Saturday, April 19, 2014

Can Employees Learn to Be Innovative?

Innovation is to connect the dots -the synthesizing that goes in one mind, and teamwork through collective insight. 

Innovation is the light every forward-looking organization is pursuing; however, a business’s innovation capability depends on its people, the team of talent who can transform novel ideas to achieve its commercial value. How should organizations train their staff to become more creative? And can employees learn to be innovative?

The perspective comes down to how you define innovation. What one man calls innovation, another will say it is a trivial and self-evident step. What one person calls an act of genius, another will treat as unworkable insanity. The right kind of mind is an essential feature of real innovation. Those flashes of inspiration we now see in retrospect as groundbreaking inventions or innovations were driven by people not only far-sighted but determined to make their ideas succeed. Generally speaking, innovation actions, processes, and tools can be taught to employees. But innovation essential, if you mean technical creativity, originality, insight, ingenuity, etc. can't be taught, but needs to be discovered by talent people on their own. History teaches that those gifted with ingenuity don't need stimulating - while those without it are barren ground when it comes to original thinking. If you are wired the right way you can recognize groundbreaking approaches and move ahead. It's not an ability you can impose by instruction, and no amount of examples, algorithms, lateral thinking guides or random approaches methods will beat the 'synthesizing that goes on in one mind'.

Cultivating the culture of innovation is more important than training, in order to sow innovation seeds in organizations. Ultimately, if the company doesn't have "the expectation of innovativeness" in their DNA, innovation training is all for naught. Better you create an atmosphere where staff are encouraged to offer innovative, creative and insightful proposals for new products, new initiatives in cost reductions and better. Engagement by staff is increased when they are aware that there is a way to contribute - the innovative mind is often suppressed by the culture which discourages anything other than executive decision making.

Innovation in the context of large organizations, where there is no choice but to be a team player. Businesses, especially the mature, large corporations and within that environment, innovations can range from small to game-changers. Also, it is important to note that within the organizations, innovation is rarely an individual action; rather it is a team effort, often across multiple organizational silos. The flip side is the members of a team must always go the same way, and too often this is towards orthodoxy rather than innovation. Still, in the organizations which are huge and complex, even the ultimate innovator needs to build a coalition of support to get anything done within such an environment.

Innovation training isn't as simple as yet another training program. If innovation is beyond ideas then it becomes a little trickier to train, as it involves the process, networking, empathy to others, tenacity, alliance, and drive to see innovation commercialized. All the methods and techniques in the world won't eliminate human nature: You're asking people to feel comfortable with the unknown. That takes time... those able to see further. Those able to take an ingenious path will do so given the opportunity. There are bound to be those with a latent ability who are never stimulated into proposing a 'solution' but have the ability. They come out of the woodwork at the moment you least expect.

The innovation training is also not one size fits all- it shall not apply to every employee within an organization in the same format, but there is a broad range of individuals who can benefit from learning the skills of innovation, for themselves and for the broader organization. There is likely a sliding scale of innovation, where you have the total alpha innovators, there is much talk these days of intrapreneurs-the entrepreneurs within organizations, and then those who are somewhat innovative, and innovation programs are working hard to identify, support and leverage the skills of these individuals so that they can add value. This is where a robust training program can not only give people new skills, but also make them feel engaged, increase their networks across the organization, and give them an opportunity to build the ideas that they are thinking of.

Thereof, innovation methodology, process, and tools can be taught, however, the innovation capabilities cannot be imposed by instruction or example, it is the nature of talent which should be discovered on their own, and nurtured through the teamwork and the organization’s innovativeness DNA-the culture of innovation is more critical than training, as fertilized soil to grow innovation fruit trees.


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