Nurturing Innovation

by Tomislav Buljubasic

Nurturing InnovationSetting the preconditions for great results

Have you heard a friend or colleague making fun of his/her superiors because they are doing something “stupid”? On the question “why don’t you suggest a solution?” you get an answer “they wouldn’t listen” or “they don’t care for my thoughts” or “let them do what they want!”

This barrier between employees and the firm – let’s call it “learned helplessness” – is the characteristic of organizations where employees quickly learn that there is no need for creative thinking or the exchange of ideas. This a great example of culture that must be changed.

It is easy to see that there is no place for “bottom-up” ideas in such environments. In fact, ideas just don’t have a fertile ground for realization: “This already exists” / “We were this way for years” “Why should we change it?” / “This will not the way it works in the real world!” / “We don’t have time for this!” … there are many excuses that maintain the status quo.

Some reasons why an innovator faces a wall in her corporation are often political (replacing someone who is incompetent), fear of change, envy (“these are not my ideas, why should I support it?”) or simply laziness (“why learn new technologies when things could be done in an old way”?)

Change is inevitable, but it comes in steps. After identifying existing barriers, the process of establishing innovation culture in the organization should be started and it will be the essential factor for spurring creativity in any organization. It is created by building an innovation process that includes the idea generation process and the measuring of innovation activities, with the support of the leadership of the organization. The task of creating an innovative culture includes the unleashing of creativity of colleagues which will secure the future of the company.

For a start, goals must be defined (short and long-term), leaders must be assigned, measures provided, and of course budgets must be made available. New innovation strategies should be well advertised inside the organization, and the best way is by promoting success stories (realized ideas). Anyone in the organization should know about the idea submission process, as well as the rewards that are provided. He or she must also be able to see the status of an idea that is submitted.
In the past, ideas were collected using the suggestion box, but today ideas are collected through efficient webbased tools which support not only the idea gathering process but also the participation of individuals in the entire innovation process.

Trust: the fuel of creativity

One of the most important factors in fueling creativity in an organization is trust. If employees don’t trust their company, they will not innovate by sharing their ideas. Environment influences creativity which is the zero starting point of the innovation process, with the individual as the starting point of every idea.

Creativity is by definition the ability to create new ideas, but ideas as a result of creativity must have economic value to be treated as an ‘innovation’. On its own an idea may or may not be an “innovation”.
It can be said that innovation links directly to creativity, but creativity is only the start of the long journey that an idea must go through to become a product. We may or may not have not creativity in our work, but innovation will only come as part of a defined process.

People are naturally creative, but companies often are not and are usually more likely to suppress creativity. Individuals who have the ability to create will not be able to express innovation in those organizations that do not encourage creativity.

The key to success is in the creation of models that describe the innovation process, and allow for the occurrence of failure – which is very common in projects. Indeed, the story of innovation is a story of failure, because only a fraction of ideas are ever realized.

The biggest risk is in not innovating. Namely, if the company does not have innovation, it allows the competition to shape the future by creating a market that is no longer interested in the old product. Therefore it can be said that the challenges associated with innovations are great, but the risks of non-innovating are much higher.

Celebrating innovation is critical. It is usual for companies proud of their latest innovations to promote them commercially, but it is equally important to celebrate the successes internally. After the realization of an idea, persons who were the innovators should be recognized.

An innovation culture can be achieved only if innovation is highly valued within the company; it has to be a way of life and as such be present in all corners of the company. When innovation is the responsibility of every employee, we can talk about an ‘innovative company’ that bases its development on the creativity of its most valuable resource, its people.

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Tomislav BuljubasicTomislav Buljubasic is innovation manager and writer interested in creativity and innovation process. He runs Follow @buljubasict

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