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Defining, Accepting and Training “Innovation,” Part Two

If there were a key for ideas…maybe we would listen better.

“We talk about innovation constantly, but step outside the chain of command and you get your hand slapped with the reminder that ‘You can’t understand the politics involved.’ The key to innovation is really believing that everyone has a worthwhile perspective — not saying it, but meaning it.”

The quote from a member of Gov Loop, begins my second part of Defining, Accepting and Training “Innovation.” I agree with the quote above in it seems we give the idea–especially the part about allowing others to be innovative–lip service. Is it self-preservation or simply being careful or being cautious about change? One thing about innovation: it doesn’t occur with “careful,” and ”cautious” people tend not to innovate very often. It takes a lot of nerve and risk to innovate.

Anyway, here’s more on this topic, whether you call it change in the workplace or innovation.

Can we teach others to be innovative? Is that what we really need? Here’s one view:

“If you’re looking to teach people to ‘be innovative,’ odds are you will be sorely disappointed in the end. This is not intended as a slight. I believe we are all creative, yet innovation is a type of creativity that comes naturally to people willing to challenge the status quo, defy the odds, experiment, improvise and to take risks. Can people be taught these talents? Sure, yet for those who don’t gravitate to these talents naturally, they will revert to old ways, and you’ll be back at square one.

Perhaps a better target for innovation is not towards teaching people to “be innovative,” but instead teach leaders to create organizations with safe environments for experimentation, risk-taking, and exploring alternatives, and attracting people with these natural talents. Adding support for innovation as a performance appraisal evaluation area for key leaders helps.”

The biggest problem anywhere with innovation and creativity is getting the status quo to give it a chance. Too often we find people are protecting fiefdoms and there is resistance to doing anything different. Innovation comes with a price, not a reward unless “speaking off topic” is welcomed. I find it mouthed at the top. Offered innovative ideas. Not high enough in rank or in the in-crowd. Ignored. Committee setup so it could come up with the same ideas and get credit. Look how creative we’re being as an organization.

Some of the best ideas come from right here, where freedom reigns supreme.

Sometimes the achieving innovation is as simple as saying, “Here’s what needs to be accomplished. I don’t care how you do it, but let me know when you have some ideas.”

My daughter, Allie (picture to the right), hasn’t lost her nerve yet. She’s blessed with creativity, but she may be politically incorrect at times. Is that wrong? My son, Aidan (bottom right), decided on a costume no one would know who it was; it was enough he knew it was an important statement.

That’s the freedom to operate and use your brain. Identify those folks who have initiative and let them fly. There will be some who sit at their desks and do nothing. If showing initiative is a required part of their job descriptions, things can change. Reward and encourage demonstrations of leadership and innovation. I do agree they need a safe environment to operate in. Without that…

For some who need to find the “safe” environment to express themselves may turn to outside the office to demonstrate leadership and innovation. When the primary job becomes secondary and the freedom to express yourself outside the office makes you more happy. Quitting or retirement is often the consequence in any job.

Although each organization is different, higher headquarters wants to control rather than bond with regional offices, or lower divisions or departments–so afraid are they that something may happen that is unexpected. Unfortunately, true innovation is unexpected. Just as I think due credit should be given for training as a plus factor on evaluations, so should creativity and innovation.

Management may not say it: If you can’t measure results and take credit for it, let’s wait until we find something that works that way, but actions speak louder than words. Another way seems to be to have a blog, which for all purposes is supervised and hardly anonymous. Who will risk their jobs for an opinion they wish to express–no matter how good it is? Meanwhile, the appearance is that we innovative and soliciting feedback. The last two items are in the category of “saying it, not meaning it.”

I don’t mean have a contest to save the government money. Only people with time on their hands bother.

Except for those appointed by the Administration, the government doesn’t really promote on merit–certainly not across the board; it promotes by job series in a system manipulated by those at the top that discourages deviation from the norm. I have been told not to give some project to an employee who worked for me because it would give them a reason to ask for or earn a promotion. That kind of control stifles creativity and desire, and destroys morale as well. As long as we have a system that allows that kind of behavior rather than reward individuals, in spite of “unhelpful” supervisors for whatever reason, we’re stuck in mediocrity in some circles. That may be true of any very large organization, but I think it is a leadership training problem as well as a character one in some circumstances.

One Gov Loop member said “I believe that innovation is the real world game for survival. But let’s not get stress out by trying to teach innovation. In today’s society everything around us keeps changing by the minute, especially technology, and when we can’t keep up we get stress and the 3-4 cups of caffeine each day can no longer keep you going any more.”

This is so true.

Who does the training? Most definitely a third party. It has been my experience that the offices I have worked for are afraid of innovation unless its pre-approved. A contractor will take the chance. Outside businesses face survival issues everyday, and without innovation many close their doors. Innovation means change, but a lot of other factors make it work. Environment, acceptance, leadership.

Ed Bernacke, who works outside the United States in Australia and Canada mostly, has done this and gives his recommendations:

“Stop using the term ‘innovation’ and focus on the idea of creating a capacity to innovate. There is too much jargon and baggage linked to the concept of innovation (e.g., it is about technology and it takes risks).

“Focus on what people do everyday – they solve problems, create new initiatives, make decisions and deal with change. As such, focus on the skills for doing this more effectively.

“Consider people development from two perspectives:

Skills — I wrote a guide on the innovative thinking to help launch a national public sector innovative thinking skills program in Singapore that was designed to build the capacity of the public sector to innovate. At the time, you could take 2-3 day training programs in the perspectives, tools and techniques of each of these skill areas:

  • Generating new insights and ideas – using tools and processes to create new ideas
  • Developing these ideas – expanding the idea into a full opportunity
  • Judging (or evaluating) ideas – using tools to know when an idea is ready for action
  • Communicating ideas – getting buy-in and support
  • Turning ideas into actions – defining implementation strategies and tactics
  • Team collaboration – how to work together more effectively

Cognitive style — Do all people think alike? No. Do we manage our organizations ‘as if’ all people think alike? I suggest we do. Many groups use MBTI or Kirton Adaption-Innovation assessments to prompt a more sophisticated understanding to recognize that people with different thinking style will generate different types of ideas. Our goal is to learn how to collaborate with people who do not think like us. It is also about seeing the differences in the way people think as a form of expertise.”

The goal is not to tolerate these differences – it is harness them and use them. As such, someone who is more adaptive and structured should be focused on finding solutions to a problem that needs to be fixed or improved. An idea to do it better may solve the problem. In other cases, you may find a new, different and innovative idea to solve the problem. This takes someone who is more innovative in their style of thinking. The best idea is whatever solves the problem best.

I suggest this is a pretty good place to start. You want some effort to go into the equivalent of a public sector “R&D” team to look at new service models and concepts. You want also want all staff to engage shaping a more innovative department.

If you want a two page overview of the skills model email Ed Bernacki at [email protected]. Also you can download a very good guide and overview of public sector innovation from the Australia federal government ‘innovation’ department – See “Empowering Change.”

So, that’s it. I hope I presented a perspective of definitions, acceptance or lack of acceptance. While I have retired from my Federal government job, I come away with having learned much, and I’m not done yet. I started early with the military and made the shift to Federal civil service later. In between I was my own boss and worked as a consultant and trainer. In my “spare” time I was something of an actor–at times even getting paid for it. I now put that experience all together in my company, which has been in operation somewhat part-time because of my full-time obligation.

I hold myself responsible for the above comments and opinions, especially my own. Please comment as you will, suggest, encourage, and feel free to disagree. I am available for consultation, public speaking engagements, training development, training presentation, coaching, and more. Please check out my Acting and Training Smarts’ website. It’s not about acting at all or it is everything about acting, depending on how you look at it. The page on services and fees is still under construction, but I am happy to discuss any proposition. Happy training.

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