Written by Russell Ruggiero

What drives innovation? Is it the desire of a lasting legacy and monetary riches? Is it the desire for a common solution for a greater good?Perhaps the sole purpose of wanting to be disruptive is to change the way things are done? Perhaps it is a bit of all of the aforementioned. Innovation is rarely a one-man show. It takes combined effort from a team of people — but usually there’s an underlying purpose that initiates the innovation of a product, industry, or procedure.

Legends like Edison, Tesla and the Wright Brothers can be considered trailblazers of innovation. But these innovators also had a little help — in the case of Thomas Edison he had substantial investment by J.P. Morgan, while Nikola Tesla had the backing of George Westinghouse. No man is an island. When looking at the capital needed to foster their visions, innovation will always be plagued by the “chicken or the egg” scenario — AC vs. BC. One innovates and gets funding, or one gets funding and then innovates. There’s no quick or easy answer or isolated solution.

Vision & Adoption

Bottom line — a company may have a good product at an attractive price, but it must also have the ability to foster widespread adoption to be considered successful.

Knowledge Exchange (at every level)

For an effort to be successful not only must it have interested parties who share common goals and interests aligned, but also, it must have a true bi-directional communication structure in place to make changes when (and where) they’re needed.

Management (senior)

This is where resources are given or taken away. It is imperative that the individuals involved in fostering an innovative idea or concept have a clear understanding of the mandated short-, medium-, and long-term goals so they are united with senior members of the organization. It stands to reason that good listening skills are essential in minimizing misunderstandings and balancing expectations with those at the top management tier of the organization.

Peers (mid-level)

At this level, individuals involved must be careful and mindful regarding their roles in the effort and understand how to deal with others who are at the same rank. It is here where feedback must not always be taken at face value but rather carefully analyzed. To some, a “pat on the back” could be a sign that things are going in the right direction, while to others, a sharp criticism may be construed as condescending or even demeaning. However, constructive criticism may in fact keep people focused on what is important and be more valuable than placation — something that encourages overconfident behavior which, in many cases, can be can become counterproductive.

People Supervised

These are the people one supervises and counts on for immediate support. Management styles differ from draconian to laissez-faire but most sit somewhere in between. As successful leaders know, helping people to be productive is crucial and supporting those under one’s supervision is essential in reaching the organization’s slated goals and objectives. For example, a manager who asks the question “What do you need from me to be successful?” will not only expose issues but also will help open an important line of communication between management and the team. This feedback works both ways and should be leveraged whenever possible to ensure everyone is on the same page.

There’s no question that organizational alignment is of paramount importance to innovation but so is making sure that this alignment is justified — making certain that the effort is on the proper path means listening to warning signs (e.g., cost overruns, poor performance, etc.). Not only does there have to be an alignment framework in place, but also there has to be an open line of communication at all levels to help steer the effort, which will call for both major and minor adjustments from time to time. As a result, knowledge sharing should not only be used in close confines but also promoted across an entire organization.

Uncommon advice to apply to your business:

  • Inspire: Take a “World View” on where ideas can be nurtured and adopted.
  • Take a Chance: Look outside one’s own environment (industry) for possible new ideas.
  • Leverage the Past: Look into the almost endless successful examples of past innovations.
  • Exchange Knowledge: Create a business ecosystem that is not only well aligned but also has a knowledge sharing structure in place to foster the pliability and quick reflexes needed to deal with an ever-changing world.

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond Blog.

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