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Consider the conditions that support innovation. I offer three — ability, willingness and opportunity.
On the surface, they seem quite simple, maybe even distinct from one another. But upon further examination we find a complex set of supporting interactions.
Innovation is both simple and complex when truly integrated in a workplace culture. Explore both with me.
Workplace culture is simply the norms and behaviors of an organization that are generally adhered to by it’s population. Seems simple enough.
However, the origins, sustainment and shifting of those norms and behaviors in response to external stimuli are continuously shaping and reshaping.
Therefore, the simple is also complex.
OK, getting too deep and philosophical? Let’s look at this way. Workplace participants are always growing and changing through the daily grind and education, training or study.
Therefore, the way they work will likely change too. And if we want these workplace participants to innovate, we need to create conditions where they can innovate.
Let’s start with the first one — ability. Do the people in your organization have the abilities they need to stay on the leading edge of their field?
Are you providing things such as professional development, technical training, mentoring and educational opportunities as well as flexible work hours and equity in pay both inside the organization and in the marketplace? Giving innovators the workplace, development and social capital they need to thrive?
However, as important as ability is, innovation cannot happen without willingness.
Willingness happens on two planes. The first is at the individual level and the second is organizational.
At the individual level, a willingness to use the knowledge, skills and abilities they have to contribute to innovation can be encouraged through incentive programs, pathways to other things, training programs, or whatever else may appeal to both the individual and the organization.
Also, be watchful for those who can, but resist the shift to willing. They may need a little extra coercion.
Finally, we need to create the opportunity for innovation. Within the organization, we need to create spaces and places for innovation to occur.
The ultimate goal is to have it become part of the natural behavior of everyone in the organization. However, we must start by planting seeds and cultivating them.
Those seeds can be in the form of innovation days where the workplace members participate in a series of innovation activities facilitated by an external resource.
Events such as these can serve to fire creativity, inspire connection between employees, and provide new tools and approaches to problem-solving, decision-making and change.
There are also other events such as innovation week, innovationathon, innovation retreat, innovation competitions and more that you can leverage to create the initial opportunities, demonstrate organizational commitment, and begin to integrate innovation.
There is a clear connection between these three elements, ability, willingness and opportunity. For opportunities to be meaningful, workplace members have to have both ability to pursue the opportunity and willingness to do so.
Take a look at your organization. If these things need to be addressed to encourage innovation behaviors in your organization, start now.
And if you need help, contact us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jennifer Murphy is the co-host of the Iowa innovation Podcast powered by NewBoCo and director of Innovation Services for NewBoCo.