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Innovation is not a Game for Juniors

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I am often asked to give corporate innovation training workshops. I always request that the senior executives attend but sometimes when I arrive I find a class full of keen young troops and a sprinkling of middle managers. The youngsters are eager, intelligent and motivated. They readily absorb the ideas and the methods. In the interactive modules they generate and select great ideas for the company. These regularly include new products, services, processes, working methods and marketing initiatives. We select and present the best ideas at the end of the workshop. However, when I follow up in say two months’ time and ask which of the great ideas are implemented or underway the answer is muted. Despite the assurances given before and immediately after the workshop something has derailed the good intentions. The problem is ‘business as usual.’ Once the keen young executives return to their desks they become immediately re-immersed in their day jobs. They do not have the time, budget or authority to implement the great innovations that they conceived and planned. Their supervisors tell them to focus on their objectives and meet this quarter’s numbers.

The trouble does not lie with the delegates. It lies with the senior team. They want more innovation so they spend money on training their younger staff in how to do it. But innovation is not a game for juniors. It requires senior level commitment and involvement. People at the C level in the organization need to agree the objectives, attend the course, commit the resources and help drive the implementation.

My message to business leaders is stark. There is no point in committing resources to idea generation – whether in suggestions schemes, brainstorms or innovation training – unless you are prepared to commit significantly more resources for the implementation of the best ideas. Otherwise you run the risk of disillusionment among the staff who came up with the ideas. They will ask, ‘What is the point of spending time generating and evaluating ideas if nothing gets implemented.’

Paul Sloane

3 thoughts on “Innovation is not a Game for Juniors

  1. Exactly! How can you expect to alter creative behaviour in the environment without demonstrably innovative, “fail-safe”, leadership? That said, how many leaders have the nerve to risk failure in front on employees? The power dynamics are nightmarish.

  2. Thanks Paul, happy to read your articles and stay connected since January 2005 when we first met in Dublin at SITA kick-off. My take on this is that there should be a parallel Change Management initiative going on, the innovation session to be tied to a specific issue that the Org is facing. E-Levels would be engaged, will give their buy in and sponsor the initiative if their wins are aligned to it!

  3. I think representatives from ALL levels of an organization should, TOGETHER, attend innovation training workshops BUT let junior members be FIRST to strike up ideas at the workshops. I say “first” so that juniors are not felt constrained, intimidated or judged by their senior colleagues who are present and in fact can be showcased for their enthusiasm, wit and willingness to seek new dots that can be connected by others. So … I think innovation IS a game for juniors especially when seniors are present.

    PS
    I have a theory that to effectively implement innovation one needs to “think LIKE a box”. That is, thinking INSIDE the box or OUTSIDE the box is fine for dealing with ideas, but to apply those ideas you need to both join them and apply them in new ways to seek innovative solutions (the box surfaces). Just thinking ..

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