People love talking about innovation because it generally makes life better. Yet institutions generally resist the efforts needed to generate innovations.
The Law of Inertia says that an object at rest or in motion tends to stay in that state unless acted upon. Companies spend enormous amounts of time, energy and capital to build “strategic systems” to develop effective systems for all aspects of the company – leadership, operations, finance, marketing, sales, etc. Mike Shipulski notes in the HOW and WHY of Innovation that any innovation, especially disruptive innovation, for such companies is “more difficult because it requires an admission that the way you’ve done things are no longer viable.” As a result, when things don’t work as well as they should senior management gage in incremental innovation – smaller steps to improve things. Only when the hurdle of admission is crossed, can significant innovation efforts occur.
So how do companies that are committed to keeping their industry leadership roles overcome inertia? They accept the challenge and build systems outside the normal business process to address it. Some companies hire inside Strategists whose mandate is to challenge assumptions, by listening to innovative ideas proposed by staff not wedded to existing system and explore them. If a disruptive system makes sense, a proposal is made to a group of senior leaders committed to improving situations, not just the head of that department. Other firms create events each year encouraging people to try new things (e.g., hackathons) to use the special forum to open itself to new ideas. Still others create a culture in which people are encouraged to try new things, advocate for them and discover if they work before someone shoots down the idea. For instance, companies like Google and 3M give employees free time to pursue ideas in their own (15-20%) time.
Given the challenge of Innovation Inertia, what is your company doing to harness the creativity of your employees and create, when possible, significant, even disruptive innovations. Share the system with us, so we can share with others!