Innovation & Critical Thinking in Organizations

Innovation/Critical Thinking in Organizations

Before we embark on a discussion on this subject, let’s first try to discern between innovation and creativity.

  • In the words of Einstein, “Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else has thought”. Theodore Levitt coined innovation also into the equation, and said, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” Innovation cannot exist in the absence of creativity. However, creativity may sometimes not be practically proved until innovated. Invention can fit in between creativity and innovation.
  • Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” One deterrent for business growth is the difficulty of getting the executive management to change.
  • Innovation is facilitated by the creation of an innovative or proactive culture in an organization by its leadership. Having made a business proposal to a prospective customer, to wait for a response from that party is reactive; but a proactive business concern that takes the initiative by following up on the proposal would clinch the deal.
  • A proactive culture is considerate and not restrictive. Significant breakthroughs have very often been achieved by being proactive. A proactive leader would be seen very often on the phone at office, home, or even when on the run. Such leaders would manage their email rather than letting their email manage them.
  • Things unsaid at the correct time could mean lost opportunities. Some potentially brilliant ideas never come to be uttered, and therefore might never be heard.
  • The famous saying that “Failures are the pillars of success” is applicable to every forward-looking organization. Dealing with failures comprises an important part of leading innovation. Statistical inferences gained from failures enable leaders to make well-informed decisions confidently with regard to future innovations.
  • Failures could at times lead to accidental innovations for a different project, department, process, or even a different purpose. Some real-time examples of such serendipity are smallpox vaccine, Teflon and “Post-it” notes which was the outcome of a 3M misadventure on making a certain glue. 3M was latterly taking a “try a lot of stuff and keep what works” approach. On the flip side we find Norton, a company 10 times the size of 3M at one time, but cumbered with its centralized, bureaucratic and stagnant approach. Norton explicitly discouraged entrepreneurship, creativity and looking outwards for new opportunities beyond its traditional businesses. They emphasized too much on planning from the top down. Norton eventually did try to innovate and expand with acquisitions, but their turnaround in approach to innovation came too late. Norton was acquired on its way down in the nineties.
  • A long-term vision is essential with timely responses to changing markets. Having and maintaining an innovative leadership position amounts to continuous innovation.
  • It is only when you maintain a culture of innovation, or have a vision of attainable possibilities, that you would realize what you have missed, or what you are missing; despite little innovation.
  • Poor management makes employees spend more time discussing about their weak hierarchy than on doing their work.
  • People in trenches are not necessarily simply doers. What is more important is their close involvement with daily operations and customer contacts. It is something that leaders should take good note of. When working in trenches, leaders should be focused on the big picture. When there are issues to reckon with, what should be aimed at is not simply resolving the symptoms and moving on, but resolving their root causes. Root cause analysis sometimes leads to innovating new products or processes. Of course, failure to appropriately deal with the root causes could leave you with the dilemma of a continuous maintenance nightmare.
  • Capturing customer interactions with a product and analyzing its pain points can lead to innovations for making it a better product.
  • Creativity could spring from the most unexpected sources at the most unexpected times. A good leader never laughs at creative ideas. Do not ignore “smalltime ideas” like improving a process time by a few seconds or marginally reducing stationery costs. These simple items in virtue of their repetitive nature could contribute more towards reducing ultimate overall costs than rare single items of high value.
  • Further, competitors will be fast to copy how you handle your big items whereas how you handle your small items might go unnoticed. Thus, handling your small items well could gain you a comparative advantage over your competitors. One meticulously planned innovation could set off a train of similar or connected innovations. Leaders should try to adopt the US cold war domino theory to advantage for business innovations too. Scholidice Hospital in Canada specializing in Hernia Operations concentrated on a small item like reducing the bed occupancy time of patients. This innovation led to many other innovations like having no TVs in rooms, less laundry, surgeons trying to make their patients walk as soon as possible after surgery, which in turn motivates patients to feel better. All this made this hospital outstanding in its field as to make a niche for itself.  Other hospitals trying hard to copy and adopt these measures have not met with much success.
  • Copying gives you the advantage of knowing all the pitfalls in advance; a disadvantage is that you will never be the first in the market.
  • Having a capacity to listen and to be honest and spontaneous in one’s appreciation and encouragement paves the way for continuous innovation. An alert leader with the vision and wisdom to see its significance could transform even a seemingly minor complaint by an employee into an innovation.
  • Showing appreciation for workers’ ideas could transform their attitudes from one of detachment and frustration to one of active participation, involvement with a sense of fulfillment.
  • Have a system in place capable of extracting and converting basic ideas to strategic advantage. The system should be well supported with policies and procedures, structure, culture, budgets, skills and rewards. Some firms have similar systems for project performance appraisals too.

Summing up, the benefits of innovation could be broadly stated as staying ahead of the competition, getting a broader perspective of all relevant issues, motivating others to do your bidding while giving of their best; that could also lead to reducing labor turnover.

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