Committing to Innovation: No Excuses: There Are Plenty of Excuses Not to Innovate, and No Good Reasons Not to. All It Takes Is Commitment, Resourcefulness, and a Willingness to Accept Discomfort

By Abram, Stephen | Information Outlook, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Committing to Innovation: No Excuses: There Are Plenty of Excuses Not to Innovate, and No Good Reasons Not to. All It Takes Is Commitment, Resourcefulness, and a Willingness to Accept Discomfort


Abram, Stephen, Information Outlook


I had the opportunity to present the luncheon speech to the Leadership and Management Division at our awesome SLA Centennial Conference in Washington, D.C. I was asked to speak on the topic of innovation, I've thought about this a lot and have come to a couple of conclusions, which I shared with the folks at the luncheon. I'll share a few thoughts here and some links, too, for your summer reading.

Mitch Ditkoff, in his blog The Heart of Innovation (www.ideachampions.com/weblogs), recently posted an item titled "The Top 10 Reasons Why Your CEO Sabotages Innovation." Here are his 10 reasons:

10. Innovation sparks dissonance and discomfort.

9. Innovation increases the amount of seeming failures.

8. Results only show up long-term.

7. More meetings.

6. CEOs conserve resources. Innovation requires more resources.

5. Innovation flies in the face of analysis.

4. The perceived absence of time.

3. Over-reliance on cost-cutting and incremental improvement.

2. Inability to enroll a committed team of champions.

1. Insufficient conviction that innovation will make a difference.

You can see these are phrased as reasons and not as excuses. When you phrase the issues as reasons, you can deal with them; when they're excuses, you can feel blue and unmotivated.

For example, when I see the reasons above, I reframe them as follows:

10. Learn to understand that discomfort comes from ambiguity and seek to resolve it rather than avoid it. Avoiding change doesn't seem to work.

9. Understand that failure is a learning experience. As a team member and individual, celebrate and learn from failures rather repeating them.

8. I'm thrilled that I'm a long-term rather than a short-term thinker. There are too few of us in the Western world!

7. Run good meetings, and only when necessary. Duh!

6. Be resourceful! It takes creativity and imagination to turn lemons into lemonade.

5. I can encourage working in teams where we are diverse in many ways and respect everyone's diversity of contribution.

4. Time is the one immutable in our lives. I am amazed at the number of people who seriously worry about time, as though they can change it. If you must worry, worry about something you can change.

3. Cutting costs and making small improvements are about management. In many ways, they create a culture of fault-finding that is negative. Innovation, on the other hand, requires leadership. Lead!

2. Enrolling champions is a process, not an event. Recognize that it takes time, trust and excitement to gain commitment. You only need a few angels, not the whole choir.

1. Commitment is a process. No one commits wholly and fully right from the start. Trust the process and bring people along. Stand back from the steps and see the whole staircase.

Committing to Innovation

My rewrites of reasons #1 and #2 emphasize the need for commitment when trying to innovate. So, what have I learned about commitment? I think Paul Williams, in his Think for A Change innovation blog (http://blog.think forachange.com), gets it right when he asserts that a commitment to innovation requires a willingness to do the following:

* View innovation as a continuous process, not a one-time act;

* Provide adequate resources--time, money, and people--to innovation initiatives;

* Tolerate ambiguity, risk and learned failures;

* Provide cover for ideas and the people who create them;

* Commit to innovation even during tough financial times;

* Create a culture of creativity, new ideas and collaboration;

* Define and share corporate problems, challenges, and opportunities:

* Define and share a growth strategy and vision of the future;

* Reward and recognize people for being creative and innovative;

* Establish metrics for innovation;

* Evaluate projects and portfolios for innovation strategy;

* Challenge the status quo;

* Champion new ideas;

* Set meaningful goals;

* Search the horizon;

* Solve problems; and

* Exceed customer expectations.

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