THE BLOG

Inside/Out Innovation

10/07/2013 01:39 pm ET | Updated Dec 07, 2013

If you work in an organization that wants to establish a sustainable culture of innovation -- you have two basic choices: outside/in or inside/out.

Outside/in is the most common approach. It assumes that re-engineering systems or processes is the way to go. You know the drill: do a little Six Sigma, cost cutting, continuous improvement, hire a few consultants to give pep talks and you're off to the races.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you, but it's often just a slick way of repositioning the deck chairs on your own Titanic. It looks good. It sounds good. You feel like you're doing something, but the ship is still sinking.

The other approach -- inside/out -- is far less common. And why it's less common is because it's slower, initially more chaotic, requires more commitment and, to a lot of left-brained people, borders on voo doo.

The inside/out approach is based on the notion that organizational change follows individual change -- understanding, as it does, that an organization is nothing more than a collection of individuals.

The real deal? Organizations don't change until the people in them do.

In the inside/out approach, each person commits to -- as Mahatma Gandhi so elegantly put it -- to "being the change you want to see in the world."

Ah... personal responsibility! Personal accountability! Sustained commitment! Even when things get funky and uncomfortable.

Real change does not begin with re-engineering. It does not begin with new initiatives, tweaked processes, compensation plans, reward systems, cost cutting measures, flex time, organic lunches in the cafeteria, or overpriced consultants telling you what to do (which, curiously, includes embedding themselves in your organization until hell freezes over.)

Where does real change begin? It begins with a change of mindset -- what the dictionary defines as "the characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to new situations."

Mindset, not skillset.

MINDSET -- why a pickpocket, every time he meets a saint, will only see pockets. MINDSET -- the cognitive filters we look through that color how we see the world. MINDSET -- why the CFO sees the problem as data, the Chief Marketing Officer sees it as branding, and the IT Director sees it as bandwidth.

The fact is: every single person in your company already knows what to do in order to foster a culture of innovation. They do. They really do. It's common sense. It's just that common sense has become uncommon these days.

Consultants like to make it mysterious, but it's actually very simple.

Does your company's longstanding history of bureaucratic, hierarchical, command-and-control crapola get in the way of each individual operating at their highest potential? Of course it does.

Will refining systems and processes help? Of course it will. But the real deal is NOT a "program". The real deal is each and every person in your organization bringing their innate wisdom to the table every single day. Their highest self. Their best self. Their naturally creative, authentic, passionate, collaborative, go-beyond-the-call-of-duty, opportunity-finding, accountable, engaged, on-fire-with-possibility self.

It's simple.

Simple, unfortunately, is not the same thing as "easy" -- especially these days where so many of us worship at the altar of complexity...

TO BE CONTINUED: This is just the beginning of a much longer series of posts on Whole Systems Transformation and how to spark the inner change necessary so your organization becomes an agile, innovative, customer-centric, best-company-to-work-for enterprise.

Stay tuned...

Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, an innovation consultancy and training company based in Woodstock, NY. The above article can also be found on his very popular blog, the Heart of Innovation.