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Receptivity to New Ideas Is the Real Problem
The idea that innovation is hard to foster in most organizations is a smokescreen. Team members have no shortage of good ideas from which to propel the organization forward. Ask for new innovations, and team members will gladly provide a long list of ideas they would gladly put forth.
The problem is not the ability for organizations to elicit new and advantageous ideas. The issue is one of receptivity. Openness to new ideas is much more problematic in most teams and organizations.
Leaders prefer the status quo.
Too much innovation can threaten the comfortable seat of those with status and power. While they like to complain that the organization lacks the creative edge to innovate with new ideas, it is leaders who rarely ask team members for new ways of doing things.
When team members make unsolicited proposals for change, leaders too often respond with excuses as to why the idea is impractical, infeasible, or too expensive. Team members learn quickly to keep their best ideas to themselves, while leaders continue the charade of promoting innovative thinking without much success.
The bias against change is further strengthened by an unwillingness to reexamine what we do presently. The most innovative ideas are commonly hidden in plain sight. They sit right under our noses. Discovering them requires we see the obvious with fresh eyes—something else many leaders are loathe to do. Leaders who can’t get out of the way present quite a challenge for organizations and teams that need to innovate in order to survive or thrive.
The best leaders foster innovation by regularly conducting sessions where every current idea and approach is challenged and new ideas are encouraged and recorded. A brainstorming session where everyone is on equal footing and there are no sacred cows allows team members to think creatively.
No promises or commitments have to be given. This takes the pressure off leaders who feel threatened by the need to act on ideas they honestly think are inferior. Instead, capturing everyone’s thoughts and ideas and reviewing them allows superior ideas to take hold and grab multiple people over time. Ideas that resurface repeatedly are worth exploring further. On occasion, a bright idea sends electricity throughout a team when everyone instantly recognizes the power of it.
Regular conversations where all approaches, activities, and processes can be scrutinized and challenged encourage everyday innovative thinking. When leaders are open to discussing all changes and challenges, team members get their creative juices flowing. Innovation demands debate. Good leaders promote the fight.