2/22/10 “Innovation”

Good day team,

This week’s challenge comes from an editorial I read recently in the New York Times by Dick Brass, “Microsoft’s Creative Destruction.” The piece focuses on how the company’s corporate culture stifles creativity, innovation and, ultimately, the future of the organization. Because this article was in the editorial section, it is one man’s opinion. Brass used to work for Microsoft as a vice president overseeing a team that designed and introduced some fairly innovative products. Unfortunately, many of his team’s best ideas got shot down by other groups at the company. I’m sure that has influenced his attitude. However, I have seen the phenomenon he describes many times in companies over the years, and I think there’s much here that’s worth sharing.

The piece raises several questions. Does your corporate culture actually prevent true innovation? Is your desire to maintain the status quo preventing you from fostering an atmosphere of experimentation? Is the fear of failing so prevalent in your organization that risky new ideas are immediately squashed?

In the editorial, Brass writes that when he was at Microsoft new ideas were brought to the forefront, new product designs presented and innovative discussions took place. Time after time, he says, everything would get shot down at a senior level within the organization. Ultimately, the truly innovative employees would become frustrated and leave the company rather than try to change the culture to one that embraces innovation. An atmosphere of one-upmanship and an inability to embrace change, writes Brass, stifles new ideas that might move the company forward.

I see this frequently when I meet with clients who are frustrated after coming up with new ideas only to have them resisted and turned down. Responses such as, “Well, we’re in cost-cutting mode and can’t afford to experiment right now,” or “That doesn’t fit into our existing product line,” or “Oh, there goes so and so again—always coming up with crazy ideas.” Sooner or later, those innovative people give up. And in some cases, getting things done every day has become so difficult because of bureaucracy, complex processes and the political atmosphere that people don’t have the energy to come up with anything new. As one client confessed to me recently, “In order to do my job here, I’m prevented from doing my real job.”

This week’s challenge asks the question, Where is your next big idea going to come from? And, who are the innovators in your organization that will make that next big idea happen? Are you questioning the status quo? How are your powers of observation about your customers, suppliers and competition helping you think of new ways to do things? It isn’t enough just to know who’s buying your product. You need to find out how your customers use your product and if it connects to your other products. Are you willing to experiment with new experiences and explore alternatives? Who’s in your network and who’s influencing you? Are they people who challenge you to see things differently?

Peter Drucker, management consultant and self-described “social ecologist,” wrote, “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right questions.” Most innovators have started their own ventures because of the questions they asked. For example, Michael Dell, who started Dell Computer, wanted to know why a computer cost five times as much as the sum of its parts.

Innovators regularly challenge the status quo. In fact, they get a kick out of taking risks to challenge the way people have always done things. What would happen if you spent 15 minutes each day writing down questions that challenge the status quo of your company?

How about engaging your network? What if you met with five people every quarter who like to share new ideas and participate in creative thinking? How much would that influence the way you look at your current business, department, team and tasks at hand?

Your challenge is to do something more innovative this week. Even if it’s simply changing the way you approach the subject of innovation! Try thinking creatively about the issues at hand and seek out new frames of reference to refresh yourself with ideas. Try fostering a culture of experimentation—one that allows for failures and harvests the learning. Believe me, the future of your business depends on your ability to transform ideas into powerful impact.

Have a good week!


Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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Best regards,
Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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