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Five Sure Ways To Kill Your Company’s Innovation

Steven Blue
By Steven J. Blue President & CEO, Miller Ingenuity

Innovation is difficult to come by. In fact, the odds of a new product idea being commercialized are less than 4 percent—and that is the best case scenario. If you don’t want to beat those odds, there are five sure-fire ways you can make certain innovation never sees the light of day at your company:

1. Don’t make innovation a top priority and an “all-hands” job requirement.

Many CEOs want innovation but only after “the real work” gets done. But if you want your company to survive, you need to make innovation “the real work” and a top priority for everyone, not just the engineering department. How? By writing it into every job description, rewarding and recognizing people who innovate, and by asking people to leave if they don’t.

2. Don’t provide innovation training.

When you make everyone responsible for innovation, people may be afraid they aren’t up to the job because they are “not creative.” The truth is everyone can be creative if they are trained in the principles of creativity. So, your job is to train every single employee. I hired the previous chief creativity officer of the QVC Network to teach my entire workforce how to generate novel ideas. He rode shotgun with us for the better part of a year and now creativity is in our DNA.

3. Don’t give people the time to innovate.

If you expect innovation, give people the time and space to do it. If you don’t, employees will always default to their regular tasks. After all, they get paid to “make the doughnuts.” Unless you give them permission to do otherwise, that is all they will do. I tell my employees I expect 20 percent of their time to be spent on innovation. And I hire extra people so we can get both production and innovation.

4. Don’t give people a place to innovate.

I built what I call a “Google-like campus in a factory,” a high-tech space designed to facilitate innovation. Our employees named it the “Creation Station.” My employees are welcome to gather there whenever they want to. And they often do, collaborating across the organization in the pursuit of new products and processes. Some people will tell you such a space does not have a return on investment (ROI), unlike a CNC machining center. I can tell you it does. Our Creation Station has returned orders of magnitude in ROI with new products and improved internal processes.

A CNC machine has a finite useful life and must be replaced. Not so an innovation space, as it constantly renews itself. Other critics have said building such a space only gives employees an excuse to goof off. To that I say, “you have the wrong employees—get the right ones.”

5. Don’t take risks to innovate.

Without risk, there can be no innovation. The world of innovation is murky and uncertain. You must give people permission to fail. Otherwise, they won’t even try. I tell other CEOs, “don’t take risks—take big risks.” Little risks have puny returns and don’t motivate people to do extraordinary things. By big risks, I don’t mean “bet the company” risks. Always validate risk as best you can with the information and market intelligence you can gather. Keep validating your assumptions along the way.

The bottom line is, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take the big risks and encourage your employees to do the same. What should you do if they take a risk and fail? Celebrate! Reinforce the “risk is a good thing” philosophy because that is the only way that innovation can happen.

About the author: Steven Blue’s company, Miller Ingenuity, focuses on safety solutions for railway workers. He is the author of “Metamorphosis: From Rust-Belt to High-Tech in a 21st Century World.” Visit www.StevenLBlue.com, www.milleringenuity.com, or @StevenLBlue on Twitter.

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