Innovation in 5: Who owns it?

‘The buck stops here.’   Sign on President Harry Truman’s desk

Let’s not quibble. Innovation is leaders’ responsibility.

It can’t be outsourced, committee-ed or hived off to an underling or an outpost and be still be expected to produce meaningful results.

That’s not to say people can’t be innovative in their own patch, quietly achieving without seeking the boss’ permission.

Many good managers create a safe place for staff to problem-solve as part of their day job. It’s fun and rewarding to find a better way to do things.

But that sells innovation short. Continuous improvement alone won’t change the game.

That’s not the sort of higher-level thinking and debate boards and shareholders now expect of management teams. It certainly won’t deliver a business model or culture robust enough for a volatile, highly networked world.

The process of innovation, of testing and turning ideas into outcomes, has moved from backroom to centre stage.

That has many management teams flummoxed because innovation, at its core, runs counter to business as usual.

It involves a massive culture shift. It’s more work. It’s upheaval. It’s people saying they don’t like things or admitting they’ve failed.

Like any serious strategic endeavour, it needs a well-developed process and adequate funding to produce results.

It requires leaders to communicate a clear, consistent vision, including permission to question, to fail, to seek out the cynics and weirdos.

It demands a leadership team’s alignment and total commitment. It needs constant reinforcement, including the occasional mea culpa.

Without it, as history has shown, any innovation effort will wither and die.

This is #3 in a series of quick-reference posts on innovation basics.

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