How do you stifle innovation?

February 15, 2013

How do you stifle innovation?

What roadblocks has your organization put in place to ensure that innovation is stifled? That is not a rhetorical question. Whether you know it or not, you have put in place, by design or circumstance, roadblocks to innovation. Maybe your argument stems from “regulatory” requirements, cultural bias, a tight inner circle, or a host of other factors. The fact is, these roadblocks to innovation exist. The challenge is finding them and uprooting them. Here are some questions you should be asking:

Do you make it difficult for ideas to travel?

Perhaps you’re suppressing the ideas of those on the front lines. Most leaders understand, of course, the importance of learning all they can from those who develop products or serve customers. But they don’t always make it easy or worth the effort for front-line employees to innovate. Do you make it difficult for ideas to travel from the front line to the “C” suite?

Do you punish failure?

Nobody likes to fail. Failure is often necessary, though, to learn and later succeed. Great leaders allow employees some latitude to fail, coach them through it, and together learn from the mistakes. These leaders may fire someone for failing to learn, but not from making a mistake. If you humiliate coworkers in public or, worse, fire them for mistakes, it becomes clear that mistakes (taking risks) are not tolerated. The result is more status quo and less innovation. Do you punish failure, or encourage team members to learn from it?

Do you use your culture as an excuse?

“We have tried that before and it failed.”

“That’s not the way we operate.”

“Our competition does it that way, and we are better than our competition.”

“If our customers really wanted that, they would ask.”

If you find yourself trotting out these tired excuses, you are either out of step with your organizational culture, or your organizational culture is flawed. Does your culture encourage innovation or sameness?

Do you pit coworkers against each other?

Microsoft implemented a “stack ranking” system that pitted teams and entire divisions against each other. Instead of competing against their rivals, Microsoft teams competed against each other. Massive amounts of talent left the organization due to the hostile environment this competition created. The talent drain resulted in a string of less than stellar product launches, not earth-shattering innovation. Do you pit coworkers against each other, or do you encourage them to collaborate and innovate together?


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