Stefan Lindegaard wrote two interesting posts this morning. The first talked about how a number of people in his open innovation workshop last week were very frustrated with the innovation process within their company. The second followed up a comment that I made on the first one – where he said that he sometimes advises people that are unable to innovate within their firm to find another job.
Both posts resonated with me. The first because I also run into a lot of frustrated people in my classes and workshops. A lot of people feel that they want to be more innovative but that the environment within their organisation prevents this. The first thing that I tell people in this situation is that they should start by trying to innovate as much as they can within the scope of authority and budget that they control. This is similar to Stefan’s suggestion that people manage up in an effort to influence their managers.
This often works. I’ve talked about this problem before – it actually reflects issues both on the part of the frustrated people and on the part of their managers. In many cases, people are waiting for someone to give them permission to innovate – they’re too scared to start on their own. This is a problem – and the first step to being more innovative inside of non-innovative firms is to try stuff.
Most of the time, this will work. Set things up as experiments, and find out what works. Once you learn this, then tell your manager about it. In the vast majority of cases, they’ll be happy to hear about new ideas that work.
But sometimes, they won’t. I’ve been in jobs where I haven’t been able to implement new ideas. It’s incredibly frustrating. It’s disempowering too. That’s why Stefan’s second post also struck home. I learned a lot about frustration from a women that worked for me in New Zealand. She was incredibly smart, and talented. She was innovative and consistently came up with great ideas. So I was incredibly disappointed when she told me that she was leaving for another job.
I did what I could to keep her. But in the end, her problem wasn’t with her salary, or with me. It was with the rest of the team, which was always blocking her ideas. We had been working on that problem together, but couldn’t find a way around it. That’s why she decided to go. I learned a lot about motivation from that experience.
I think that the main points in Dan Pink’s Drive are fundamentally correct. That people want autonomy, mastery and purpose in their jobs – and that if you give them this, they will do well. Here are two questions that get at these points:
The second one in particular is critical – “was I better today than yesterday?” Are you building skills? Are you improving? Are you happier? If you don’t like the answers to these questions, than maybe you do need to think about looking for another job.
(the graphic is another one from the awesome Hugh MacLeod)