Friday, October 16, 2009

To make a difference, make a difference!

If you want to make a difference, you can't keep on doing the same old thing. It's easy to say "We are very innovative". In fact, it's become very fashionable for firms to say this in their marketing materials. It's a bit like "great customer service" - you would be embarrassed not to have it. But in fact it's much easier to keep doing what you're already doing, because humans are creatures of habit.

Innovation offers unlimited potential to differentiate your services from those of your competitors, to respond to the changing needs of your customers and to motivate, energize and engage your staff. But innovation doesn't just happen; leaders have to be a catalyst.

In a study reported by Harvard Business Review, researchers interviewed employees of a high-technology company; exactly the sort of organisation where you would expect ideas to flow freely. However, a climate survey had revealed that employees did not feel free to suggest ways to improve products, services and processes. Three main reasons were given: 1. Some people had experienced a hostile response from their manager when they offered an idea. 2. Some people had heard stories of people who had spoken out and were later "gone from the company". 3. Many people said it just felt risky. They didn't know if their manager would appreciate being told of a problem, or they were worried about showing their manager up in public. It was easier to fly under the radar for a quiet life.

Humans are ingenious, but humans are humans. We have to deal with the "herding" or "conformity" instinct. It's easy to stifle innovation without meaning to. Human ingenuity can easily be sabotaged by human nature. This means that managers must specifically invite ideas and actively develop a climate where people feel free to contribute suggestions.

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