Four easy ways to kill innovation

Just imagine you set out to destroy any glimmer of innovation in your company. What would you do?

  1. Set your sights low. People don’t really care about big ideas and ideals. Stick to short-term results. Keep people’s heads down and out of the clouds. Focus on the what and how, not the why. Be practical. Think heads, not hearts.
  2. Treat people like cogs. Don’t waste money on perks that make employees feel entitled. Institute a zero tolerance policy against any aspect of life outside of work. Make sure people know they’re replaceable.
  3. Discourage collaboration. Conflict and silos between departments are natural and inevitable. Cross-pollination is for the bees anyway. The best ideas claw their way up from long, dark, narrow niches.
  4. Emphasize problems. Problems are inherently negative and serve only to be removed or managed. Trying to see opportunities in the unexpected or pivot threats into advantage risks disrupting the status quo.

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

I recently had the privilege of touring the facility of an exceptionally cool company doing extraordinarily awesome things. I came away from the experience feeling confident they set the bar when it comes to creating and nourishing an innovative climate. The physical and, by extension, psychological environment, seemed carefully crafted to cultivate a place where creativity and innovation could flourish.

Let’s flip the coin:

  1. Chase something big. The employees we spoke with brimmed with energy at being a part of something bigger than themselves. An enthusiasm, they reported, that hadn’t faded as the years passed, because the day-to-day focus stayed on their audacious vision for the future, even while they advanced incrementally toward realizing it. Peppered throughout the physical environment were signs and symbols that serve to subtly remind people of not just the why but the how of their work: the value of curiosity, the importance of wonder, the joy to be taken in toiling toward a purpose.
  2. Value the human. Some perks that appear to make the workplace fun and interesting are ultimately bells without clappers, which people become inured to quickly. But certain perks truly allow people to balance their work with the rest of their lives in a way that frees them to be present at work and makes them feel valued. If you want to be an innovator, having and developing the best talent is paramount – and they want to work where they can succeed and grow without getting squeezed dry or burned out.
  3. Create connections. Our guide didn’t just effervesce about the work and the company. Her responses to our questions revealed how important the collective team was to her enjoyment of and commitment to the organization. The relationships people have at work, across levels and between departments, not only create emotional ties to the organization that decrease turnover and keep top talent engaged, they also create countless small “reactors” in which ideas collide to create new and more valuable ideas.
  4. Seek solutions. While talking with our guide, one person in our group asked how they handle a particular technical problem. Her reply was, “That creates an interesting opportunity to think creatively.” This response shows appreciation for the fact that when we’re presented with a problem, we’re also presented with an opportunity. This mindset encourages the kind of thinking and persistence that innovation demands.

What I found so striking about about my experience within a company whose innovation game was on point, was how qualitatively different it felt compared to the average workplace. If they’re standout for flipping innovation killers on their heads…what does that suggest for the rest of us? Are we inadvertently feeding them?

While many organizations don’t need to lean quite so vigorously into innovation as this exemplar, in this day and age where disruption has become the norm, we could all stand to embrace these four principles to ensure our organizations are forward-looking and agile. How does your organization stack up?