So the place where I work is going through some sort of "innovation phase". That's not quite the right term, but I dont know exactly what the right term would be. I'll try to explain.
So we've recently been hearing from our CIO about innovation. Apparently we are wanting to do this. What confuses me though is that I'm not even really sure what this means.
What I do know is that we get "innovation emails" from the CIO. These emails are all examples of innovation that have happened somewhere else, and often not even in IT. The last one I actually read had to do with the guy that came up with the idea of "kids stay free" at hotels?!?
So you can imagine that these emails soon became the butt of many jokes around the proverbial water cooler, and more often than not wind up getting deleted unread (if you're reading this big guy, sorry, but that's the truth).
More over, all the emails (that I've read) were all what I would call Grand Slams. They are the kind of things that massively change something big; a business, an industry, a paradigm, our lives.
Are these the things we are being asked to produce? Probably not, but then what is the message being sent by these emails? I couldn't really tell you...though I guess it doesnt really matter as not too many people read them anyways...but what a waste; all those electrons :(
In my opinion, the outcomes of those emails are not what should be studied or sought after, but the environment that allowed them to happen. Sure it's possible that occasionally someone just gets a really bright idea that revolutionizes something. It's also theoretically possible that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters will eventually write a Shakespearean play.
More often than not an environment that fostered and encouraged innovation is what allowed the innovation to happen. What type of environment is that? Glad you asked :)
- An environment free of blame and fear, and full of trust
- An environment that allows for creativity
- An environment where continuous small improvements are appreciated
- An environment that encourages people to learn, reflect, and grow
- An environment that values diversity of thought
- An environment that embraces emergence and evolution
- An environment where change is considered an opportunity, not a threat
- An environment (for software development) where more is measured than just delivery
I could probably go on, and before you know it we would all be singing koom-by-ya around a campfire and giving each other back rubs...why? Because all those things are that squishy leadership/management/organizational behavior stuff that is hard to measure and impossible to mandate, yet necessary for individuals to flourish.
Most importantly these things take time. Some executive cant just decide "We havent innovated in a while boys! Lets do that now!" It takes someone with vision and faith, and I don't mean religious faith, but the same principle applies. Belief in something that is hard (or impossible) to measure, but you just know is the right thing to do.
I'm not saying that everyone should just do what ever makes them feel good. I mean heck! There is a business to run right?! But it is possible to put mechanisms in place that revolve around certain ideals that, over time, build the kind of environment that allows for innovation.
So stop trying to innovate or be innovative (and please dont create an "innovation award"...yes we have that too >_>) and take a good look around and ask yourself what small thing can I do today that would help build an environment where people will be able to innovate tomorrow.