The word "innovation" is surrounded by a great deal of buzz in today's tough economic climate, with many analysts upholding "creative new ideas" as a way to survive and thrive during this recession. But as Michael J. Moscynski, a vice president with Juran Institute, writes on page 40, "Random, innovative ideas, no matter how clever, will not deliver economic success unless they meet a customer need better than the current method or fulfill a previously unknown or unmet need."
This proves true right now with GM. The company is in the midst of bankruptcy, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ray Lane said in a June 3 Charleston Gazette article that the auto giant "lacked innovation."
This recession is putting the spotlight on companies that have failed to find creative new ways to do business. Before the downturn, many companies that lacked innovation were still able to make a profit off their most popular items - not so anymore. So how can learning professionals stimulate innovation in their companies?
The ASTD white paper "Keep Learning Mission Critical" notes that innovation begins with a culture change. Organizational cultures need to recognize and celebrate innovative ideas. And learning executives need to act as facilitators by asking questions about where the organization is right now and where it wants to be in the future. Learning professionals must then ensure that employees have the opportunity to collaborate with other departments and review projects and lessons learned - both successful and unsuccessful. Note that successful companies do not punish employees for trying and failing.
So what drives innovation? Along with collaborative environments, people are the key drivers of innovation, but they can't be creative in their thinking or actions if they don't have the support of managers and senior executives when they take risks. Does your company have the power and potential for innovative ideas and creative execution? Companies that do will redefine the future.
There is no better time to begin exploring new ideas, new processes, and new products. But to do this, you need to know your customers' needs and be able to create an open culture where creativity is encouraged and change is embraced. Bear in mind that this is easier said than done because as author Roger von Oech once wrote, "It's easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago but will soon be out of date."