I can’t believe I’m about to do this. Don’t tell anyone, but today I’m going to defend management. Yes, the management that, according to Clayton Christensen, is not supporting the creation of radical ideas that will change markets. The same management that, according to Teresa Amabile, is not providing a climate required for employees to be creative. That management. And I’m about to defend it…
About 10 years ago, while working for Texas Instruments, I took a business trip to Israel. There, one of the brilliant young engineers came to me and asked to speak with me in private. “I presented many great ideas to management,” he said, “but they keep shooting them down.” He was frustrated, and I can understand why in such a climate one would not want to bring up new ideas anymore.
As Teresa Amabile stated (and my doctoral research supported), for employees to be creative, management has to provide a conducive climate. One of the most important factors is the autonomy that the company provides to its employees. The willingness to try new things and fail without adverse consequences is part of it.
However, why will management give you that autonomy? The only circumstances in which you should get this autonomy is if management trusts you. How much autonomy would you give your child to try things, especially risky things? Depending on how much you trust them. It is easy to blame management for not trusting you enough to give you the autonomy you need, but why should they?
Let’s assume, though, that they do. If management trusts you, they will give you the autonomy you need. They will share with you the “big picture” and allow you to try things, fail, learn from them, and then try again.
In this environment, you will get the intrinsic motivation you need to be creative. You will increase the fluency, elaboration, originality, and flexibility of your creativity. In other words, you will have more and better ideas.
And once you found that great idea, the trust that management has put in you will translate into the allocation of resources required to turn your ideas into new, innovative products, services, processes, or business models. And as prior research showed, innovative companies gain 3 times the market share, 6 times the revenue, and 3 times the profitability of the average company. Your company’s financial performance will significantly improve.
And what do you think this will cause? An increase in the trust that management has in you. And that increase in trust will cause them to give you more autonomy, and allocate more resources to implement the best of your ideas.
But what if you do not provide creative ideas that result in innovation? You will have little to no impact on improving the company’s financial performance, so why do you expect management to trust you with more autonomy and implementation resources?
It’s a vicious cycle, but there is a way to break it. I asked that engineer in Israel “what did you do when management shot your ideas down?” “Nothing…” he said, looking at me puzzled, “what could I do?” Sometimes you need to beg, borrow, and steal resources to get your ideas out to the market, despite lack of management support. You refuse to take “no” for an answer. You don’t stop with a great idea–you provide a bullet-proof (or as close to is as possible) business plan that shows how this will increase the company’s financial performance. And then, again, you beg, borrow, and steal resources. It’s a risk, but it pays off. If you are successful–this cycle will make it easier the next time around. If you are not–well, there are always other companies…
image credit: wsimag.com
Dr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, a creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and their employees. For his Ph.D. he studied why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. He also holds an MBA and LLB. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and technology commercialization; and is also a speaker and author on predicting the technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption.