Do you drive?
It’s something many people take for granted. You need something at the store. You drive. Want to go to the beach or the mountains? Get in the car and go.
Fasten your seat belt, turn the key, adjust the mirrors, press the gas, now the brake, clutch and shift; turn signals, lights; observe traffic patterns, signals, and signage – and it all happens naturally, subconsciously even.
You do have to think to drive, but you don’t have to think about thinking about it – it just happens. That wasn’t always the case. When you reach driving age, you can’t just take Mom’s minivan out for a spin. There are accepted norms for learning to drive and requirements for getting a license.
What if organizations thought about driving innovation the way we think about driving cars — providing the necessary guidance, practice, and permission needed to innovate?
Instead of just hoping we get where we need to go and everything works out, what if there were an accepted method and pathway for how we put innovation into practice?
There is. Preparing to drive innovation is a lot like preparing to drive a car: An effective innovation culture requires employees to be granted a “license to innovate” that is supported by guidance, practice, and permission.
Innovation guidance doesn’t have to be a set of rigid laws or regulations akin to obeying traffic signals and speed limits.
Rather, it’s about understanding the purpose, philosophy, and process of innovation.
- Are you socializing your strategic objectives and aligning those to innovation initiatives – the problems to solve or opportunities to pursue?
- Do you have a philosophy behind your innovation program, and do your employees know what it is and how they are involved?
- Do you have fundamental methods, processes, and tools in place that employees can learn about and use?
If not, this is an important place to start when building the foundation for a culture of innovation.
Innovation practice gives your employees the opportunity to act on the guidance you’ve given them.
Just as you wouldn’t ask a novice 16-year-old to navigate an SUV through the streets of Boston at rush hour, neither would most companies engage their broader employee base to innovate new business models as a first step.
Instead, focus on the basics first, and build from there. Engaging people in ideation sessions relating to improving their own work gives them a comfortable place to start, with the bonus of benefiting from implementing the top ideas, regardless of whose they were.
Engaging in ideation or human-centered design activities regularly – even outside of what might be considered traditional ‘innovation’ topics – builds the muscle memory and confidence to achieve the desired outcome for the innovation initiatives.
Broadening and diversifying the audience creates a different level of engagement and the opportunity to surface novel ideas that might previously have stayed buried.
Innovation permission isn’t associated with a test or setting aside time in the day for this activity.
Rather, it is linked to establishing enterprise-wide beliefs that innovation, co-creation, ideation, collaboration, validation, prioritization, execution – all of the “shuns” – are mission-critical for the organization.
When you couple those beliefs with the behaviors of innovation that are honed through practice, you create an ongoing permission to innovate that will drive anticipation and excitement with employees about getting involved – just like the freedom sought by teenagers when getting their driver’s licenses.
Don’t be one of those organizations that declares itself “innovative” without the substance to back it up. Give your employees a license to innovate by providing guidance, practice, and permission that will foster these desired behaviors until they become second nature, just like how all the little activities that make up driving a car have become so effortless for you today.
Your well-equipped innovators can then help achieve the business outcomes you desire, while also fulfilling the vision of building a meaningful culture of innovation.