Innovation Mindset, Not Innovation Tools

December 31, 2007  

innovation mindset not innovation toolsTools are great. But giving people tools, without first changing their mindset is useless.

People buy more weight loss books/diets (tools) than all other books, yet people are fatter than ever. Why? Most diets do not address the psychological reasons (mindset) for eating.

The same holds true for innovation.

Do not train your employees on creativity techniques or bring in innovation software until you have addressed your underlying cultural issues (the mindset). Although there are no silver bullets for addressing the innovation mindset, here are four things you may want to try within your organization.

The first step in creating a culture of innovation is to demonstrate that you are serious about putting resources and money into exploring new ideas. During your budgeting, allocate discretionary monies for unplanned innovations. Create an internal “venture capital” fund – and use it. A large bank in England asked their employees for new ideas using an idea management system (a tool). Unfortunately the executives never implemented any of the ideas causing a massive rebellion by employees and the eventual dismantling of their innovation efforts. Leadership must show a commitment to innovation. It must not be viewed as another project. It must be treated as a way of life; a never ending mindset.

A top executive leading innovation efforts at a large technology company told me that he measures failure rates…to make sure there is enough. He said, “If we aren’t failing, we are playing it safe and are not trying new things.” We all know that failure is part of the innovation process. But failures do not need to be costly. Move to innovation by experimentation. I call it “Build It, Try It, Fix It.” Instead of an all-or-nothing innovation mindset, try lots of small experiments that can be scaled over time. Charles Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries (probably the most successful company in history) uses this approach in his Market Based Management philosophy. Be sure to read his book, “The Science of Success.” One of the principles of Market Based Management is to treat employees as though they are owners of the company. This equally means that employees need to act as though they are owners. If they believe there is a chance of failure, they have an obligation to call in for support. Hiding failures is not tolerated.

Your organization has more ideas that it can handle. Therefore, when tapping into the collective genius of your employees, move from suggestion boxes (give us your solution to everything) to a campaign-driven innovation philosophy (we want your best ideas for specific high-priority problems). Relevance is key. Solving the right problem is more important than solving irrelevant problems well. Moving to a mindset of innovation targeting will enable you to maximize the return on your investments and will help you get the most value out of your employees.

Speaking of relevance, it is critical that you tap into the needs of your customers. Imagine you are Indiana Jones. Study your customers through an anthropological lens. Understand their pain points. Remember, customers are more apt to buy if you solve their problems than if you create something new and different. Only after their pains/concerns are addressed can you sell someone a panacea. A customer mindset will help ensure that all of your innovations have a marketplace that wants/needs them.

When I work with organizations, I prefer to address the underlying cultural issues before diving into tools, techniques and methodologies. First, create an environment where there is a “pull” from the organization for new thinking. Demonstrate your commitment. When you do this, people will be hungry for tools.

Most people give up on their weight loss resolution by the end of January. On December 31st it seemed like a good idea. But the “motivation” behind it just wasn’t there. But when the mindset changes, the results change. A perpetual dieter I know was never successful in losing weight…until she was diagnosed with borderline diabetes. Then the weight came off and stayed off.

Don’t let innovation be just another “good idea.”

Happy New Year.

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2 Responses to “Innovation Mindset, Not Innovation Tools”

  1. Pawel Brodzinski on January 8th, 2008 8:53 am

    When you are small to medium organization you don’t really need tools at all. You need the atmosphere which promotes for being creative. You need people over all stages of management who spread the atmosphere through all organizational structure.

    The great exercise is to try to imagine how would creativity look like in the organization if there were no tools to support it. If it would suck it does mean the problem doesn’t lay within tools but in people’s mindset. In those situations, no matter which tools you have, creativity of the organiazation sucks anyway.

  2. Stephen Shapiro on January 8th, 2008 9:37 am

    Pawel, you are so right. Fortunately, we can change the way people think, so all hope is not lost.