Commitment: Say "Yes!" to innovation

Are you committed to innovation? (Part 1)

Although many companies talk about the importance of innovation and list it as an important value, few companies in any industry truly walk their innovation talk. The few who do consistently create innovative products and solutions. How can the other companies — those who say they want to innovate, but don’t — become innovative and build a creative company?

Innovation in companies springs from five dimensions of organizational innovation: leadership at all levels (involving both the most senior individual leader and the leadership team); commitment; collaboration and communication; culture; and structure, systems and processes. The dimension that most distinguishes genuinely innovative companies from the wannabes is their commitment to innovation.

What is commitment to innovation?

When people speak of commitment, they usually talk about their dedication. That dedication is expressed by devoting resources to that commitment, which is a voluntary restriction of freedom to use those resources in other ways. Companies that commit to innovation dedicate themselves to becoming — and then being — innovative organizations. This means taking on the necessary financial and non-financial obligations, and this commitment of resources — financial and human capital — means that those resources are not available for other activities.

Why is commitment to innovation necessary?

Talk is cheap; it’s acting on your words that creates value and produces results. It’s easy to say that you’re committed to innovation, but it’s only when you devote people, time and money to innovation that you actually become committed. The amount of resources that a company commits to innovation is the best indicator of how serious its leaders are about building a creative company. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”

Is your company committed to innovation?

Thinkergy helps other companies in building a creative company and committing to innovation. To do this systematically, we have developed an organizational innovation transformation method that we call CooL — Creativity UnLimited. We use it to help companies build a creative culture, or as we call it, to make a CooL change from a copycat company to an innovative company with unlimited creativity.

But before we do so, we perform an innovation audit of their existing capacity for innovation. These audits focus on fifty-six hard-to-fake facets of that capacity, and eight of those factors relate to a companies commitment to innovation. I’ll discuss three of these eight factors in this column, and the rest in the next.

1. Show visible leadership commitment (budgets, personal support and time)

In innovative companies, Top executives and senior managers clearly articulate and visibly demonstrate their support for innovation initiatives. They act as sponsors for new innovation projects. They commit time, and actively involve themselves in innovation. They personally support innovation, and make sure that everyone sees them do so.

Questions: How about your organization? Does your management talk about supporting innovation, and if so, do they actually provide concrete support? Do they make financial commitments to innovation projects? How much of their time do the top executives in your organization commit to support innovation initiatives?

2. Commit time to innovation

Research studies led by Harvard’s Teresa Amabile confirmed that creativity drops when employees are permanently stressed at work and feel like they’re on a treadmill. When all of an employee’s work time is spent in routine work, responding to ad hoc requests from others, or in crisis mode, there is no time left for them to be creative and innovative.

In contrast, innovative companies ensure — either formally or informally — that normal work activities leave employees enough time to work on innovation initiatives of their own choosing. The most innovative companies, such as 3M or Google, make this official, encouraging their employees to use a part of their work time — typically 10-25% — to pursue pet innovation projects, either alone or in a team.

Questions: How about your organization? Do your employees and managers feel constant stress? Given the overall amount of work that needs to be done, do you have barely enough people to do it? Or do people have some time and encouragement to work on innovation projects that they care about and which serve the interests of the firm?

3. Commit to active, extensive human capital development

Innovative organizations commit resources to developing their employees, and senior management sees that development as an investment in the potential of the organization. Thus, training, coaching, and other human capital development — perhaps including scholarships for master’s or Ph.D. degrees — are offered to all staff, no matter their place in the organization.

Questions: Does your company see human capital development as a short-term cost or as a long-term investment? How much money does your company commit to training and coaching? Is training offered only to elite management and key technical personnel, or is it made available to all?

Outlook: The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Commitment is an act, not a word.” In the next column, we will discuss the remaining five factors that are useful in evaluating how well your company acts on its stated commitment to innovation.

Are you interested in innovation transformation and in finding out how we can help you to make your company ready for a CooL change? Would you like to learn more about our innovation audit? Contact us. We’re happy to give you more detailed information on our organizational innovation transformation method CooL — Creativity UnLimited.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014.
This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on March 13 2014.