It is heartening to see the many initiatives cropping up in India to stimulate innovation. The Mahindra Group initiative ‘Spark the Rise’ is one such program. The Economic Times creation- ‘The Power of Ideas’ is another. The Marico Innovation Foundation has the ‘Innovation for India’ forum. These initiatives have generated enthusiasm and re-kindled the appetite for entrepreneurship. What is heartening to note is that these efforts are comprehensive. They provide the platform to showcase the innovation and they also provide the complete ecosystem to bring great ideas to fruition from mentorship to resources.
WITHIN Organizations however, innovation is harder to come by. It is not that there are any less innovative people; it is not as if there is a lack of ideas. It is just that there is a huge resistance to change the status quo that exists. Innovation means people have to adapt to new behaviours. So the first reaction is to try and thwart any attempt to even allow an idea to surface. Mostly the resistance can take some very subtle forms so that a casual observer may not realize what is going on.
Having worked for 25 years in Corporate, here are some humorous insights I have observed. I have classified them as ‘5 strategies to thwart Innovation’. Some may strike a chord.
1) The ‘Dilbert’ strategy– This is an attacking strategy’. Rubbish the idea as soon as it surfaces. Do not give others time to dwell on the thoughts. This is depicted in the recent Dilbert cartoon shown above. Heap scorn and make the proposer feel stupid. This is generally adopted by those in authority- partly out of the feeling of insecurity generated by the discomfort of not having thought of it earlier. It leaves the proponent bewildered, confused and decidedly less enthusiastic of proposing anything new for some time to come.
2) The ‘Need more Light’ strategy– This is a deceptive strategy. While appearing to agree with the proponent, the poor guy is burdened with a request to generate data for consideration. Since most innovations start with a hunch and need to be nurtured in a congenial atmosphere in order to sprout, this strategy effectively takes the steam out of the proponent. Being an innovation, supporting data is anyway lacking. When he does provide some data, he is asked for even more with multivariate thrown in for good measure. In the maze of numbers and justifications, the initial motivation is drained and it is back to work as usual.
3) The ‘First things First’ strategy– This is a distraction or decoy strategy. Pretending to agree wholeheartedly with the proponent, the momentum is diverted to so called ‘pressing organization imperatives’ with the promise that once they are accomplished the idea will get taken up for discussion. The ‘pressing organization imperatives’ have been there since the last half decade and will continue to remain so for the next foreseeable future. But since the promise to take it up remains, the proposer can hardly argue that the organization imperatives are less important than a new initiative.
4) The ‘Best Person to Drive this!’ strategy: This is a ‘Porcupine’ strategy. What happens if you catch a Porcupine? Instinctively you throw it away! If the Proposer is adamant on pushing the idea and is known to not take ‘no’ for an answer, then this strategy is deployed. The project is taken and given to someone else ‘who is more qualified’ or ‘who will benefit the most’ from implementing it. This is a Master Stroke. If there is no ownership from the person to whom it is given, the project will either not take off or it will take longer time to mature. This effectively puts a spanner in the works.
5) ‘Let me play the Devil’s Advocate!’ strategy: This is a mischievous tactic played by a seasoned veteran. Under the protection of the Banner of the Devil’s Advocate, it is Open house for tearing apart and poking holes at the proposal. It takes a Mighty Goliath to withstand the taunts and wisecracks of this weathered fiend. This strategy can be combined with any of the above 4 with devastating effect.
Now don’t get disillusioned with the above. I have dramatized it a bit for effect. But in essence these are the phenomenon I have observed. Having a good leader at the helm, who allows the interplay of differences, yet knows when to intervene and put his effort behind an innovation, makes the difference between success and failure to experiment and grow. Most organizations know how to balance these forces and some encourage certain amount of display of aggression in order to bring out stronger passions at work.
Let me have your views on this interesting topic.