Carol Kinsey Goman

Article Summary:

Innovation strategies that focus on people working within a philosophy of continuous improvement and change.

Innovation Strategies: People and Leadership

The company 3M, one of the first organizations to fully embrace innovation as the essence of its corporate brand, defines it as "new ideas - plus action or implementation - which result in an improvement, a gain, or a profit."

Good definition, but it needs another element. People.

Innovation is people using their imagination, experience, curiosity, instincts and relationships to develop and implement ideas that create value.

Innovation is the fuel of our future -- new products, new services, new markets. But it is isn't just the "next big thing." It's also a million small things. Innovation is about people working within a philosophy of continuous improvement and change.

If you are looking to increase this kind of innovation, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

1) Whether you lead a team, a group, or an organization, remember - you can't innovate alone. You've got to involve and rely on others.

Isolating leaders as the sole visionaries in the organization simply won't cut it anymore. Thirty years ago, by the time an idea got to the CEO, it had been sifted through multiple layers of management. Now, savvy executives encourage e-mails and phone calls directly from people on the plant floor to get their opinions and suggestions.

2) The heart of innovation is trial and error. While I've never worked with an organization that truly encouraged failure, I have worked with leaders (at all levels) who created environments where failure is acceptable. Where it becomes a learning experience, and not something to be punished.

3) Tell stories that show how mistakes can become successes. One such story: For years Charles Goodyear labored to find a way to make rubber commercially useful. Then one day Goodyear accidentally spilled a mixture of rubber and sulfur he was holding on a hot stove. The chemical reaction of heat applied to this mixture resulted in the discovery of the vulcanization process used to manufacture rubber tires. And with that "mistake," an industry was born.

4) Help stamp out the Not Invented Here (NIH) mindset. An example of generating motivation to break that mindset came from General Electric in the days when Jack Welch was in charge. Welch made it clear that the sharing of good ideas across the organization was a high management priority. This posed a challenge for GE managers because of the size and diversity of the company. If you did have a good idea, how could you identify the people in other businesses who might benefit from it?

The Chief Learning Officer at GE came up with a simple solution. He created a "hot line" to be manned by his team. This operated similar to a dating service - only instead of matching people to potential mates, it matched good ideas with business units that could put them to use.

5) Broaden your definition of innovation beyond new products and services to include strategic innovations - new ideas about mission, values, and goals; administrative innovation - changes in internal systems; field level innovation - front line workers inventing a solution to better serve their customers; and incremental change that encompasses everyone in every job finding ways to do things differently and ways to do things better.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., coaches executives, facilitates management retreats, helps change teams develop strategies, and delivers keynote speeches and seminars to association and business audiences around the world. She is the author of nine business books, including: "The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work,"   "This Isn't the Company I Joined: How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down,"   and "Managing in the Global Organization."   Carol can be reached by phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website:

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