These days, almost all of my clients are talking about the need to establish a culture of innovation.
Some, I'm happy to say, are actually doing something about it. Hallelujah! They are taking bold steps forward to turn theory into action.
The challenge for them? To find a simple, authentic way to address the challenge from the inside out -- to water the root of the tree, not just the branches.
External systems and protocols are not sufficient to guarantee meaningful change. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Systems die. Instinct remains."
This is not to say that organizations should ignore systems and structures in their effort to establish a culture of innovation. They shouldn't.
But systems and structures all too often become the Holy Grail -- much in the same way that Six Sigma has become the Holy Grail.
Unfortunately, when the addiction to systems and structures rules the day, an organization's quest for a culture of innovation degenerates into nothing much more than a cult of innovation.
Organizations do not innovate. People innovate. Inspired people. Fascinated people. Creative people. Committed people. That's where innovation originates -- from deep within inspired individuals who understand that their sustained effort is what's required to go beyond the status quo.
The organization's role -- just like the individual manager's role -- is to get out of the way.
And while this "getting out of the way" will undoubtedly include the effort to formulate supportive systems, processes, and protocols, it is important to remember that systems, processes, and protocols are never the answer.
They are the context, not the content. They are the husk, not kernel. They are the menu, not the meal.
Ultimately, organizations are faced with the same challenge that religions are faced with.
Religious leaders may speak passionately about the virtues their congregation needs to be living by, but sermons only name the challenge and remind people to experience something -- they don't necessarily change behavior.
Change comes from within the heart and mind of each individual. It cannot be legislated or evangelized into reality.
What's needed in organizations who aspire to a culture of innovation is an inner change. People need to experience something within themselves that will spark and sustain their effort to innovate -- and when they experience this "something," they will be self-sustaining.
They will think about their projects in the shower, in their car, and in their dreams. They will need very little "management" from the outside. Inside out will rule the day -- not outside in. Intrinsic motivation will flourish.
People will innovate not because they are told to, but because they want to. When people are inspired, share a compelling goal, and have the time and space to collaborate, the results become self-organizing.
You can create all the reward systems you want. You can reinvent your workspace until you're blue in the face. You can license the latest and greatest idea management tool, but unless each person in your organization owns the need to innovate and finds a way to tap into their own innate brilliance, all you'll end up with is a mixed bag of systems, processes, and protocols -- the innovation flotsam and jetsam that the next CEO will mock, reject or change at the drop of a hat if the ROI doesn't show up in the next 20 minutes.
You want culture change? You want a culture of innovation?
Great. Then find a way to help each and every person in your organization come from the inside out. Deeply consider how you can awaken, nurture, and develop the primal need all people have to create something extraordinary.