Q: How can I better promote strategic innovation in my organization?

 

A: Let’s consider two common places innovations go to die and explore what is needed to give your organization a fighting chance.

Many leaders confuse innovation with improvement. Innovation does not mean sourcing an advanced customer relationship management (CRM) system or launching a new website. Innovations are homegrown breakthroughs that produce a definitive leap in market value. Championing them requires swift action, adaptive thinking and a dash of chutzpah.

Leaders who fear progress often lack confidence, experience and what organizational psychologists refer to as creative efficacy: the belief that their efforts to bend ideas into reality will pay off. If you are not encouraging, rewarding and protecting employees who take creative risks, you are slowly killing your organization. Nowadays, if you are not leading innovation, you are not leading at all.

All too often, great ideas are quashed by well-intentioned lawyers who are not trained in strategic thinking. Nowadays, lawyers must demonstrate possibility thinking, and work hard at replacing the language of “yes, but …” with “yes, and …” Lawyers can help organizations further by facilitating dialogue with creatives that improve the innovation itself. The market demands this higher standard. Legal roadblocks are not dead ends. They must be framed as exciting challenges that help the organization mature.

It all boils down to two subconscious motivations: preventive and promotional. Those who see strategy through a promotional lens set their sights on accomplishments and aspirations. According to research, they generate more distinct alternatives to a given task and are more likely to persevere when faced with setbacks than individuals with a prevention focus. Conversely, those with a prevention focus seek safety and protection in decisions as they attempt to avoid mistakes. Research shows that these status quo seekers tend to quit more readily when faced with adversity. Innovation is not for the faint hearted. My advice: work hard at attracting, retaining and developing employees with a promotional focus.

 

William Brendel is the president and chief executive for the Center for Ethical Organizations in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.