The 3 Principles of Innovation
You need to keep your eyes open when you work with bureaucratic organizations. When something works, you make a note of it, and gradually you discover the principles behind the success.
My task has always been to make innovation happen within a top-down managerial framework. It can actually happen, I’ve found. And whenever it has, three things were always present:
1. The big idea – Innovation doesn’t happen on its own. You need a defined purpose that creates a vision in people. That thing has to connect to something inside of everyone, so they get excited about it. Once people get focus on something bigger than themselves, the excitement starts, and people are willing to take risks.
2. Agile innovation at the edge – Few things are harder than being disruptive at the core of one’s business. It’s like drilling into the hardest bedrock. You need to go to the edge. It might be a geographic edge – a new approach in your farthest-flung office – or a product area that’s not central to the business. If the investment in the area isn’t heavy, you can use it like a sandbox, and model the process of trying ideas, testing them, modifying, and re-testing. The people at the core won’t get bent out of shape if you play around at the edge.
3. Positive deviance – If anything is harder than being disruptive at the core, it’s imposing significant change from the outside of an organization. Instead of insisting that everyone adopt your prescription for success, a better way is to introduce a different – “deviant” – practice somewhere inside the organization. If it works, you’ve got a model for people to look at, be inspired by, and spread the word about. This idea was famously formulated by Jerry Sternin, and it applies to organizational behavior just as it applies to villages in Vietnam. Once you’ve created your success story, others will want to replicate that success.
There are many things that go into successful innovation, but these three are always present. If they’re not part of your organization, you’ll need to start applying them.