Innovation – A Precious Asset

The Smith School of Business just held it’s Annual Business Summit, a forum about the pressing topics of the time.

A thread throughout the sessions was the hodge-podge innovative change, rigorous adherence to the ‘traditional’ ways, rapid technological change, shifting global market advantage, and irrational attempts to maintain existing market conditions. This yields an unstable and confusing business environment.

Evolving are the vastly differing approaches of open source (share the code – use it & make it better) and enterprise (lock down the code – prohibit unauthorized modifications) – such as the Android and iPhone operating systems, or the Open Office and Microsoft Office application suites.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Rajshree Agarwal applied these radically different models to the ‘care and feeding’ of the innovative employee. In simple terms, innovation is finding a way to get better results for less cost.

The innovative employee is regarded as a valuable resource on one level, but organizations tend to adopt three different approaches to managing innovations: Bully; Ostrich; Empowering:

  • The Bully creates barriers and penalties around innovation – such as non-compete agreements and IP litigation for developed ideas and use of knowledge leading to the development of ideas – then pounds the trespassers;

  • The Ostrich has a laissez fare attitude about innovation until a situation develops, then it shifts to attack mode to protect the investment in the innovative product or service;

  • The Empowering approach encourages employees to come up with innovative approaches – even provides personal use of a portion of the workweek or access to company or department equipment to help development.

The unintended result for Bully and Ostrich organizations is less innovations and greater opportunistic turnover among innovative employees. Creativity is seen as not valued and a hassle, so even great ideas for innovative change or new development are not shared.

On the other hand, the Empowering approach produces innovation from simple changes to major new product/service lines, which are conceived, developed, and implemented to ‘do it better’. Google’s 20% Time has spawned G-mail, AdSense, and Google News among the Google products.

In an environment where computing power is doubling every 18 months or less, and technology is rapidly eliminating repetitive process ‘paper-moving’ tasks, innovation takes on a critical role of seeding the reinvention of operations and upgrading processes within the organization. How can the new be integrated with the old to improve the result at less cost. What can be eliminated completely and how can the newly freed time be spent for employees to master new skills and gain additional experience to help them remain a viable resource and contributor for the organization (and remain employed).

Instead of rusting-out or fighting for a piece of a shrinking pie, both the individual and the organization can morph as a viable provider of wanted/needed services and products. Creating and nurturing an atmosphere in which employees can create change which is welcomed by the organization or department is the modern version of the continuous improvement cycle and opens up the space for employees to get new experience and skills, thus remaining valuable in a changing world.

What’s not to love about ‘better for less’ while developing the next new role?

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