I was talking to a senior level contributor in a company well known for its innovation capabilities. He’s responsible for looking at ways to identify where knowledge exists within the human capital of the organization and figuring out ways to leverage that knowledge map for the benefit of the company. His charter really sounds like a good way to take a strong innovation culture to the next level of performance.
As we were talking, he told me that he had struggled finding adopters of his findings in the company. The people he talked to felt they already knew how to innovate and therefore weren’t that interested in exploring his ideas. He was understandably frustrated.
As we talked, I explained to him some of the things my team had done recently in the areas of enabling the democratization of innovation and leveraging tribal knowledge through automatic expertise identification and personnel profile mapping. Of course, this was right in the midst of his area of interest. He said he wished he had access to this technology for his work. Yet, when I asked if there some way we could partner to bring a powerful innovation accelerator to his company, the conversation took on a very different tone.
It wasn’t long before the truth emerged. His interest wasn’t actually in bringing higher performance innovation to his organization at all. He explained that if he was successful in deploying a combined solution in his company, it would be less likely that the company would allow him to start his own venture based on the work he had done while working at the company.
This was an interesting exchange in that it reveals the complexity that can underlie innovation barriers. While this person had initially attributed the lack of interest in organization take up of his research findings to corporate hubris, it was clear that his own personal agenda was the major factor. He didn’t actually want to succeed on the job because he perceived an opportunity for personal gain if he didn’t. Yes, he had hit some internal resistance, but how motivated was he to actually overcome this obstacle?
This raises some interesting points for managers and innovation practitioners alike. For the manager, it is important to ensure that employees who bring forward ideas feel their ideas are given real consideration. Also, never create systems that incent employees to withhold the value of their work from the company.
For practitioners, a key lesson is to be aware that some people will have agendas that are not aligned with the organization’s goals. Be on the lookout for these individual as they may be silent opponents of innovation. Also, look in the mirror. Are your motives aligned with the company’s objectives? If not, why not? If you can’t get aligned, you may be in the wrong position.