Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Chaos, Mistakes and Idea Popping

Doing more, better, faster with less, screams out for innovation.  This could be at the incremental level – a kaizen approach of continuous improvement or it could be breakthrough leaps that forge new businesses.  Either way, there is a dynamic in play here between processes and people that is critical for our success.  How much scope can we allow in the creative process?  At the practical level, this is really asking how many and how huge are the mistakes you will tolerate to achieve idea popping?
Managers manage processes. Leader also manage processes, but they also have an important role to build people with ideas.  In any workplace there will be some degree of compliance required around regulations, laws, safety concerns etc.  If these are overly tight, then there is usually not a great deal of tolerance for errors.  If it is a complete laissez-faire environment, with no controls, then we will wind up in court and possibly in jail.  Somewhere between compliance and chaos is the sweet spot of the environment most suitable for our people to be developed to become innovative idea popping machines.
By its very nature, any change requires us to step out of our Comfort Zone, because we are either doing something old in a new way or something completely new.  Getting people to step out of their Comfort Zones is fraught with difficulty.  It is even more so when we are requiring a more creative approach or when we are seeking to create something entirely new.  How do we encourage people to come up with new and creative ideas?  Standing in front of the whiteboard, felt pen at the ready and looking expectantly at the audience for their ideas is probably one of the most common and one of the worst methods.  
To totally top it off, saving time by critiquing the idea flow as it emerges is a guaranteed innovation killer.  Take a good look around your own organization and check just how you encourage the pursuit of ideas, how do you do your brainstorming down at your shop?  Your actual technique may be harming the idea creation environment.  If this worries you, let me know, because we have a great system for producing ideas from the whole team and not just the usual noisy three.
In the messy process of innovation there will be mistakes.  Accepting this in theory is pretty easy, but what about confronting it in practice when you are responsible?  What is the environment for reporting mistakes or problems?  Usually, the boss finds out about trouble last – after everyone has done a sterling job to cover it up.  The truth only emerges when the issue can’t be hidden anymore.  Why is that?  
A workplace recording many violations of procedure and one reporting few, will be looked at differently on paper back at headquarters.  The many incidents location will seem to indicate a poor compliance environment (and by extension your poor leadership).  In fact it may be the other way around.  The workplace reporting few may be magicians at hiding bad stuff and the other may be one where mistakes are encouraged as part of the learning process.  Constantly encouraging ideas and experimentation, but also faithfully recording errors for root cause analysis as part of the creative process, could be seen as failure when judged from the incident numbers.  We need to look past the numbers, to what type of environment the leader has created?
How we celebrate failure; ride the edge of the blade between compliance and crazy; and how we deal with mistakes is being very carefully observed by the whole team.  If there is a trust environment, where mistakes are accepted as part of the process of creative change and ideas are not critiqued as they emerge, then the team will feel safe to suggest their ideas.  Leaders who can build this type of environment are treasures.  If you look around you and all you see is a blame culture and rapid retribution for failure, start praying your competitors haven’t worked out the balance needed between mistakes and innovation.  If they have, over time, they will win and you will lose.
Action Steps
1.Check whether the balance between compliance and creativity is at the right level?
2.Is your brainstorming technique an idea killer not an idea creator?
3.Are you encouraging people to come out of their Comfort Zones?
4.Is reporting mistakes seen as formula for being punished?
5.Are you developing an idea generation environment which is going to give you an edge over the opposition or are you losing the innovation war?
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