One of the biggest mistakes businesses—or any organization today—make is a failure to allow time for working on the business itself. Current business practices have created a mindset that has every worker (theoretically at least) working every moment in the business on the day-to-day tasks of the activities of what the business is currently engaged in. If you think about it, even the “strategic” activities and levels of what the business is engaged in working on are about today’s organization —what the organization is, does, and how it will continue with its line of business, products, operations, and its “known” universe. The “strategic picture” that most organizations are thinking about (when they are thinking strategically at all) is how to do more of the same: maximizing their existing potential; acquiring more of what they are; acquiring more of something else that already exists (e.g., competitors, products, markets); reducing costs; and so on.

Innovation Outside the Box

In most organizations, innovation is about improving the existing product or product lines. This mindset is innovation “within the box,” constrained because most of these innovation strategies are asking for something that doesn’t change the core of what the organization is today. Organizations aren’t seeking to change the entire business or product paradigm and walk away from their past successes. They want the next great thing—as long as it fits with what they’ve been doing. For these companies, innovation is incremental improvement, or worse it becomes something to be talked about or carved on a plaque.

Innovation, to be more than a slogan, has to be a living, breathing, tangible thing that everyone in the organization understands, something that everyone can define, demonstrate, and identify in day-to-day activities and roles. Innovation is something you can point to and say, “There it is! And even more important, here is the result!” Innovation moves the organization “outside the box.”

Results Come from Efforts

In order to get results, you must have effort. Effort requires time. Time requires the organization to commit resources: people and funds. Oh, and sometimes, even though you are going to be able to point at the results and you will be able to point at innovation, the starting point and subsequent ideas require what appears to be people sitting and standing around, seemingly doing “nothing.” It’s important to remember that ideas take time: Time for thinking; time for contemplation; time for problem-solving; time to define the problem. They require time to process issues; quiet time (individually and in groups); time to brainstorm; time to meet; and time to evaluate.

Structured for Innovation

There are few organizations that truly understand what it means to be structured for innovation. Note the contradiction: structured for innovation. How do you have structure and innovation? Innovation is creativity. Structure is well, corporate, constraining, the antithesis of innovation … right? Not necessarily. Structure is direction; structure is recognition that without recognition for the need to have time to create, then corporations tend to—let’s just say it—kill innovation. Do any of these look familiar to you?

  • “Oh, that’s not in the budget.”
  • “We don’t have time for that.”
  • “Who said you could do that?”
  • “Is that in your project scope?”
  • “What line item are you charging that to?”
  • “What are you doing? Are you just sitting there thinking?”
  • “What’s that you’re drawing? You’re supposed to be working on X!”
  • “Are you part of the innovation group? Only the innovation group gets to work on that!”

Come on; you’ve been there. You’ve heard those comments. You can hear them right now, with just that little bit of “tone” in them.

Contrast that with an organization that recognizes that all its employees are charged with innovation—of business processes, of customer services, of products, of technology. It’s an organization in which employees are empowered to take time out to think about how to improve their jobs; time out to discuss product changes or potential new lines of business; time out for crazy new ideas and brainstorming; time out for innovation.

Innovation requires the ability to step back and look at the business, the competition, the market, the industry, other industries, trends, technology, and the world around you. Innovation requires the ability to stop, look, and listen. Innovation requires time to say “Hmmm … what if … what’s missing … why couldn’t we? The competition is doing X, so we could do X + Y; or we actually need to Z, PDQ.” When we get caught up in the day-to-day, we become blinded to the long term and can get left behind or spend all our time running to catch up in a competitive market that goes faster and faster. With a little time out to think, to plan, to reason, to innovate, we could make significant progress and even jump ahead of the competition. Have them be the ones running to catch up to us.

Copyright ©2008 Lea A. Strickland, F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.

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