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Roadblocks to Innovation Implementation: Organizational Culture of Fear and Innovation Assassination
Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival set forth a fundamental framework of 10 Key Imperatives. These Imperatives were intended to help everyone from novices to experts use a structured, repeatable innovation process to Create and Sustain Innovation in order to Innovate and Thrive in this hyper-competitive marketplace. As described in the recently published Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation, the predominant reason that even the best and brightest innovative ideas dim and ultimately go dark is the inability of the organization to implement the innovation plans. After all, innovation without implementation is mere ideation.
As discussed in detail in Chapter 2 of Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, organizations often cower from innovation implementation due to a deep-seeded culture of fear and the resultant innovation assassination.
Why Does This Happen?
“That’s not in our budget!”; “Our clients/shareholders/board of directors will never go for it!”; “But we already tried that once…and failed!”
Do the above workplace sound bites sound familiar to you? If so, you are not alone—such chronic naysayers and the power of the status quo (rather than progressing forward with innovation implementation) are deeply entrenched and inveterate parts of many organizations’ organized work culture.
There are innovation-obliterating assassins lurking in all parts of your organization. Frighteningly, the biggest innovation assassins are often wearing a disguise. So many high level executives will earnestly (and with a straight face) wax poetically about how important it is to change the organizational culture, catalyze innovative thinking throughout all ranks of the company, and dismantle the power and comfort of the status quo. Yet when you delve deeper into conversation with such executives about taking action and implementing innovation, they cling to their security blanket—their status quo—as if it they were clinging on to the Titanic’s last life raft in the icy waters of the Northern Atlantic.
So why the discrepancy between what such executives say and what they actually do? They typically aren’t “lying” for the sake of deceit or other callous intentions; but instead, their self-contradictory statements and behaviors are usually due to fear. As stated in Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, “Sometimes, it is pure fear. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of criticism. Fear of change. Fear of being terminated.” So many people in a wide range of industries “… feel as if they are on the bubble. That is, one false move and—poof!—they’re on the street.”
Sometimes an organization’s culture of fear can be due to the residual effects of the Great Recession of the late 2000s. When a business team is insecure and in self-preservation mode where they are playing defense instead of offense (or, even worse, playing “not to lose” rather than “win the game”), it is easy for innovation assassination to permeate the fear-based cracks in the organization, effectively gagging all new ideas, impetuses for change, and innovation implementation.
Other times, an organization’s root cause of innovation assassination is not due to a culture of fear but rather purely political reasons. Exciting new thinking can meet an untimely death when it is squashed by people who aren’t team players and suffer from the “not invented here” syndrome, which is the closed-minded belief that, “no one [should] get credit for cool stuff around me unless it is me and my group.”
Another reason organizations are riddled with innovation assassination is due to the direct results of the organization’s decades of DNA. In such cases, ingrained cultural cues (you could even go so far as to call it “dogma”), lead to resistance to “the other” and new ideas and innovation in business. “Resistance to
‘the other’ will be fierce and often have very little to do with the actual worth of validity of the innovation being proposed.”
Innovators Must be Warriors: How to Fight Innovation Assassination and the Culture of Fear
Given the above-discussed information, the chances of successful innovation implementation must appear pretty bleak. Even the terms themselves—“innovation assassination” and “culture of fear”—are incredibly ominous-sounding. But fear not, there are ways to fight back against the culture of fear and innovation assassination and come out on top. One practical step an organization can take to promote risk-taking among their employees is to encourage “creative error.” The different types of workplace errors fall along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, you have errors arising due to sabotage or intentional concealment of errors made or noticed by employees; with such errors, leadership reaction must be on of strong disapproval and zero tolerance. At the middle of the error spectrum, are errors due to inadequate capabilities, unwillingness to learn, carelessness, and other such reasons. With these types of errors, you will see some organizations build up a healthy tolerance to them, despite not actively sanctioning them. Finally, at the other end of the error spectrum, is a type of error known as “creative errors.”
Creative errors happen due to changing market circumstances, calculated risks and rewards, and bad timing. Attention innovators: these are the type of errors you want to spot and encourage in your organization! There is a right and wrong type of failure; these creative errors fall into the “right type of failure” category. Spotting and encouraging the right errors can catalyze the elusive spirit of risk-taking that organizations should strive for. Encouraging creative errors can be an effective shield against a culture of fear and innovation assassination . A perfect example of an organization that encourages creative errors is the Tata Group Innovation Forum, a company whose brand portfolio most notably includes Land Rover and Jaguar. The Tata Group gives out an award called “Dare to Try.” For this award, employees are encouraged to send in entries for innovations that were attempted, but didn’t get implemented into the marketplace for whatever reason. There are way too many instances where the rewards and awards go to those employees who adopt the typical, safe, and trusted methods to deliver fault-free work. By turning this paradigm on its back and instead rewarding creative errors, the Tata Group is encouraging a culture of innovation and risk-taking throughout its company.
Encouraging creative errors is just one of many weapons an organization can use to fight innovation assassination and a culture of fear. For a discussion of other effective weapons in the arsenal, make sure to check back soon on this blog for a follow-up blog post, entitled “On Guard! To Successfully Implement Innovation in Business, You Must Fight the Culture of Fear and Innovation Assassination.”
For more information about how to promote and implement innovation at your company, check out the innovation books Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival and the recently published Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation.
 Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See pp. 24-25)