so difficult to generate enterprise innovation?

As Colin pointed out, there is a secret checklist that people engage before deciding to get involved, and a quick look at it shows why people do not get involved in their company's innovation efforts...

The "Secret Checklist"
-Is it a good use of my time?
-Am I allowed to do this and spend a little time away from the day job?
-How would my manager feel?
-Will my contributions be taken seriously?
-Will my ideas be considered effectively?
-Will I have to wait years to hear if anything has happened?

Thus, if a company wants to get people involved in innovation endeavors, it needs to address each of the concerns on the checklist and instill the following beliefs:

Addressing the "Secret Checklist"
-If I do this, it could help someone
-I know that the company supports my spending time on this
-My manager understands the value of sharing ideas
-I can see from the participation of others that this is being taken seriously
-I can see process for reviewing my idea
-There's a realistic timeline and I know when I'll hear about next steps

From there, spread awareness of the company's current innovation challenges, overcome cynicism by publicizing small wins, and harness the passion of the people who are excited to be involved.

Get innovating!

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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