If you’re excited to bring change and innovation to your organization, this resistance can be frustrating or disheartening, and make it more challenging to get everyone on board. When resistance arises, it sometimes begs the question: can everyone be innovative, and should everyone on your team be involved in the innovation process? Should you even have a Chief Innovation Officer, or an equivalent role in your organization? Let’s take a look.
Innovation isn’t just about creativity and vision. There are other qualities needed in order for innovation to be truly effective. Not only do innovators have to be able to separate the good ideas from the impractical or ineffective, they have to have the will to make those ideas come to life and revolutionize society—a process that is sometimes an uphill battle involving trial and error. Not every company is like Google, with nearly unlimited resources and a dedicated innovation lab. It’s not usually difficult to convince the executives of an organization to adopt an idea that will reduce costs or improve efficiency, but other projects and initiatives can be a harder sell. If there’s a large cost associated with an idea, or a long process before it can be brought to life, the organization has to have the resources and faith in the project in order to make it a reality. Innovative minds exist at all levels of an organization, but they don’t always have the power to make their ideas an organizational priority.
When you ask most people whose responsibility innovation is, the answer is typically “everyone”. Even when there is someone who is at the helm of a company’s innovation efforts, the general consensus is that everyone should contribute ideas. And why not? Many minds means many ideas, and people who are contributing toward a larger goal within the company are likely to be more engaged than those who simply show up, do their work, and go home. That’s why some people believe that there’s no place for a chief innovation officer. But if everyone should be involved in the innovation process, does that mean that everyone can innovate?
Though many people agree that anybody can innovate, that still leaves the question of whether everyone can. Innovation requires a lot of different components to succeed. In addition to “skill combined with will”, innovators need good ideas, discipline, the right timing, enough resources, and the support of the organization. People who want to innovate need to make it a priority—and they have to really be dedicated to the process. They have to have the time and headspace necessary for creativity, and have a vision they’re working toward. They also have to have enough patience to get through what can ultimately be a long and difficult road. So can everyone innovate? Probably not. Not everyone has the desire or curiosity to explore novel ideas and solve problems—they’d rather work with what’s in front of them.
Teaching nebulous skills like innovation and leadership may seem impossible, but there are ways innovation can be taught, or at least encouraged. The process isn’t at all like studying for a test—it’s more about having the space to experiment and yes, fail. Leaders can encourage innovation in their teams by building in time for individual and team brainstorming, offering a safe space to fail, and giving ideas the consideration they deserve. However, you can’t teach the desire to innovate—people have to find that within themselves, perhaps inspired by the people around them.
So, if the whole team isn’t engaged with the innovation process, do the non-innovators get left behind? Not necessarily. While innovation is a team effort, it’s important to remember that the everyday operations of the company are important as well. Perhaps those who aren’t interested in innovating won’t be embodying the future of the company—but they are keeping it running.
By Ryan Ayers