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Trouble Innovation at Fear-based Cultures

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Command-and-control, top-down organizations have
the most trouble innovating. In particular, the fearful mindsets that review,
align, and sign off on 'decks' to be presented to Vice President-level
colleagues often edit out the insights and recommendations that have the power
to grow the business in new ways.
These well-trained, obedient keepers of the
status quo are rewarded for not taking risks and for not thinking outside of
the existing paradigm of the business.
When we are assigned fretful, career-minded
people to project teams we know that we must spend half of our time reorienting
such people. Otherwise, the innovation project will implode under such fears as
what will they think, can we give a
preview to the VP of No, or how does this effect my bonus?
Notice that all of the above thinking conveys a
myopic internally-focused view'and is contrary to where innovations tend to be
discovered, namely in the market and with real people. This mindset lacks the
exploratory and inquisitive nature required to break new ground and create new
value.
Curiosity and openness are key prerequisites for
this kind of work. A discovery process must be undertaken. Often, the output of
an innovation project cannot be imagined beforehand; the findings can only be unveiled
as the journey unfolds. Without open-minded exploration, possible solutions
will be suffocated in infancies'and not nurtured to reach their potential.
Equally critical to success, if you want to
become an innovative company, your employees will need to be doing some of the
work themselves.
You cannot outsource this type of work and expect
lasting results, just as your mountain Sherpa cannot actually walk for you and
make a movie of the adventure for you to show at home. Your team has to
experience the alchemy of change. Otherwise, they'and your organization'will
not be able to accept new thinking about the business. This point may sound
small, but it is the biggest impediment to developing and deploying innovation.
If you are in a rigid and fixed system, innovation by design is impossible.
If you want to be able to innovate on a level
deeper than cost cutting, stop with all of the small actions that seek to
present only perfection up the food chain. Practice presenting work in
different formats and in different stages of development. In other words,
innovate how presentations to those in leadership positions are conducted.
To enter this Growth Mindset means to encourage
your people to take risks, embrace possible failure, and aim for an ambitious
goal. If the whole system of your culture rewards incremental thinking and has
a bias for data, change the game. Set up the expectations of the meetings
differently. Be and signify change. Remember, if you are tasked with
innovation, you are hired to transform, not inform.
Why assign a lion to be a dog? Change, or don't
bother. As it has been said of advertising the same is true in this field:
companies get the innovation results they deserve.
 Michael Graber is the
managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic
growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit
www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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