Yes, Innovation Is Your Day Job

Your plate is full. Someone graciously offers you a spoonful of collaborative innovation. Should you accept? In this article Doug Collins makes the case for why you should say “yes,” then go back for seconds, embracing collaborative innovation as your day job in order to enjoy a career in a world that values people who know how to put their insights to work.

Organizations feel their way through the rubble of the economic collapse like basement-dwelling refugees walking their belongings out of a fire-bombed city. The way forward—the most promising path to reclamation if not salvation to the promised land of the way things used to be—is “innovation.”

Leaders of the world’s organizations small, medium, large, and country-sized pin their hopes of future prosperity on becoming more innovative: by injecting a good dose of innovation into the resident culture. Makes for good copy. A rounded tablespoon of innovation for the organization works like a weekend at the spa for the body. Who can argue against the promise its curative powers hold for one and all alike?

Meanwhile, back at the reality ranch, I find a different dynamic at work. With utmost confidence and utter dismay I report that the word from on high has not made its way into the departmental nooks and crannies where organizational culture takes root.

At the places where the rubber meets the road—where the people who prescribe direction meet the folks who carry the load—the question the latter whispers in my ear remains, “How do I make time for this (fill in the blank for the name of the group’s branded innovation program and add mild profanity to taste)? Is innovation now part of my day job?”

How do I make time for this? Is innovation now part of my day job?

They would seem to rationally ask a reasonable question. Most gainfully employed people today juggle more jobs than a Jamaican cab driver working to put their youngest and most studious child through her last year of medical school.  Do we need to add “be innovative” to the pile?

The only reasonable answer I can offer in kind? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Yes, make time to innovate.

Yes, follow the ideas you contribute and collaborate on to their logical or wonderfully illogical conclusion.

Yes, take ownership of and master the practice of innovation within your organization. And, if you find that your organization’s practice is, in practice, malpractice, take ownership of improving it.

Further, while we remain on the subject, yes, buy five (5) new Moleskins to carry in purse or pocket so you can capture your thoughts as you make your way through life. Thoreau kept a commonplace book. So should you.

You reflect for a moment. You observe to me that ten years ago, the word on the street was that people were the organization’s most valuable asset. Then, the hammer fell. Inconceivably, many of the valuable assets were shown the door.  The rest put their heads down and have not looked up since.

What’s changed? What’s different now? Is the call for innovation new wine in a musty old cask reeking of the stale fumes of knowledge management?

Here’s what you need to know. Every day when you come to work or go to wherever you go to do whatever you do to occupy your time, you learn something. If you serve a client, you know more about that client than anyone else in the organization. If you operate a machine you know more about that machine than anyone else in the organization.

What does that knowledge get you today? Very little, likely. You do little to put yourself in a position where people can value the worth of what you know.

You achieve new levels of customer intimacy with a remote client. The boss sees you on the phone and wonders if you’re reconnecting with a sorority sister.

You learn everything you can about a new piece of machinery. The boss sees you driving around the shop floor and wonders if robotic assembly would reduce variability.

See the difference? The breadth of your insights exceeds the limits of your current job. You spent a productive hour on the phone with the client which kept them in the fold when the customers who worked with the competitor down the street bolted to greener pastures when the going got tough. You have perspective on what one needs to do to retain a client. How much is that knowledge worth in today’s hyper-competitive world. A lot. A whole lot.

Are you being recognized and rewarded for having and applying this knowledge? Possibly not. Probably not to the extent you should be if the organization focused on what matters to its future. Do not wait for the organization to awake. Awake first, then alert others.

In short: get out there. When given the chance to engage in collaborative innovation, take it. If nobody gives you the opportunity, then make your own.

When given the chance to engage in collaborative innovation, take it.

What if you work for the organization that proclaims its people as its most valuable asset, but has no interest in connecting the dots that lead back to a reasonable return on invested human capital?

Oh, snap. If you hold the only chair in the innovation orchestra at your place—if you contribute and take ownership of your own practice, but can find no kindred spirits, then you need to leave. Find the organization that has embraced innovation in an authentic way.  Or, start your own entity. It’s a free world and becoming increasingly more so with each passing day. Just ask the Tunisians.

Your current organization will not survive. Further, its demise, short or long in coming, will be painful for all involved. Get out now. Or, prepare to explain to the next person who might want to hire you why you spent the last three years circling the drain.

A number of years ago Tom Peters wrote the seminal piece of the modern, digital age, “The Brand Called You.” Please Google it and read it. Many—too many—interpreted his call to action as an invitation to shameless self-promotion. They spend their days retweeting pabulum and friending distant relatives.

Wrong.

“The Brand Called You” calls our attention to the fact that we have an increasing number of opportunities to translate what we do into what we know and to in turn translate what we know into ideas that become innovations that can benefit our organizations, our communities, and ourselves.

Our brand reflects our ability to achieve and to articulate our achievements in a way that resonates with our communities at work and home. Can we be of use? Can we do something of value for someone else? Leave the virtual sandwich boards at home. Contributing and pursuing an idea that can help someone—a client, a friend, or a neighbor—represents one of the highest forms of achievement.

Make the effort, if for no other reason than to acknowledge that the economic potential of what you know—your intellectual capital—far, far outstrips your economic potential of what you do. Deferring the practice of innovation to the person down the hall no longer serves as a viable option. Today, the definition of a dead-end job is one that does not include an innovation component. Today, the definition of an organization on life support and fading fast is one that chooses not to realize its potential for leadership in innovation.

Figure 1: knowledge economy physics—using collaborative innovation to multiply the force of what you know to elevate your brand

Click to enlarge

By Doug Collins

About the Author:

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He has served in a variety of roles in helping organizations navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation by creating forums, venues, and approaches where the group can convene to explore the critical question. He today works at Spigit, Inc., where he consults with Fortune 1000 clients on realizing their vision for achieving leadership in innovation by applying social media and ideation markets in blended virtual and in-person communities.

Previously, Doug formed and led a variety of front end initiatives, including executive advisory programs for industry influencers, early adopter programs for lead users, corporate strategic planning, and structured explorations of new market and product opportunities. Before joining Spigit, Doug worked at Harris Corporation and at Structural Dynamics Research Corporation which is now part of Siemens Corporation.
  • Taras

    Creativity is not a 9 to 5 endeavor.

    Ensure that your consciousness is wired for innovation, so that your subconscious is processing your next innovation while you sleep, or take a shower or … then innovation is not only your day job, but who you are.

  • http://www.gistics.com Michael Moon | CEO | GISTICS

    Doug makes a number of insightful and cogent points about innovation on the “reality ranch” of today’s enterprises.

    Unlike many other hundreds of authors on the subject, Doug calls attention to the individual’s responsibility and self-accountability to “see an improved future” and begin the process of researching the realization of that future.

    He also suggests that seeing the future and making it happen often reflects thinking beyond the heavily tiered confines of “careers” and to something more akin to a “calling”—an expanded Concept of Self (“I am more than this job…I see things that could be done and say, ‘If not me, who?’ and ‘If not now, when?’…As a master of personal esteem and pride, I will consider and think through just how we might make something better for our customer.”)

    He extends Tom Peter’s great idea of a Brand of You—that essentially says that your actions, enthusiasm, willingness to volunteer, and repeated ability to get your mandated and elective projects done IS your brand—to include Brand of You as Innovator.

    This all strikes me as correct on several levels. I will select a a few concrete tools and activities that extends Doug’s framework of the Brand of You as Innovator.

    1. All innovations large or small add distinctive value to the customer, increasing the customer’s experience of value, quality, or satisfaction. It then follows that Brand of You as Innovators should create an Innovation Journal in which one documents various ideas, notions, sketches, and what have you that individually might become a “germ of an idea that might change the world.”

    2. Most innovations start as a response to some annoying or problematic condition, launching a rocket of desire often expressed as “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” It then follows that Brand of You as Innovators should have a separate and distinct place in their innovation journal a list of Things That Truly Suck which in an aggregate as a will surface a “pattern that connects” individual annoyances to a larger and more interesting problem to solve.

    3. The real work of Brand of You as Innovators entails the focusing, structuring, and harnessing of one’s imagination as a matter of daily practice. This means that once set aside 20 minutes or so each day to muse upon or imagine the wouldn’t-it-be-cool end state of a complete and elegant solution, thereby triggering deep psychological processes that expand your Concept of Self as a full realized Brand of You as Innovators. 

    As someone who coaches and supports innovation leaders as a primary activity, I cannot overstate the importance of step number three. The principal work of innovation starts with imagination and concludes with an innovator willing to undergo the journey of expanding his or her capacity to hold the end state solution as an all-but-done “futureproof”.

    4. Brand of You as Innovators know that the path of least resistance is the route to fastest results. In practical terms, this means that innovators interpret resistance to their ideas or actions as indicators of their being “off the mark.” Taking the path of least resistance represents a kind of an organizational aikido: first blend with an opposing force, offer no resistance and then, at a pivotal moment, redirect the vector of opposition the ground.

    5. Finally, Brand of You as Innovators live in practical and pragmatic Hope and Belief that somehow in ways that are perhaps mysterious to me now my desires will come to pass. For those so inclined in the following way, “It is done by Thine will.” Brand of You as Innovators enjoys the unfolding of the grand design with detached amusement and, perhaps, passionate disinterest: “Wouldn’t be cool…when others get the secret.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=583690909 Ammour Kammash

    Doug, 

    Could you please send me your mail address? Would like to help local companies to prepare their employees for innovation era.

  • http://innovationmanagement.se/author/doug-collins Doug Collins

    Ammour,

    Yes, of course…

       dcollins [at] spigit.com

    Regards,
    Doug

  • Pingback: Los 50 mejores artículos de Innovación Colaborativa 2012 (En progreso) «

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