Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Obstacle to Innovation #4 Personal conflicts – “We aren’t going to do that just because she wants to”

The factions of personalities have never been more pervasive than today. In fact, these ideological clashes have become part of our cultural texture, from politics to talk shows, and from sports stadiums to boardrooms.

Often companies try to overcome the innovation obstacle of conflict with two approaches:
  • Bringing in a iconic leader
  • Promoting a symbolic declaration
Unfortunately, neither may do anything to address the underlying personal conflict.  Let’s look at the reasons why.

Iconic leadership in business and politics seems to be an attractive option these days. Superstar executives now occupy the corner suites of major banks, automakers, computer manufacturers, internet powerhouses, and even the White House and some Governor’s mansions.

When we want something great to happen, we look for the genius who has an idea. And this appeals to innovators themselves. Who wouldn’t want to be declared a genius -- with all that means in recognition, salary, advancement, and a dramatically heightened ego.

But what about the companies full of wanna-be stars running with their own ideas while ignoring or actively fighting the ideas of others.

Frankly, it is a myth to suggest that big ideas spring from one virtuoso. Innovation necessitates getting things done in a real world of dozens, if not hundreds of people, all aimed at bringing an idea to reality.

This without doubt means collaboration, which is the opposite of the conflict often created if the team thinks all the rewards and the glory will only go to the individual with the original idea.  They will refuse to improve on it, develop it, make it, package it, and bring it to market.

Symbolic declarations are another approach.

Once managers feel the urgency for brand innovation, they often turn to a fun tactic: internal communication. “Our people are not innovative,” they think, “because they haven’t really understood how important innovation is for our business.” This is when we’re asked to design a logo, a banner, a screensaver, or PowerPoint presentation saying “Innovate or die!”

The trouble is we’ve have heard it all before. So, employees at all levels are cynical because company leaders fail to follow through on their pronouncements. No one really “dies” or if the project fails, they blame the leaders. Teams understand that innovation is important, but their behavior won’t be expected to change until managers have changed behavior first (and not just your words).

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