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The Communication Gap in Innovation

May 25, 2011

I’ve been sitting on this idea for a blog long enough.  It’s high time I shed light on a CRITICAL aspect of the corporate innovation process that most netizens seem to have glossed over.

Communication.

We can organize and attend brainstorming and creativity workshops till we’re blue in the face.  We can assign a special taskforce to be the ‘innovation hothouse’.  Or we can hire a consultant to give us a kick in the innovation pants.  None of these tactics will truly work until we realize that the best ideas in the world will die a quick death without inculcating the right communication culture, or the systems and processes to support it.

When you make a decision to become more innovative as a company, you’re signing up to change the status quo.  And that includes the way you interact with each other internally.  How can you expect the square peg of innovation to fit into a company traditionally filled with round holes?  Something has to give, and that something is typically the innovation initiative itself.  By year’s end, it ends up becoming the butt of jokes at the office Christmas party.  “Hey Mike, remember back in March when the boss wanted us to create a new product for tweens?  Boy, was that a waste of time…”

It takes a village to raise a child.  By the same token, it takes a corporate community of equipped, aligned and enthusiastic employees to bring a new idea or process to market.

This is where Inventive Change comes in.

We believe that human beings are an inherently creative and problem-solving species.  Generating new ideas is seldom the problem.  But nurturing them to fruition is.

In our experience, we’ve seen many an innovation taskforce fail.  We’ve also been part of seemingly impossible successes, and have witnessed the crucial role that effective & authentic communication played in those triumphs.

We look forward to sharing our opinions and tools with you in the coming months and years.  For now, we leave you with these initial thoughts:

  1. Excellence and entertainment can co-exist.  The world’s most innovative companies (e.g. Zappos, Apple, Google, Pixar) inject fun and/or downtime to get the creative juices flowing, while still maintaining high accountability and performance.
  2. Don’t kill the (cash) cow that feeds you.  Innovation is not about disruptive change just for the sake of it.  If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  3. But don’t rest on your laurels either.  If your competitors aren’t incubating new ideas, then completely new entrants might be.  Technology continues to lower barriers to entry, so you need to stay ahead of the curve.
  4. Leave robotic work to robots.  Machines have automated a lot of our daily tasks, so let us humans (especially your knowledge workers) do what we do best in favorable climates – conceptualize and collaborate.
  5. Innovation without leadership and vision is tantamount to giving a monkey a loaded gun.  There may be more collateral damage than you bargained for.
So, welcome to the Inventive Change blog.  We hope you stay a while, chat and grow with us.

What are your biggest frustrations around all the talk about innovation these days?  Do you have a story of when poor communication led to failed innovation?  Please comment below.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2011 4:13 am

    I’ve spent many years in hi-tech corporate culture and can attest to what you are saying about the role of communication and innovation. I saw some truly unfortunate wastes of potential and missed opportunities come about through a lack of effective communication.

    In recent years I have shifted from a corporate context to the Open Source community. I still find that communication is a critical blockage to moving things forward.

    I should also say that the best teams I have ever worked with were carefully put together by managers who emphasized communication skills as much as technical skills.

    Good luck with your work!

    • June 19, 2011 11:08 pm

      Hi Michael – thanks for your comment! I’m so glad my work resonates with you and I hope you continue to enjoy our thoughts on the subject.

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