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Innovation is about "Getting Out of the Box"...So what?

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What do we mean by “The Box”? Is this outside or inside of us? If you think about it The Box is who we are today – made up of deep beliefs and assumptions from our life’s experiences so far. Everyone’s boxes are different and unique. We tend to associate with and hire people who have a box similar to ours: not a good practice if one wants to expand and grow. 

To help you discover your own box, here are some questions for you to think about.

  1. Where is this Box? What material is it made up of? How tall is it? How big is it to others?
  2. Who can come in your box? Who cannot?
  3. Does everyone have a box?
  4. When one is born, did the box exist? How does it get created?
  5. What is the role of parents in creating the box for their children?
  6. What is the role of a manager in crafting a box for new hires, especially new graduates?

The Box is one’s “context” or “point of view” about what is right and what is wrong. 

Most of us are happiest when we are at the center of the box. We don’t like to be pushed to the corner of the box. We get scared. What does that mean? 

The center of the box is where the left brain is most happy. It is where everyone around expects us to be in order to do “the work” assigned to us. Most of us work from the center of the box on a daily basis – routine patterns, nothing new, boring, etc. 

The best innovators are keenly self-aware of their own box and its characteristics. They also have trained themselves to go to the edge of the box on daily basis. They also “jump-out of the box” often to find new ideas, see what others don’t see, and are not fearful. They are “lost” (deeply loving what they do) when they are away from the center of the box. They in fact hate being stuck in the center of the box. Most people look at them as “different.” They become innovators because of their out of the box qualities along with an ability to navigate organizational systems and overcome deeply rooted orthodoxies. They can be considered corporate missionaries. 

Finally, the very best, the world-class innovation leaders are fully aware of their box and also the boxes of others around them. They also love to get outside the box. So what is the difference between the best and the world-class? The world-class innovators also know how to pull others outside of their respective boxes as well. 

Organizations must learn to create a pipeline of such leaders to deal with the complex and fast changing world. 

What is your organization doing to institutionalize out of the box environment and reward out of the box thinking?

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World-class innovators have figured out how to harvest the left and right brains of all employees.

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Left Brain and Right Brain can help create balance between Performance and Innovation. 

Just like every individual, every organization, business unit, and team has a left brain and right brain. Unfortunately most organizations have not developed an eco-system to allow both to co-exist visibly as a daily practice. That is akin to hiring an employee but only using 50% of their full capacity. 

What causes this to occur? 

One answer lies in the natural “S-curve” growth cycle in every business. When organizations grow large they gravitate toward process and execution, and gravitate away from their entrepreneurial roots. Focusing on execution forces them to rely on process, structure, and measurement. This ultimately creates amnesia; where they forget how they got started and how innovative they were at the early stage as a start-up. This amnesia grows into full-fledged sickness. This sickness shows up as risk-averse organizational culture focused only on short-term success and bottom line thinking as the driving force for all activities at every level. I call this culture “left-brain” centric. 

So what to do? 

Understand both brains and encourage both.

Left brain is about management, science, structure, analytics, predictability, certainty, and guarantee.  Left brain protects you from failure and keeps you in the center of “the box”. If we don’t do this work well, the organization can die quickly. We need process and financial predictability.

The problem is we overuse the left brain and don’t develop organizational right brain behavior.  Left brain helps protect organizational norms and orthodoxies (beliefs, standards). There are many examples of how corporate beliefs limit innovation.  Why didn’t Sony invent the iPhone? Why didn’t Kodak invent digital photography? 

Right brain is about leadership, art, creativity, passion, beliefs, fun, and learning through experimentation. Right brain gives you access to what is possible because it loves freedom and exploration. 

Right brain does not require planning and operates mostly in the moment. Most people are happiest when their right brain is fully engaged (hobbies, passion, family events, holidays, etc.)  

Most cultures value only left brain and most people leave their right brain at home when they enter the workplace.  Managers should learn to “tap into” the organizational right brain to help drive innovation and activate employee passion to create.  More engaged and energetic employees ultimately lead to improved revenue and profits (as evidenced by employee engagement surveys by Gallop and Hewitt). 

What are you doing to activate the right brain of your organization?

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Innovation and Talent Management

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Commitment to Innovation helps retain your top performers, attract new talent, and develop future business leaders.

Yes it is true, innovation is a powerful tool to help retain and attract the best talent. This has become a huge issue in fast growing economies such as India, Brazil, and China. Kalpana Kochar, Chief Economist of World Bank, recently said South Asia alone needs a million new jobs per month to keep up with economic growth (The Hindu, September 24, 2011). India alone created 800,000 jobs per month between 2000 and 2010; an incredible growth rate compared to “developed countries”. This is good news and bad news. In such a climate, companies experience very high flight-risk; employees are more likely to depart for better opportunities. The IT industry in India has an average attrition rate of 30%.

How do you differentiate in this market? One strategy is to create an environment of innovation and innovators. By instituting an innovation culture, organizations can learn to jump the ‘S-curves” faster – the only sustainable strategy for growth in today’s globalized world. 

HR can have a greater impact on the business and be a valued contributor to the senior leadership team by facilitating a culture of innovation.  The benefits include the following: 

  1. Improve employee engagement and retention, resulting in less hiring and re-training cost
  2. Develop leaders of new businesses lines by grooming top performers and build your leadership bench
  3. Strengthen the company image as an innovator, attracting high quality talent
  4. Ensure the company’s future by avoiding being outmaneuvered by more nimble competitors 

How are you helping to create an innovation culture at your company?

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Innovation Inspiration From Nonprofits

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7 Lessons From Innovative Nonprofit Campaigns

Nonprofit groups are experts at doing more with less, and that holds important lessons for corporate innovators. Groups such as GiveWell, and Charity: Water use innovative technologies, business models and marketing techniques to further their causes and spur supporters to action.

Innovation Inspiration From Nonprofits

  1. Think small and simple when it comes to transmitting payments.
  2. Make your site fun, and think about using gamification to boost customer interaction.
  3. Crowd-sourcing funding can be an effective way to pay for a project.
  4. Video may very well be the future of the Web. Learn how to produce it, and you will be able to reach more people more effectively.
  5. Texting isn't just a way to chat with a friend they can be used in a variety of ways within your organization
  6. Know where your money goes and how it is spent.
  7. When your firm's offering isn't all that different from your competitors, attracting top-tier influencers to leverage your brand image can make all the difference.

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