Innovation – A psychological barrier

This is the concluding part of the 3 part series on ‘How to stimulate innovation’.

When you talk to any of the engineers who don’t innovate and ask them for reasons, as per my experience, the only two responses that I could anticipate are ‘What is in it for me’ and ‘Innovation is not my cup of tea’. Regarding the former ‘What is in it for me’, I have already spoken about it in the 1st part of 3 part series (How to stimulate innovation). Regarding the latter ‘Innovation is not my cup of tea’, the response stems from the self limiting ability of the engineer(s) because most of them opine that Innovation is synonymous to being only complex and big. The self limiting tendency is what I call Psychological barrier to innovation. The thought that innovation is complex is the primary cause for self limiting tendency but the Innovation(s) can be as simple as listed in the blog post ‘Innovations – Keep it simple’ . The efficacy of the innovation is not measured by its complexity and scale but by the impact that it could create.

Self limiting ability prevents us from exploiting our full potential by drawing rigid boundaries around our comfort zone and providing an impression that our true capabilities are limited by those boundaries. But hardly do we realize that each of us have potential to innovate (at least incremental innovations, if not disruptive innovation). Just like hidden treasures in the world, there are definitely hidden talents within us (irrespective of the age). Few of us are fortunate enough to realize those talents by pushing our limits and expanding our comfort zone.

Though the DNA to innovate should have been inflicted in the minds of every individual in the college, nevertheless it is not too late for organization to do the job. Organization can pull engineers to take certain smaller steps that can eventually help them to expand their comfort zone. As a first step, Organizations should strive to break the myth that innovation is not always complex and big. To do so, organizations have to nominate existing Innovators as Influencer (remember Influencer in Tipping Point) to spread the message that Innovation is everyone’s capability and to provide motivational push to innovate.

Next in the sequence is to inculcate the ‘Solution Thinking’ among engineers as outlined in previous blog. Final step is to pull engineer to record their ideas through novel ways such as IDEA DAY or IDEA CONTEST where you coax a group of individual to share their ideas. Initially the focus should be on quantity of ideas and not on quality, later we can identify the patterns of those ideas to figure out what triggers each idea. Also institute mentors to help idea generators shape their idea. In this stage, the focus should be only on accumulating as many ideas as possible into the repository, never burden engineers to provide details such as the approximate $ value, target market etc. Those details should be provided jointly by Sales, Account team, PM after evaluating the applicability of idea to existing or new products.

Starting with above mentioned small little steps would instill stronger innovation culture into the Organization and one day lead the Organization to the cusp of major innovation.

 

How to stimulate innovation

If there is one thing that every organization on this earth wants to do irrespective of the size/market/geography is to INNOVATE.

As part of the innovation drive, all the organizations set innovation goals to file X number of patents in a financial year and increase the goal marginally YoY. Revenue realization targets are also set from those innovative ideas. Organization goals are further translated into BU goals and each BU will be entrusted with responsibility of filing a specific number of patents. Goals are good to have as it indirectly communicates the purpose of the organization and priority of the organization. By setting innovation goals, organization drives the message that innovation is critical for the growth. Therefore it brings-in necessary process to capture innovations and deliver those innovations in their products. But the hard truth is that less than 1% of the organization contributes to Innovation. So the first step in the Innovation drive should be to stimulate employees to innovate.

In order to stimulate innovation, we should not do the mistake of persuading individual to innovate. We have to make every individual in an organization to realize/understand what is in it for them to innovate. In my personal experience I have seen most of the engineers desire to learn/accomplish something different/unique. But those genuine aspirations get lost because of lack of thought process on how to trigger the journey to accomplish something different/unique. Everyone desires to move from point A to point B, but what we often do not do is to provide a moment of pause to ponder upon three critical aspects
WHY– Why to accomplish
WHAT – What to accomplish
HOW – How to accomplish

Taking a moment to work on the What/How/Why circle will help every employee understand the purpose of reaching point B and eventually trigger clarity on how to start the journey of reaching point B. Undoubtedly there might be varying purposes, however each of those purposes somewhere deep down would be either directly or indirectly tied to innovation. Further such a heterogeneity of purposes will lead to innovation in areas across product development, product design, business, processes etc.

Once we are done with the 1st of stimulating innovation, next step is to focus on eliminating the barriers of innovation. The two innovation barriers that I have indicated below need not be exhaustive.

  • Psychological barriers – Common misconception that Innovation is BIG and COMPLEX creates a mental barriers among many to innovate
  • Lack of solution thinking – Engineers work in silos and hence they lack the knowledge of how the product is used by end customers.

Let me talk in detail about each of the barriers of innovation in subsequent blogs. Stimulation and elimination are not the only requirements for successful innovation, there is another major ingredient called environment that is conducive to innovation. An environment that encourages employees to focus on innovation in addition to their regular day-to-day tasks and that eliminates fear of failure among employees. We can go ahead and talk about innovation environment in detail, for now let us put aside that topic for a future blog article.