Bringing Innovation to Life

That's the title from a panel session I helped deliver at the Great Ideas Conference last week. The description from the brochure:

People make innovation happen. Ok, but how do they do it? Join us to learn tips and techniques to getting started…investigating ideas and opportunities, facilitating engagement and connecting the seemingly unconnected ideas.

I was in charge of talking about "facilitating engagement," which turned out to be something the audience was the most frustrated with. I had about ten minutes to present on the topic, so I chose these three "tips" for facilitating engagement:

  1. People will be afraid, so develop the skill of courage
  2. Effort will be unstable, so learn how to be generative
  3. You impact the system, so strengthen your emotional intelligence.

Here's what I mean.

People will be afraid, so develop the skill of courage.

Innovation implies change, and change often pushes people's fear button. It's not that they fear change, mind you, but change often makes people afraid that they will lose something--power, comfort, familiarity, a feeling of competence, etc. So fear gets activated. The antidote? Courage. I pointed to two different ways to support courage organizationally. The first is a focus on learning. As you're engaging in making innovation happen and implementing new programs, have the discipline to maintain a focus on learning, rather than judgment an evaluation. Not "Why did that go wrong," but "What did we learn from that." It helps avoid triggering the fear response.

Effort will be unstable, so learn how to be generative.

Innovation rarely follows a predictable timeline or pattern of development. Sorry, strategic planners, but you won't be able to script this one. It's going to grow organically and change and morph along the way. Which is why we need to learn how to be more generative. We need to learn how to grow and change in ways we can't necessarily predict ahead of time. There were two organizational capacities to be developed here.

The first is inclusion--the ability to include difference. There is tons of research linking the ability to handle difference and the ability to innovate. If everyone's the same, then creativity is rarely the result. But when you implement a new program, what are you doing to ensure that people from different departments (who often have very different cultures) are actually working together well? Usually it's nothing. You just throw them together because someone said you should. We need more conscious effort to ensure differences are really valued and included as we work together implementing something new.

The second is collaboration. When the path you're on is changing and morphing all the time, you need to be able to collaborate with others on a moment's notice and do it well to take advantage of the changes in the environment. In most organizations, we're not so good at that. Think about it: what's the one thing we all hate in organizations? Meetings. We all think they are a waste of time, generally. But this is how we collaborate! We get together to get things done. Collaboration isn't all about meeting in person, of course, but this is a big indicator that we don't know how to do collaboration well. We're not good at clarifying our expectations, negotiating differences, getting clear about who does what (and why). We need to work on this if we want to be generative (and as an added bonus, people might actually get something out of meetings!).

You impact the system, so strengthen your emotional intelligence.

As you can see from the first two tips, making innovation actually happen is not so easy. There is some built in resistance to the whole thing. So it is critical to understand that your own emotional state will impact that system while you are trying to make change happen. If you are all nervous about it, or worried it won't work, or frustrated about the lack of progress, that's going to shine through and impact everyone else. Emotions are contagious, so when you are doing new things, you need to be particularly aware of what's going on inside you.

This is the center of emotional intelligence. I think many people shy away from the topic of EI, because they are worried they are going to ahve to share their feelings at work. Not so. Emotional Intelligence is much more about being AWARE of your emotinoal state, than sharing it. It's being aware of when your buttons get pushed, of when someone says something that triggers a reaction based on a previous interaction, of when your heart starts beating faster and your skin gets warmer during a conversation and you're not sure why. It means you're getting mad, and if you're aware of that, you might choose not to react right away until you have time to figure it out. That's emotional intelligence, and we need to develop it if we want innovation to work.

Those were my three tips. It shouldn't surprise you that they came right out of Humanize. In the concluding chapter of Humanize we remind you that becoming more human as an organization requires change. It's innovation. It's not easy, but if we start focusing on building the right capacities, it can be done.

Buy the book here.

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