Why Is Innovation Empowerment So Elusive?

by Paul Hobcraft

Why is Innovation Empowerment So Elusive?Looking across a sea of faces you feel that certain resigned feeling, that lack of empowerment, you press on, encouraged by the movement, not within the eyes but the clock. Is that the only thing ticking? You shudder.

How many times have you felt that ‘wave’ of oppression when one colleague looks nervously at his boss just sitting across from him in the same workshop or conference, hoping to gain some new, fresh glimmer of hope? None comes, just a stony, empty blank face staring straight back.

It is really sad but with all that is written about innovation, discussed, offered as leading, best or emergent practice, the majority still simply don’t get it and if they do, they often are forced to keep quiet about it. It can be depressing to witness.

Often you get that feeling the different (and latest) innovation message simply rolls over, a little like the mist rolling in off the sea on a foggy wet day, slowly clawing itself up over a wet rock to suddenly stop and hang there, waiting for something to change.

Will ‘getting it’ change for the many or does this resigned feeling wait upon the boss suddenly waking up and getting innovation, so it all suddenly changes and the innovating sunshine comes out. Empowerment needs enactment.

Why is it so?

Here’s a vital question to answer:  who is the most important person when it comes to innovation?  Many people will argue it is the person with the best idea.  Others will argue that it is the person who can make the idea a reality.  We believe the CEO or another senior executive is the most important person, since they have the ability to:

  • link innovation to strategy,
  • direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
  • accelerate good ideas to market as new products and services.

In mid-sized and large companies, CEOs and senior executives are vital to innovation success.  What’s more, these leaders want innovation to happen.

“Hope springs eternal” perhaps?

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Jeffrey Phillips and I have been working on a collaborative ‘white paper’ on this real leadership gap when it comes to innovation. We are still moving this back and forth between us but it does seem from these exchanges from our own independent experiences we have one awful yawning gap to plug before we get that ground swell of innovation empowerment. More will emerge in the weeks and months ahead to get the message of hope out.

If we cannot get this vital message out to the one person that matters for making innovation happen then we will continue to look out and see this sea of faces, who are really wanting to engage. Deep down they do know the problem but can’t seem to influence the way innovation is managed. Just simply knowing that yet they are not in the position to change it. It can’t be ‘released’ until they have been  given permission which so often seemingly falls only at the highest levels within the organization, so they wait. They wait so they can safely extract from all the environment and tools that can be easily available to make it happen, if they have this feeling of confidence and given belief and lasting support.

How can we bring “innovation into every persons life?  Jeffrey and I are trying to construct some different ways to get the message out there and make a more meaningful connection to the leaders than can ‘allow’ empowerment.

Wrapped in a belief helps me

All I know is that ‘relief’ when you come back in from that walk on the cliffs, you shudder from that damp cold and are just grateful you can feel the sunshine just beginning to clear away that mist. We need to organize the winds of innovation change at this leadership level.

We simply need to find ways to unlock and unleash that incredible latent energy waiting to come out of many organizations, locked in their yoke of innovation oppression.

Empowerment should not be so elusive, it needs to be demanded, so innovation can really change our lives and allow “great things to happen” that we can all find hidden within ourselves.

In the US, they are entering the political season again but I feel we should offer “the yes we can” one up for innovation this time as a movement of change, as it offers the pathway towards real engagement and growth, surely that is empowering for us all, leaders especially.

image credit: youngwainer.com

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

No comments

  1. Innovation is a word and is bound to be understood differently by each individual. The secret lies in the individual’s struggle between his selfless ad selfish being. Only the domination of the former aspect can help project an environment of real innovation and excellence that follows. Long texts / lectures / talks delivered hold little meanings. One’s actions on ground only can have an impact on others and not what one says or writes about!

  2. I continue to feel that the short term risks of innovation are overvalued in comparison to the long term potential gains. This culture of dividends and quarterly metrics continue to suppress innovation more so than CEO’s comprehension of the topic or employee empowerment or creativity.

  3. Innovation empowerment is so elusive because most of our leaders are afraid of change associated with innovation. They vie for stability and predictability. Only visionary leaders, mad inventors and saints are not afraid to reach out for the stars and venture into new spaces. The barrier to drive innovation is the challenge to instill trust and confidence into the organization and its leaders and radiate the conviction that ‘innovation will work out to the better’ in the end, although we all know that we still might fail.

  4. Paul:
    “Innovation,” particularly nontechnical innovation, is presented as a throw-it-against-the wall application, whereas it is in fact a plausible process capable of regulary useage by many, not a few. The stated above is not an accurate starting point and thus leads innovators along the wrong path. The correct core premise is a three-fold construct: create a reasonable thought based on surrounding reality; then act on that thought. The result of that simple process is “innovation,” not the premise for it.

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