If innovation was human, how would it feel? Would it be frustrated and angry at seeing its potential wasted? Would it be full of hope and joy at the positive changes it could deliver to people’s lives and livelihoods? Or would it be like the rest of us; working through a mix of emotions as it tries to do the best it can in the face of multiple external factors?
I know innovation. I’ve encountered it in various guises across multiple organisations, worked with it for many years, shared its highs and lows, its frustrations and successes. And the more I’ve come to know it, the more I’ve come to understand just what a natural force for change it can be. But I’ve also seen it face discrimination and misunderstanding. I’ve seen it be sidelined in favour of populist fads which fade as quickly as they arrive. And in some rare cases, I’ve seen the painful fallout as it gets dropped without warning; discriminated against, perceived to be too difficult or too challenging or just not worth the effort.
For me, innovation represents a microcosm of the human experience; thriving when it encounters a positive, visionary-led culture whose mission is to help others maximise their potential, or trudging sadly home alone as it is blamed for adverse outcomes brought about by poor leadership.
Fanciful thinking? Well, let’s look at some of the evidence and think about how we might feel if the same was applied to us. What would be your reaction if your boss told you that it wasn’t worth allocating development resources to you because they didn’t think you would produce anything worthwhile? Well, that’s the belief of 27% of executives who feel it is unacceptable to invest in an innovation project which fails.  Maybe that’s in part because just 16% of total FTSE 350 annual bonus conditions positively encourage spending on innovation compared to 39%, which positively discourage it.  So your boss is prioritising their take-home pay above your development; that’s heartening!
Of course, it could be worse. 67% say innovation is being blocked as a result of a focus on cost reduction , so you could be out of a job anyway! And if you’re lucky enough to be asked to stick around, how would you feel if you worked for one of the 58% of companies where your annual appraisal looked at revenue generated as the full measure of your success ; effectively sidelining any other potential benefit or impact of your work. Not that that matters when turf wars and culture are seen to be among the most significant barriers to innovation , and when 54% of executives struggle to align innovation strategy with business strategy , your working environment is likely to be so chaotic that the chance of you receiving a focused development programme is low in the extreme.
On the other hand, you might be lucky enough to encounter a leadership team which not only believes in your potential for change but is also prepared to do what is necessary to help you to deliver. Maybe you work in an organisation whose executives agree with the idea that the top three traits innovation leaders should have are a clear vision, a customer-led approach, and a collaborative outlook.  Or maybe your culture looks towards inclusion and diversity,  in the process delivering an innovation mindset which is six times higher in the most equal cultures than in the least equal ones. Add in the finding that for every 10% improvement in cultural factors, the innovation mindset increases by 10.6% and it is hardly surprising that employees in the most inclusive cultures see the fewest barriers to innovation.
These are the sorts of organisations in which you can thrive. More importantly, you will also benefit from critical enablers of success such as leadership support, the ability to test, learn and iterate, a strong vision, and a good team around you.  What does this add up to? Quite simply, if innovation were human, it would find itself in the same situation as everyone else, thriving under good leadership or struggling in the face of leaders whose attitude and focus is not as it should be. Innovation has so much to give, as do its colleagues across organisations. It can drive the bottom line for years to come. It can deliver remarkable customer outcomes and come up with wicked solutions to wicked problems; making customers, employees and investors proud to be associated with the organisation.
And it all comes down to good leaders, individuals who can cut through the noise and truly value potential. More importantly, individuals who are prepared to transform themselves and their organisations in pursuit of innovative outcomes. If innovation was human, how would it feel working in your organisation? Maybe it’s time to change.
This article was previously published on Outcome.