Decluttering Innovation

by Drew Boyd

Decluttering InnovationPeople need time to innovate, but corporations tend to “tax” employees with time-wasting bureaucracy. As reported in The Economist, clutter is taking a toll on both morale and productivity.

“Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School studied the daily routines of more than 230 people who work on projects that require creativity. As might have been expected, she found that their ability to think creatively fell markedly if their working days were punctuated with meetings. They did far better if left to focus on their projects without interruption for a large chunk of the day, and had to collaborate with no more than one colleague.”

Endless meetings aren’t the only forms of corporate clutter. Complex organizational design forces people to waste valuable time and energy figuring out how to get things done. Emails overload, especially when employees don’t know how to use filtering techniques. Status reports dull the mind and waste energy by forcing employees to regurgitate old news

To fight through the clutter, I recommend the following:

1. Develop an Innovation Competency: Innovation is a skill, not a gift. It can be learned by anyone and applied systematic. Innovative companies treat it as just another core skill by creating a well-defined set of innovation competencies and embedding them into employee’s competency model along with other required behaviors such as ethics and leadership. A innovation method such as SIT, for example, gives an employee the ability to “innovate on demand.”

2. Drive Innovation as a Process: Defining innovation as just the NPD process is too limiting. Leaders need to sponsor cross-functional teams using systematic innovation tools that feed concepts into the NPD process. This will eliminate the “fuzzy” in the front end to create sustainable process of generating new opportunities.

3. Innovate Under the Radar: In the Harvard Business Review, Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg make a great point in their article, “The Case for Stealth Innovation.” Savvy innovators know how to operate under the radar and nurture innovation programs through complex bureaucracy. Thomas Bonoma’s classic HBR article from 1986, “Marketing Subversives,” said something similar:

“I found that under conditions of marketplace change, success depended heavily on the presence of marketing subversives in a company. Subversive marketers undermined their organizations’ structures to implement new marketing practices….And no matter what higher management had decided to allocate to various marketing projects, the subversives found ways to work around the official budget. They bootlegged the resources they needed to implement new, more appropriate marketing practices.”

The same can be said about innovation.

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Drew Boyd is co-author of “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results.” Follow him at insidetheboxinnovation.com and at @DrewBoyd/drewboyd