It is innovation that is driving businesses today. For many, it is a survival tactic. Organisations seek people who can innovate, are creative, and can think out of the box. Having said that, it is also true that innovation and creativity are free birds. To innovate, one needs to let the imagination fly. Only then does the big idea strike.
“You cannot cage your employees and expect them to think out of the box. Employees need space to come up with out-of-the-box solutions.”
However, there is another side to the story. While organisations need innovations, they also have their own boundaries. They want people to be creative, but within certain limits. They wish for their people to think out of the box, but at the same time, want them to be meaningful and make business sense.
Does this mean, we need a rule book for innovations and creativity? Will not people find that restrictive, and get discouraged to think out of the box and innovate? So, what is the middle path? Can innovation and the rule book be married?
Let it fly with strings attached
Emmanuel David, director, Tata Management Training Centre, says, “You cannot cage your employees and expect them to think out of the box. Employees need space to come up with out-of-the-box solutions.”
What David means is that the thoughts of employees cannot be caged, but at the same time, there should be certain governance or ground rules listed for them to adhere to. “Innovation is actually a consequence of engagement and the dire need to solve a problem. The need for innovation arises especially when one wishes to bring about a change in the existing framework,” he explains.
“Setting boundaries or conditions while trying to foster a culture of innovation plays spoilsport. The excitement lies in creating and maintaining an environment where autonomy of mind is available to those who seek it, and creating disproportionate value,” agrees Jayant Kumar, Joint President HR, Adani Group
“Setting boundaries or conditions while trying to foster a culture of innovation plays spoilsport.”
Leaders should guide
Leaders and managers need to play an important role here. They cannot keep relying on the same ideas that have brought them success in the past. They cannot be effective if they surround themselves with people who parrot their ideas. Hence, leaders need to cultivate an air of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, which will lead to fruitful results.
How does one provide that framework where there is free flow of ideas mushrooming in every mind?
“Leaders need to give space to the team to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. They shouldn’t place too many restrictions and parameters so that the employees refrain from coming out of their cocoons,” advises David.
Ganesh Subramanian, CHRO, More Retail, also agrees to the role of leadership in fostering innovations. “A leader’s job is to enable cross-fertilisation of ideas and that only happens with interaction between multiple units, functions and factories. Also, a proper process is required to drive these interactions,” points out Subramanian.
“This implies that large organisations need to have a process, which helps foster innovation,” he adds.
Culture drives innovation
Kumar of Adani Group is of the opinion that there is a difference between institutional innovation and individual creativity. Both need to be approached and encouraged differently.
“A leader’s job is to enable cross-fertilisation of ideas, and that only happens with interaction between multiple units, functions and factories. Also, a proper process is required to drive these interactions.”
“Organic growth and value creation within organisations gets accelerated, if innovation and creativity are instilled as part of the culture. When people are encouraged to ideate and experiment, new solutions and propositions emerge. Several organisations have been able to include it as part of their value-creation model and harnessed the potential existing within the workforce,” says Kumar.
Concurs Subramanian, “One can’t foster innovation without getting thcue lture right. We should not have a culture which is very hierarchical. Rather, there should be a framework that allows people to indulge in healthy debates. These are few cultural aspects, which are of utmost importance.”
In addition, there is a need to instil a culture of active listening. “Even if employees present ideas with a proper framework, it is primarily the team which should be open to listening to those ideas and giving a strategic response as to why the idea/practice can or cannot be adopted,” shares Subramanian.
“The ways in which organisation manage success or failure in innovation efforts, play a defining role in the quantum of impact. Grace in dealing with setbacks goes a long way in messaging it right. Patience, encouragement and recognition are building blocks to channelising the power of ideas in reality,” states Kumar.
Internal control, external orientation
David points out that it is also about parameters, some internal and some external, and some where we have no control. Internal control should be limited where there is the actual bandwidth to take charge.
Subramanian also advocates external orientation, which according to him, is one of the key mandates while fostering innovation. “It is important for employees to be exposed to the working models of other organisations. It is essential to pen down how a similar working style can be imposed within the work environment,” he says.
In the current pandemic situation, everyone has the same constraint and access to the same technology. However, with access to common amenities, what differentiates people from each other is their ability to create value and manage cost in an effective and creative manner. Hence, the expectations of innovation are extremely high.
It is also true that the rule book and innovation cannot go hand-in-hand. However, at the same time, innovation or creativity without discipline will reap no fruits. The ultimate motive of innovation is to reap business benefits, and that cannot happen unless there is focus.
Procrastination actually helps innovation. Sometimes, when the deadlines are short and rigid, there is less time to invest in thorough thinking. This does not help to bring out innovative or out-of-the-box ideas. Enough time has to be allowed for the generation of creative outcomes.