Creating the Innovation Culture

— Leveraging Visionaries, Dissenters, and Other Useful Troublemakers in Your Organization —

Although the word innovation may be part of most current corporate mantras, the manifestation and acceptance of it for millions of workers and their organizations often seems far away. It’s also interesting to discover some in the business press who have long touted the “i” word as gospel are now, apparently, qualifying their statements. Case in point is the January 2004 cover story in the business magazine Fast Company about Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs.

Fast Company is by no means decrying innovation — it is, after all, their stock in trade. But the article presents a cautionary tale and some useful perspective on the drive to innovate your way to business success. While Steve Jobs and Apple’s computers may always stay at the far-out end of the innovation spectrum, most companies would do well simply to allow even a breath of modestly fresh air into the organizational atmosphere. If that’s the situation in your shop, Frances Horibe’s book Creating the Innovation Culture offers another way to look at the world.

Every organization needs to innovate — develop new products, services, customer experiences, delivery methods, processes, procedures, etc., etc. — to keep from rapidly dying the dinosaur death of stultifying irrelevance. But innovation is essentially incompatible with the average organizational structure, behavior, and sustenance. By definition, organizations institutionalize and standardize whatever it was that originally brought them success — and they just keep doing it. That may have worked for Henry Ford, but that approach doesn’t work any longer.

As David Carlson, an Alcatel vice president, states in the dust cover blurbs for this book, “It was George Bernard Shaw who once remarked with undeniable logic that all progress has to depend on the ‘unreasonable man’ because they are the ones who don’t adapt to the world as it is. This, of course, makes perfect sense, but only up to the point where one is faced with having to deal with the reality of it in an organization.” Aye, there’s the rub.

Creative behavior — dissent — is both the challenge and the opportunity. But how do we manage to swallow that whole cookie without choking? Horibe offers many suggestions. She recognizes that innovation is about “different ideas that challenge traditional assumptions and ways of doing business,” that being different is too often perceived as “dissent, which leads to conflict.” Dissenters are those unwelcome folks who may be seen as the “wild ducks of the organization, because they won’t fly in formation,” but who can also bring new ideas and fresh perspectives. Managers, however much they say they want to encourage these new thoughts, must have appropriate ways to deal with the delicate balance between innovation and status quo, avoiding the conflict that can paralyze forward movement.

Horibe shows how to encourage dissent (innovation), how organizations knowingly and unknowingly stifle dissent, how to recognize when healthy dissent turns into unproductive conflict, how middle managers can become brokers for opportunities in innovation and collaboration, how to coach dissenters, and how to create processes that support innovation. Not one who’s lost in the Pollyanna permafrost that denies any problems inherent in the nature of innovation, Horibe provides excellent examples, sample dialogues you can practice with your colleagues and direct reports, and end-of-chapter summaries that cut to the chase.

If you’ve been wondering how to keep a handle on your organization at the same time you’re trying to evolve it into the next phase, you’ll pick up some useful strategies in this book. Then, it’s up to you to actually do something with them.

Author: Frances Horibe
Published: Toronto: John Wiley & Sons Canada Limited ©2001

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos