5 Surefire Ways To Kill Your Company’s Innovation

by Steven L. Blue

Innovation is difficult to come by. It is a fleeting concept that eludes most companies. In fact, the odds of a new product idea reaching full commercialization are less than four percent. And that is the best case. But, there are five surefire ways you can make certain innovation never sees the light of day at your company:

  1. Don’t make innovation a top priority and an “all-hands” job requirement. Many CEOs want innovation but only after “the real work” gets done. Here is a newsflash: if you want to survive, you better make innovation “the real work.” Make it a top priority for everyone in the company, not just the engineering department. How do you do that? By writing it into every job description. By rewarding and recognizing people who innovate. And yes, by asking people to leave if they don’t.
  2. Don’t give people the training they need to innovate. When you make everyone responsible for innovation, it can be very scary. People will be afraid they aren’t up to the job because they are “not creative.” Studies have debunked the myth that you are either born an Einstein or you’re not. The truth is, everyone can be creative if they are trained in the principles of creativity. So, your job is to train every single employee. I hired the previous chief creativity officer of the QVC Network to teach my entire workforce how to generate new and novel ideas. He rode shotgun with us for the better part of a year, and now creativity is in our DNA.
  3. Don’t give people the time to innovate. It is all well and good to expect innovation but not give people the time and space to do it. If you don’t do this, employees will default to the tasks at hand—making the doughnuts. After all, they get paid to make the doughnuts. They are comfortable making the doughnuts. Unless you give them permission to do otherwise, that is all they will do. I tell my employees I expect 20 percent of their time to be spent on innovation. And I hire extra people, so we can still get production and innovation.
  4. Don’t give people a place to innovate. I built what I call a “Google-like campus in a factory,” which is a high-tech space designed to facilitate innovation. Our employees named it the “Creation Station.” My employees are welcome to gather there whenever they want to. And they often do, collaborating across the organization in pursuit of new products and processes. Some people will tell you such a space is a waste of money—that it has no ROI. Most CEOs won’t think twice about spending a ton of money on a CNC machine because it has a ROI. So does my Creation Station. It has returned orders of magnitude in ROI with new products and improved internal processes. The difference between the Creation Station and a CNC machine is the CNC machine has a finite useful life and must be replaced. Not so with an innovation space, as it constantly renews itself. Other critics have said building such a space only gives employees the excuse to goof off there. To that I say, you have the wrong employees. So, get the right ones.
  5. Don’t take risks to innovate. Without risk, there can be no innovation. The world of innovation is murky and uncertain. You must give people your permission to fail. Otherwise, they won’t even try. I tell CEOs all the time, don’t take risks—take big risks. Little risks have puny returns. Little risks don’t motivate people to do extraordinary things. I am not telling you to take “bet the company risks.” You should never do that. Always validate risk as best you can with the information and market intelligence you can gather. And keep validating your assumptions along the way.

Bottom line: get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take the big risks and encourage your employees to do the same. What should you do if they take a risk and fail? Celebrate! Reinforce the “risk is a good thing” philosophy because that is the only way that innovation can happen. iBi

Steven L. Blue is president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and author of the new book, Metamorphosis: From Rust-Belt to High-Tech in a 21st Century World. For more information, visit www.StevenLBlue.com, www.milleringenuity.com and connect with Blue on Twitter, @StevenLBlue.