Innovation and Change are Two Sides of the Same Coin
When leaders talk about innovation excitement fills the room. Shift the topic to implementing change and a pall of gloom appears, along with the whining that tends to come with negativity. Of course, you can’t have one without the other. There is an old adage that everyone wants to progress but nobody wants to change, which perfectly describes the challenge inherent to innovation.
Innovation, especially the variety that is disruptive, is attractive to executives regardless of industry. Having worked with several companies that wanted to create a “culture of innovation” among their team or entire organization, it’s easy to see why they want it. It fuels competitive advantage and Boards of Directors seem particularly enamored with the idea of late.
If you want to have that culture of innovation, the kind that allows new and powerful ideas to thrive throughout your business, then two things are vital to remember.
1. Most innovations aren’t in the category of major breakthroughs; they are often incremental in nature. A process improvement here, a product enhancement there, or new ways to deliver a service are some of the most common. They all matter and they all add up like compounding interest. It’s sometimes referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.”
2. Most innovations aren’t born in a conference room. They occur with those closest to the work. On one of the engagements I mentioned earlier, a call center technician came up with the process for how they could eliminate blind transfers (my most hated service experience). So if you want to cash in on those innovations, you’ll need to establish standards that support this kind of work. That includes standards for the kind of mistakes that aren’t just tolerated, but encouraged, as well as those that are not acceptable.
Innovation and change both require a leader to define expectations and create an environment that enables people to experiment a little; to make decisions that influence the work they do. Ultimately, that’s what the leaders who excel at fostering innovation do best.
If you want to read more on this topic, check out my article and research for Forbes from a few years ago titled, “Don’t Innovate. Create a Culture of Innovation.”
A Slice of Life Balance
When I learned to snow ski during my mid-20s (I was late to the party having spent most of my childhood in Florida), I remember an instructor telling me, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying”. Derivatives of that quotation related to failure are attributed to dozens of people over the last 40 years. It’s comforting to know and it rings true, but it doesn’t make the fall hurt less.
We all fail. Sometimes the failure is in grand and embarrassing fashion, and other times it’s on a smaller scale. I’ve had plenty of both. The best in any field deal with setbacks, and when you study how they do it, there are remarkable similarities in their approach. Some (though clearly not all) of the approaches include:
- Accepting the failure and taking responsibility
- Extracting the learning by identifying what to do better next time
- Creating distance and immersing your thoughts and actions on another topic or activity
- Seeking assistance to improve for the next time
How well have you bounced back from your defeats? What enables you to come back stronger the next time? I’ve written about the importance of this for Harvard Business Review, in my article “Get Ready to Fail.” Whether you are currently dealing with a disappointment or want to prepare for the inevitable, the approach is very pragmatic. And above all, make sure you get your sleep. In most cases, a setback isn’t nearly as catastrophic when you are rested as it is when you are exhausted.
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