The process of managing innovation ties in closely with organizational freedom. Managing innovation is not an oxymoron. Highly innovative companies manage the actual process of generating, developing and implementing innovative ideas better than their competitors do. This process involves a lot of deliberate duplication and redundancy in order to foster knowledge sharing and communication. There are a million garage start-ups in IT. In rural India, cowshed innovation is common. But in every case, it has blossomed in an atmosphere of organizational freedom.
Microsoft says that “their only factory asset is the human imagination.”
Innovation is about lighting our little candles to defy the darkness. The organizational climate often decides whether the ideas flourish and bloom or fade and die. Thus, organizational culture becomes critical to innovation.
Ricardo Semler of Semco, the South American magnate, believes that the culture of innovation in an organization is created by providing total freedom to his employees.
Ricardo Semler’s Six Rules for Management without Control:
1. Forget about the top line
2. Never stop being start up
3. Don’t be a nanny
4. Let talent find its place
5. Make decisions quickly and openly
6. Partner promiscuously
The ‘reality test’ should now be ruthlessly applied. Once implementation starts, every move costs money. This is the last step in the thinking process and all ideas should be carefully studied. Implementing creative ideas and turning them into innovations is a special challenge. It is a process that requires a clear road map and the organizational will to stick to the path. This is where many organizations fail.
An ounce of action is worth tonnes of e-mail, paper and speeches. Implementation is the key to innovation.
“Management tends to ignore workers’ suggestions about jobs. I have seen engineers ignore comments from workers, which would improve the productivity of an individual job. At one point, I noticed hot air holes were crossed, creating a potentially dangerous situation. When I suggested they be altered, the foreman said they had been designed that way by engineers who clearly know better than I, how the plant works.
Management obviously is effectively cutting off creativity from a large group of employees who are most likely to make worthwhile suggestions on jobs they are doing. The whole situation carries from a lack of respect for the creativity of the individual. It arises from the view that people ought to be as identical as the cars they make.”
― John F Awacies
In the creative thinking process, incubation is followed by ‘Analysis.’ During the process of analysis, apply left-brain thinking – logical, statistical and mathematical. Solutions have to be carefully discussed and the optimum one chosen. The solutions are analyzed against the parameters chosen by the problem owner.
“Product innovation is not the most important type of innovation, though it is considered the most common type of innovation in Indian companies”
Some prevalent parameters are:
d) Human resources
e) Goodwill and impact on staff motivation levels
g) Saving lives
h) Political capital
Once the ideas are generated, the next step in the thinking process is incubation. After you have spent time collecting the facts and generating ideas, forget the problem. Hand it over to the subconscious to incubate. The subconscious is a vast computer, which stores everything you have ever seen, felt, smelt or experienced. You may read a book, watch a movie, listen to music or ride a bicycle. Incubation after hard work can result in discovery.
Alex Osborne, the advertising genius, said that during incubation, “I lie like a wet leaf on a log of wood and allow the current to carry me where it will.” Osborne continues, "When I am thus involved in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my subconscious." He feels that he has done his best work when he was really doing nothing.
It was during incubation that Newton discovered the laws of gravity. Also bear in mind that luck favors the prepared mind. The thought process involved is a cycle, linking preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. It was while having a bath that Archimedes discovered the laws of displacement.
A direct analogy answers the question: Where else has this problem or a similar problem been solved? Maybe our problem can be solved in the same way.
The richest source of analogous solutions seems to be the natural world. “Nature seems to have solved just about every problem we can think of, if only we know where to look and are able to translate the idea from one context to another,” writes Ronald Whitfield, in ‘Creativity in Industry.’
The same view is echoed by Gordon Edge, of PA Technology: “If you want to solve a problem, see how it is solved in nature. Living forms always have the most economical answers, as a result of evolution.” His team used the way a nocturnal moth’s eye absorbs light and thereby reflecting it, (by means of a delicate crisscross pattern coating the eye), as the basis for an information storage system on an optical disk.
In the case of the optical disk for information storage, the connection to the nocturnal moth was found by ‘a lucky chain of coincidences,’ which recalls Pasteur’s comment that ‘chance favors the prepared mind,’ and George Prince’s modification of it – ‘the prepared mind makes its own chances.’ We cannot all be experts in biology, zoology and so on, but we can take an interest in a wide variety of phenomena and trust our own minds to throw up clues that will lead us to the analogies we need.
Do and dare, get out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself. Stretch the amount of work you do, stretch your expectations, and stretch your imagination. It is essential to give people meaning and purpose in the work place. The practice of innovation can bring back the joy and responsibility of craftsmanship that is missing in many organizations. Create a positive field where others can think. Emotions and the way you deal with them, create the positive field.
One of the simplest of all excursions is to look at the problem through the eyes of someone completely different. You can do this by imagining you are in a totally different job – a coal miner, astronaut, deep-sea diver, football manager, and ballet dancer. As you imagine yourself in that job, see what ideas occur to you that might help with the problem.
The best attitude for learning is to be relaxed but alert. Like a flower open to the morning sun. The best attitude for thinking also is the same. Like a cat in the sun, completely relaxed so that even its paws are limp; but at the first sign of a mouse, it springs into action, all muscle and lightning speed.
Yoga, meditation or any other form of stillness will ensure that you are in an ideal state for thinking fluently.
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.