There’s a huge disconnect on the subject of innovation between leaders and lower-level employees, according to a global survey published by Harvard Business Review (Feb 2016). David Sturt and Jordan Rogers the authors of the study assert, “While nearly nine in ten non-managers strongly believe they ought to be involved in innovation, far fewer (roughly six in ten) say they actually are. We saw this at small as well as large companies and among all age groups (Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials).”
It seems that managers are to blame when employees don’t want to innovate. “Most employees believe that management does not inspire them to do great work — or give them the opportunity to do so. Fewer than half of those in the lower ranks who have the chance to think through an idea believe they have access to the necessary means to execute it: money, staff, and support.”
Leaders need to foster creativity and innovation in employees, and it definitely helps to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset. Here are some great tips based on research from the Gallup Organization:
What your business can do to create and encourage a culture of innovation
by Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, Ph.D.
Highly creative entrepreneurs are rule breakers who don’t like to conform to norms and traditions of the industry.
Highly successful entrepreneurs can creatively look beyond the present and imagine possible futures for their company. If you are a Creative Thinker, you are driven to steer your business in new directions.
Whether introducing new products and services, entering untapped markets, or initiating innovative technologies or production processes, you are constantly thinking of novel ways to propel your business forward. Comfortable with the unknown and the unfamiliar, you always look for new ways to combine and recombine resources to create innovative solutions for your customers.
Your creative action helps you renew your business’ value proposition and differentiate it from your competitors’. It also enables you to disrupt markets by introducing new and unexpected products or by developing novel methods of doing business.
Creative Thinkers are alert to changes in the external business environment — new technologies, shifts in customer needs, industry trends, or competitor actions. You constantly evaluate new possibilities, revise your expectations of the imagined future, and formulate fresh action plans to achieve your goals. This endless cycle of new information, new opportunities, and new action plans helps you start ventures or grow existing ones.
As a Creative Thinker, you are quick to act. You seize opportunities and are usually the first mover in the market. Your unique ability to take an idea and quickly transform it into a business that generates revenue helps you stay ahead of the competition. And your proactivity garners your business high profits, allowing you to establish your brand and capture market share ahead of others in the industry.
Highly creative entrepreneurs are rule breakers who don’t like to conform to norms and traditions of the industry. You refuse to be bogged down by established practices, bureaucratic structures, or arcane business processes. You like to work autonomously, outside the established organizational practices, where you can think and create freely.
You constantly push the boundaries, always experimenting with new ideas to sort the good from the bad. It is this ability to experiment, usually in the face of acute uncertainty, that gives you the potential to generate innovative paths to profits.
A word of caution: While highly creative entrepreneurs are independent spirits who like to work autonomously, implementing ideas requires working with a team. Lack of communication with your team or too much separation from ongoing operations can hurt the development and integration of new products or services into an existing business. Make sure to communicate your ideas and strategies to your team. Sharing will increase the likelihood of launching a successful product or service.
In addition, you may fall prey to “incumbent inertia” as you achieve success and grow. Don’t become complacent with growth. Maintain the organizational flexibility that allowed you to explore your creative imagination in the first place. Continue to pay attention to changing customer needs, evolving technologies, and the shifting business environment. Remember, this endless stream of new information and knowledge will fuel your creativity.
Be careful not to rush to launch new initiatives. Your creative tendency might cause you to experiment and launch multiple initiatives at the same time. This perceived lack of focus may hamper your chances of success. Don’t lose sight of your core business.
Creative Thinker in Action:
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com: “If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your inventiveness. The thing about inventing is you have to be both stubborn and flexible, more or less simultaneously. If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.”
Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo and former vice president of search products at Google: “The ‘Googly’ thing is to launch it [a product] early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants — and making it great. The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants. The market pulls you back.”
James Dyson, founder of Dyson: “We are all looking for the magic formula. Well, here you go: Creativity + Iterative Development = Innovation.”
Maximizing Your Creative Thinker Talent:
- Balance current and future customer needs. It is easy to be tied down with day-to-day business management and focused on delivering what your customers expect from you. Set aside time to disconnect from the present, and feed your creativity to imagine your customers’ future needs. This will help you dream and plan for the future and maintain your competitive advantage.
- Use measurement to evaluate your ideas. When weighing which idea to implement, ask yourself, “How can we measure this?” Pick ideas apart to identify issues that could crop up during implementation. If the results show that a project isn’t viable, then modify or abandon the idea and move on to the next one.
- Minimize potential pitfalls by releasing your new product or service incrementally. Implementing new ideas is risky. Iteration is key. Launch the prototype, gather feedback from customers, make necessary changes, and test again. Using this low-cost approach, you can turn your novel and creative ideas into products or services without much potential downside.
- Maintain a simple organizational structure. Fewer layers of hierarchy will enable easier information flow between you and your team. A simple organizational structure will also increase employee involvement in implementing ideas, encourage employees’ creativity, and lead to quicker execution and understanding of new ideas.
- Balance efficiency with creativity. Process management techniques, such as total quality management or Six Sigma, which can increase your growing company’s efficiency and productivity, are also likely to decrease your ability to innovate. Don’t let efficiency-enhancing practices act as barriers to exploring new ideas. Nurture your natural creativity. Continue to invest in new ideas as you increase operational efficiency.
- Mobilize resources to fuel your innovation process. You need two things for successful innovation: diverse experiences that spark your creativity and resources to drive the innovation process. Tap in to your existing network or build new alliances internally and externally to stimulate your creativity and access shared resources.
- Learn from your failures. When carefully planned new initiatives fail, the potential to learn from them is immense. Don’t let this learning opportunity go to waste. Conduct a post-mortem, make sense of what happened, and add what you have learned to your knowledge base. Fostering intelligent failures will help you learn what not to do as you dream about the future.
The 10 Talents of Successful Entrepreneurs
When Gallup studied entrepreneurial talent, we found a tremendous variety of behaviors among successful entrepreneurs. But after analyzing the data and listening to hours of interviews, we distilled everything down to a list of 10 talents that influence behaviors and best explain success in an entrepreneurial role. Every entrepreneur uses some mix of these 10 talents to start or grow a business:
These 10 talents don’t address every factor that affects business success. Non-personality variables such as skills, knowledge, and experience along with a host of external factors play a role in determining business success and must be taken into consideration when theorizing on business creation and success. But these 10 talents explain a large part of entrepreneurial success and cannot and should not be ignored. Understanding and acknowledging your inherent talents gives you the best chance at success.
Reprinted with kind permission from Gallup Business Journal
Copyright © 2014 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.