Keeping the organization aligned and streamlining processes to maximize profit may actually inhibit the pursuit of innovation.
You’ve seen this scenario before. An idea percolates up from the workers who are faced daily with a pain. Then someone conceives a brilliant solution. It may even exceed the immediate need. It also may be outside the range of the immediate business plan.
The proposal works its way up the chain of command. It’s analyzed, challenged, liabilities are considered… “Great idea, but we’re not in a position to act on it right now.” The worker moves on to another organization and takes the ideas with along. A competitor sees the opportunity and incorporates the innovation. I think most organizations are willing to take risk as long as it's in a form they recognize. Recognition, however, is at the heart of the problem.
Seeing What’s Next, by Clayton Christensen, Scott Anthony and Erik Roth, explores the how a relatively simple theory of innovation can predict industry change. Christensen, author of "The Innovator's Dilemma" and "The Innovator's Solution," summarizes the two previous books efficiently in the first chapter. He discusses the disruptive nature of innovation, then focuses on the bigger issues: How to prepare for and capitalize on innovation within or from external forces.
At its roots, innovation is the product of curiosity. Curiosity is not idle thought, but an essential survival skill. Watch a dog advancing along a path. It continuously seeks alternate directions by checking for different scents in a wildly non-linear pattern. The same curiosity exists in humans. Give a guy the TV remote. The issue isn't “what’s on TV.” It’s about “what else in on.” That’s why we scan every channel relentlessly. I’m not comparing a dog’s curiosity to men. But, the best route is rarely the straight line from strategy to final measurable objective.
Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, had an enlightened perspective: Innovation is essential; Curiosity is healthy; Failure is not failure if lessons are learned. In fact, at the Fortune Innovation Forum, he defined failure as a step along the way to innovation, and even offeed an annual prize for the best failure among his team.
Edison built hundreds of light bulbs that didn’t work. When he perfected his design, he started a business around it. He already knew what not to do. Failures that teach lessons are valuable steps. They are the building blocks of success.