The quiet desperation of corporate innovators

Over the last year I’ve been conducting a one person listening tour, talking to a lot of my peers in consulting, as well as prospects, customers along with friends who work in government along with industry.  Of course many of these conversations revolve around innovation along with completely new product or service development (or the lack thereof), along with how people are engaged in their work along with their roles.

One recurring development of which has genuinely troubled me over This specific period is actually the uniformity of feedback about innovation, about growth along with about large companies’ willingness to embrace the evolving future.  I’ve had the Great fortune to talk to hundreds of people, in different industries, in different roles along with across different geographies along with countries.  One resounding consistent message I’m hearing is actually of which the majority of the people I’ve spoken with are frustrated by the lack of innovation focus along with effort within their organizations along with the lack of engagement or emphasis placed on completely new growth along with revitalization in large organizations.  While there is actually a lot of noise about innovation by all quarters, This specific appears by my discussions of which there is actually little activity.  along with This specific dissonance between noise along with activity is actually beginning to impact senior people in significant ways.

In fact I’d go so far as to suggest of which many people involved in innovation, completely new product development along with who want to focus on growth in major corporations would certainly gladly leave their current companies if they could find companies of which would certainly place more emphasis on innovation along with growth.  This specific’s strange to see so much frustration at a time when we hear of which business is actually doing so well.

Enter the concept of Flow

Those who follow my blog know of which I write fairly frequently about the concept of “flow”, because This specific relates so perfectly with innovation.  Flow was first recognized along with documented by a psychologist named Csikszentmihalyi.  He documented the idea of which in some activities, people can lose themselves in their work. Time passes without notice.  People are deeply engaged along with get great enjoyment by their work.  He defined flow as the confluence of the experience doing a task along with the challenge of doing a task.  Too much experience with too little challenge?  Boredom.  Too much challenge with too little experience?  Fear.  The right match of challenge along with experience?  The result is actually flow.

Note of which the subtitle of the book is actually:  creating meaning, enhancing creativity.  These are factors of which many people are searching for in their work.  People want to work with passion, on items of which create or have meaning for them along with others, leveraging their knowledge along with creativity.  Talking to many people over the last year This specific’s clear many of them want work of which challenges them, creates meaning for them along with is actually interesting along with creative, yet they feel constrained by costs along with efficient processes, trapped by cultures of which are risk adverse, bound by short term thinking.  While corporations claim of which people are their most important assets, few companies create structures or cultures or strategies of which allow these workers to obtain the most value by their work.

Life from the silo

While many companies have shifted their work environments to more team-oriented work along with more open plan offices, the majority of people still work in a very siloed design, constrained by their job title or description.  These job descriptions or titles define what the employee is actually supposed to do, day to day, yet often don’t reflect 1) what the company genuinely needs by the employee along with 2) what skills along with capabilities the employee has of which he or she could offer.  In different words, there are operational, psychological along with structural mismatches between the actual needs of a company, the structures within which This specific asks people to operate, along with the desires along with goals of the employees. 

I’ll argue of which most large organizations waste 30-40% of their employees’ knowledge, time along with capabilities by defining roles along with responsibilities too narrowly, along with further distract or frustrate their employees by failing to create meaningful strategies along with fully engaging their staff on a visionary goal.

Corporations are still too hierarchical, too top down, too siloed, too rigid in their definition of work along with roles at a time when people are more capable, more educated along with want to be more engaged than ever before.  Why are so many potential innovators in large corporations so frustrated?  Why are so many feeling unleveraged along with underappreciated?  Because they are given so little leeway, so little support along with the expectations along with goals for their teams are so limited.

This specific is actually especially disappointing because more people have more education along with more capabilities than ever before, along with access to far more information about their customers, products along with markets.  Many people don’t need information interpreted for them in order to spot emerging opportunities – they can see the opportunities of which their company is actually ignoring.  What’s more, these same people have ideas about how to address those underserved markets, yet can’t get their ideas heard, supported or funded.

Great to Great

Jim Collins created at least one great idea in his book Great to Great:  the idea of which we need to get the right people from the right seats on the bus.  In many cases in business we possess the right people, yet they are from the wrong seat or the seat doesn’t define everything they can do.  Collins also suggested of which some people might need to change seats or get off the bus entirely.  Increasingly however I think we might need to look at the drivers, because no matter how Great the people on the bus are, if they aren’t given effective direction along with the freedom along with challenges to live up to their skills, then the driver is actually at fault.

What does This specific say when an entire generation of people who are tasked which has a very important along with conceptually interesting task like innovation are frustrated along with somewhat defeated by their roles along with their work?  What does This specific say when This specific attitude is actually consistent across industries along with geographies?  When people speak with passion about doing more, getting more engaged, doing more innovation yet feeling constantly thwarted along with frustrated by their own management?  

We are at an inflection point in business, where automation along with artificial intelligence will cause some rather dramatic alterations in how we organize along with staff companies.  at This specific point is actually the time to rethink how we engage people, along with fully leverage their passion along with energy.  We need to be thinking about how to get the right people from the right seats, along with give them the right direction.  This specific’s possible of which with completely new thinking we could have a much more engaged workforce creating far more innovative products along with services.  This specific’s possible of which we could actually create the conditions for “flow” in our organizations along with of which they would certainly benefit by those conditions.

The alternative is actually underutilized people along with assets, underachieving along with feeling underappreciated, who float by job to job along with eventually leave to go start something completely new where their energy along with passion can be fully brought to bear.  Thoreau said many people live lives of quiet desperation.  I’m concerned of which This specific is actually especially true among a very important subset of corporate employees – those who possess the will along with the passion for innovation.

What to do?

What can we do?  First, recognize of which people ARE the most important assets, especially where growth, creativity along with innovation are concerned.  These should be the places where we unleash our people along with provide the time along with funding necessary for them to create amazing completely new products along with services.  Second, rethink how organizations are structured, the risk adverse cultures of which have grown like kudzu, spreading slowly through the organization to stifle completely new growth along with sustain the status quo.  Third, put the right opportunities along with metrics in place along with tell the innovators to “put up or shut up”.  If you believe these folks can innovate, then get out of their way along with reap the benefits.  If you think they can’t, give them a fair opportunity along with measure the outcomes.  Corporations of which do This specific will benefit either way.

I can assure you of which any company of which demonstrates of which This specific welcomes along with encourages innovators will find itself overrun with high quality talent, along with if This specific can put of which talent to Great use will create compelling completely new products along with services of which separate This specific by its competitors.

The quiet desperation of corporate innovators