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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Innovation & Organization Renewal

Change from Within

Innovation has been democratized.  It is now like air – we all know what it is, but we don’t know what it is.  I used to like the Economist’s definition of Innovation: “fresh thinking that customers value;” however, now I think that the empirical definition is that Innovation = Idea. We now beseech everyone in or organizations to offer ideas. We want ideas from everyone, everywhere so we can find:
  • Game changers in White Space, Blue Oceans, and Black Swans
  • Market changers for current products, new products, and extensions
  • Work changers in management systems and operational processes

This explosion in Innovation is clearly aimed at growth, profits, and shareholder returns.  But is it doing anything for our organizations?  Does it make organization life better for employees and increase organization value for our customers?  I doubt it.

The malaise in our organizations today is plummeting employee engagement and stalling customer loyalty.  Yet, dozens of correlation studies say the same thing: when organizations are healthy they perform best.  Can we use Innovation to break the death spiral of organization malaise and get us onto the virtuous cycle of: employee engagement-> customer loyalty->organizational performance.  I think so.

If the Innovation revolution can be anything we want it to be, then let’s make it a lever for organization renewal.  Let’s take the natural human drive for creativity and use it to unleash the power of employee ideas for the benefit of our customers.  Let’s use Innovation to build healthy organizations to put us on the road to profits; rather than using Innovation to search for profits on the backs of our failing organizations.

How do we do this?  Simple.  We need two things:
  1. Tolerant Leaders – those who know how to listen, ask questions, and accept that failure is integral to success, and
  2. Trained Employees – those who understand their customers and know they have permission to challenge “the way we do things around here.”

Employees don’t work for their companies any more; they work for their customers.  The power of ideas is a way to strengthen this relationship.