What if you could click your heels three times and magically transform your entire workforce, reshaping them into innovators or innovation-minded employees?
That is - in essence - what Thomas Edison did with each person who drew a paycheck from his Menlo Park laboratory, or his West Orange lab and manufacturing complex.
A new hire could walk into Edison's workplace as a smart, motivated individual - and walk out as an innovator. How did Edison accomplish this? What buttons did Edison push?
Edison knew that the heart of innovation lay in driving creativity and risk-taking. We see this in Edison's first competency of innovation (Solution-centered Mindset), where he begins seeking solutions through experimentation - an important form of risk-taking. We see creativity evidenced in the second competency of innovation (Kaleidoscopic Thinking) where Edison uses advanced whole-brain thinking techniques to drive his thoughts to the juiciest part of the brain: the frontal lobe.
Bottom line: Edison taught all his employees to embrace creativity and risk-taking. And herein lies one key to his innovation success which we can emulate today.
In this article, I'll talk about:
- Recent research which shows why so few Innovators thrive in organizations.
- 4 ways leaders can drive Creativity, building stronger connections between the Innovators and employees with other orientations.
- 3 things leaders can do to expand Risk-taking within their organization.
As we get started, consider which of these new ideas and action steps could work best for you.
The "Innovator" Is Just One of Eight Key Orientations Needed for Innovation Success
Dr. Jacqueline Byrd is co-author of The Innovation Equation, and a rigorous student of her late father Richard Byrd's pioneering efforts to understand what drives successful innovation efforts in companies. Jacqueline has assembled a body of research conducted with over 14,000 organizations - large and small - illuminating 8 key "orientations" which must be present for innovation to occur in any company. She has compiled her findings into what she calls the Creatrix™.
At right is a chart revealing these 8 orientations, set out along two axes. The "x" axis represents Creativity and the "y" axis represents Risk-Taking. Together, this schematic displays what Byrd calls the Creatrix™.
You can see from the Creatrix chart that the Innovator lies in the upper right quadrant, where the highest scores for both risk-taking and creativity lie. This is one key reason why Byrd's research indicates that only 5.1% of employees in organizations are Innovators: very few people can hold these two orientations together simultaneously at such high levels. (Could you?)
The other 7 orientations shown in the chart below, each shown with its corresponding percentage level as present in most large and small organizations:
|Research Findings from the Creatrix™ Database
|Skill Orientations and Percentages
What's fascinating to me about this chart is that the key quality we so desire - the Innovator orientation - exists at such a low level. Indeed, based on these figures, the Innovator has to fight uphill against the more numerous, left-brained, "logical" facets of an organization such as the Modifier and Planner functions, which together total nearly half the employee population (47.8%). No wonder Innovators get tired and leave!
In the next edition of Edison's Notebook, I'll describe more about the specific functions of the other 7 orientations which complement the Innovator, their roles, how they impact the Innovator orientation, and how we can assemble winning innovation teams which leverage their respective strengths.
But right now, let's identify what leaders can do to build greater cohesion between the Innovators and the rest of the organization, reducing strain on the Innovator's role and improving overall innovation performance. The first key is to drive expansion along the "x" axis of the Creatrix chart, building the Creative capacities of your employees.
4 Ways to Encourage "Creativity Development" in Your Employees
A recent Harvard study indicates that one-third of our creative capacity as individuals stems from our genetic make-up -- our DNA. The other two-thirds stems from our ability to observe, practice, and implement creativity-driving behaviors and skills. (Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, Clayton Christensen; Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2009)
In other words, creativity can be learned!
Jacqueline's studies indicate that there are four core components which we want to build as part of "learned creativity." These are shown in the chart below: 1) ambiguity; 2) independence; 3) inner-directedness; and 4) uniqueness. Let's address each in turn.
Ambiguity: This refers to the individual'sability to work without direction, or to make progress even when there is no clear input. According to Jacqueline, people who can handle high levels of ambiguity "don't need to have everything nailed down tight."
Independent: This quality addresses an individual's ability to work alone, in Solitude, and make headway. It nicely corresponds to Edison's element #15 within innovation competency #3: Full-spectrum Engagement.
Inner-directedness: Here, the individual must be able to "tune in" to his or her inner voice, that wellspring within which drives passion, ideas, and direction. Edison was highly inner-directed, and encouraged his employees to be as well, even when it led to intense debate.
Uniqueness: Jacqueline states, "People who are creative surround themselves with folks who are really different and unique - different from each other, and different from themselves. (Uniqueness also involves) recognizing and valuing what is unique about people you work with - even those who you don't like."
Short of actually taking the Creatrix inventory - which Jacqueline has developed to help organizations assess who their Innovators are (visit www.creatrix.com for more) - here are a few exercises Jacqueline suggests you can use to expand Creativity within your organization:
- Strengthen the ability to handle Ambiguity by working with the data you have rather than continually asking for more.
- Strengthen the quality of Independence by refusing to do something if it doesn't make sense to you.
- Expand Inner-directedness by writing down 5 of your own new ideas everyday for a week. (Ensure they are not copied from others!)
- Strengthen Uniqueness by considering what motivates people who do things differently than you do.
By offering these Creativity-building exercises to your team, you'll begin to see positive, rapid changes in the innovation-orientation of your colleagues! They will also begin appreciating the unique qualities of Innovators in your organization.
Let's turn now to learn about the second of the Innovator's two core drivers: Risk-taking.
3 Ways to Encourage Risk-taking in Your Employees
If you thought it was tough to increase your Creativity index, try ramping up your risk-taking quotient! It can be even tougher.
Jacqueline's research indicates there are 3 components to the Risk-taking orientation of the Innovator: 1) authenticity; 2) resilience; and 3) self-acceptance. Here is how they each stack up.
Authentic: Jacqueline states, "To be authentic is to speak your mind." The approach doesn't have to be harsh or brash, but the bluntness of being Authentic can be bruising. Jacqueline indicates Donald Rumsfeld is a good example of an individual with a high Authentic rating. Although you may not like what he says, he typically speaks his mind. Certainly Edison did, too!
Resilient: This is one of the toughest qualities to "teach." Jacqueline mentions, "Often, we learn these qualities through childhood challenges." The individual with Resilience can "just keep working forward. They know everything will eventually work out."
Self-accepting: If you're going to take risks, you're going to fail. Period. But our ability to accept these failures - as well as our own personal shortcomings - is crucial to the expansion of our Risk-taking abilities. Edison framed all his "failures" as learning. He said after working for a year on devising a storage battery from iron and nickel with few results: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Jacqueline indicates women often have greater difficulty than men do with this quality. Due to acculturation factors, she says "Women are often harder on themselves, and dwell more on their failures. They need to learn to reframe these experiences and become more self-accepting."
Here are some exercises Jacqueline suggests you can use to expand Risk-taking within your employees:
- To expand Authenticity, start saying "I disagree" when you genuinely disagree. Learn to live with others' reactions.
- To expand Resilience, start believing that things will work out - no matter what.
- To strengthen Self-acceptance, start believing that a mistake is a mistake and not a life-altering event all the time.
Here at the start of 2010, make a commitment to strengthen your Creativity and Risk-taking drivers. Make a solid effort to incorporate the exercises Jacqueline has suggested in your daily and weekly practices. These practices align with Edison's own advice on how to think like an innovator!
In the next issue: Building Two Kinds of Innovation Teams