Inspiring and enabling evolutionary innovation is one of the fundamental jobs of leaders. This is because evolutionary innovation is essential to an organization's survival and won't happen on its own.
In earlier article I wrote about how to determine whether evolutionary or revolutionary innovation is right for your organization. The problem to be solved here is how leaders can inspire and enable that evolutionary innovation. Fortunately, Tim Ogilvie, CEO of Peer Insight and co-author of the book Designing for Growth, has a point of view on how to do this, which he recently shared in Time:
Innovation depends on the three P's: Passion, Permission, and Protocols. (Natural innovators) run on Passion, get the little Permission they need from their VP, and...make their way without much in the way of formal innovation Protocols. To tap into the innovation potential of an organization's middle, you need to flip the formula: lead with Permission and Protocols, and add Passion as the caboose.
Ogilvie took me on a deeper journey through this approach.
Evolutionary innovation is generally prompted by solving a known problem where many creative solutions are possible. Permission involves asking people to solve that problem and giving them resources with which to do so. A lot of people in organizations who may be reluctant to step up as "innovators" are happy to help solve a problem when asked. So, set the expectation by asking for help.
Then, give them the physical and emotional space they need to innovate. 3M does this by explicitly calling on all its employees to spend 15 percent of their time working on something new. Google requires 20 percent. Problem solvers need relief from their day jobs in order to work on your problem. They also need a space in which to innovate. This could be a project room, their own web room, or a tree house. But they need time and space that makes them feel safe, and a deadline to produce their best answers.
By definition, asking people to innovate is asking them to step out of their comfort zone. There will be a natural fear of failure. You need protocols to shift the frame away from success or failure, and focus instead on learning. One of Ogilvie's main suggestions is to borrow from the scientific method: Ask people up to come up with hypotheses and design experiments to test them. A good experiment succeeds when it either proves or disproves the hypotheses. Teams treat experiments differently from tests. Conducting experiments taps into our natural curiosity, while performing tests can trigger a fear of failure.
Once they have been given Permission and are supported by the right Protocols, these evolutionary innovators will naturally discover their Passion for creative problem-solving. Encourage these people. Give them permission to play and their enthusiasm will often infect others.
Some team members may not be at all excited about innovation. That's OK. Don't push them to innovate. Instead, invite them to contribute in some small way. Everyone likes to be thought of as a contributor.
The bottom line is that innovation is not an optional exercise. Darwin's lesson is that survival of the fittest is about those best able to adapt. Adapting requires innovation. You can't stand still. If you're not adapting and innovating, you are falling behind your innovating competitors. If you fall too far behind, your very survival comes into question.
So give your people permission to innovate by asking them to solve known problems. Put in place protocols that make it as easy as possible for people to innovate. And inspire a passion for innovation, problem solving, or at least, contributing.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com
The New Leader's Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis' managing director, and co-author of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011) and the freemium iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.