Cultivating Innovation in the Workplace

Sections of This Topic Include

About Innovation
Leading Innovation
Linking Innovation in Operations
Perspectives on Innovation
Perspectives on Creativity

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About Innovation

Creativity is the nature of creating something new, either a new idea, concept or method. Innovation is using creativity to enhance performance of a process, person, team or organization.

Businesses, for-profit and nonprofit, are facing change like never before. Numerous driving forces to this change included a rapidly expanding marketplace (globalization), and increasing competition, diversity among consumers, and availability to new forms of technology. Creativity and innovation are often key to the success of a business, particularly when strategizing during strategic planning, and when designing new products and services. Creative thinking and innovation are particularly useful during Strategic Planning (when strategizing) and in Product and Service Management (when designing new products and services.) (The library includes many areas of information related to creativity. See Creativity.) Also consider numerous creative methods for solving problems and making decisions.)

Leading Innovation

© Copyright Carol Muse

Innovation is a hot topic these days. From what I have seen, organizations have been outsourcing innovation for the last 10-15 years. It began with a reliance on ad agencies and then shifted to “design” companies like IDEO and JUMP. Now the business airwaves and media announce the need for more innovation, faster and more radical than ever before, and the literature of full of “how to innovate” books and articles.

It seems easy to say we want to innovate, but it feels like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, you are leaving all you know behind for a visit to Chaos. Confronted by all the mystery and disorder that precedes innovation, our challenge as leaders is to help people make meaning of the journey. As Dee Hock describes, “Making good judgments and acting wisely when one has complete data, facts, and knowledge [control] is not leadership. It’s not even management. It’s bookkeeping. Leadership is the ability to make wise decisions, and act responsibly upon them when one has little more than a clear sense of direction and proper values; that is, a perception of how things ought to be, an understanding how they are, and some indication of the prevalent forces driving change.” In this sense, innovation is the end product of a disruptive cycle of Adaptive Change.

To innovate is to intentionally let go of the “way things are” and welcome “the way they could be.” Breakdown is the first step toward innovation, an intentional release of established habits of thought, expectations, assumptions, and beliefs in order to embrace “not knowing”. The concept of surfing the “edge of chaos” sounds exciting until you get there and leave control at the door. In Adaptive Change we call this the Fall.

Fortunately, Breakdown doesn’t last. As we confront the mess, we naturally make meaning of it, allowing order and Breakthroughs to emerge – the “ah-ha” moments that we love to experience. The journey from Breakdown to Breakthrough, the Cauldron of Change, is a period of stress (high enough to motivate and mobilize, and potentially immobilize), uncertainty, and unpredictability. There is no clear way forward, we are reduced to trial-and-error experimentation. This is a period that requires a rapid and straightforward learning cycle, one that encourages experimentation and taking smart risks as you learn your way forward. Sense-Test-Adapt, a biomimetic cycle that is just what it says, propels you forward as order emerges from the chaos. The faster you cycle the faster you learn.

Breakthroughs get you out of Chaos and into Complexity – you are half way home but you are still not “in control”. Complexity requires Imagination, which takes you beyond creativity and taps into mystery. Mystery allows us to explore “things in our environment that excite our curiosity but elude our understanding.[1] In the complex domain hunches and ah-has pull us forward by removing extraneous information and linking up ideas to form a system of inquiry. In this way novelty is morphed into a myriad of possibilities.

With all these possibilities we begin to follow our hunches to their logical conclusions, picking one or two and applying all our knowledge, know-how, technology, etc. to understand them. In this way we make the imagined “real”, manifest as products, programs, services, and art. Making “manifest” is the phase I call Innovation. Innovation without the journey through chaos and mystery is evolutionary at best, incremental most often. Innovation as the conclusion of the full cycle is revolutionary, tapping into our most creative spaces and pulling forth something remarkably different from where we started.
Do’s for leading innovation

Foster an environment of imagination, exploration, acceptable risk, and “what ifs.” Meet the Devil’s Advocate at the door and refuse them entry.
Give people time to think, toys to spark off, and diverse partners to play with. The resource needs and costs of Innovation rise over time. Resources that drive early innovation, Breakdown, Breakthrough, and Imagination, are mainly emotional and psychological support. No leader can afford to ignore these intangible costs for the foreseeable future.

Relax when things seem out-of-control, it is part of the process and can’t be skipped. Focus people on moving their “crazy ideas” forward and making sense of them.
Apply the innovation cycle to your leadership development…hummm, now that’s a thought!

Linking Innovation and Operations

© Copyright Jim Smith

Development is hard pressed to interface with operations. Yet it is extremely important that this interface be workable because developments are not relevant until they find their way into operations. This is the “reason for being” of development; to have new systems and adaptive processes and structures integrated, in the long run, to foster organizational performance and adaptation.

What’s The Difference?

An operation is charted to preserve the status quo, the current thinking and methods. Operations assumes this status quo as a “given” and works within current procedures to improve them and “operationalize” them with a high degree of efficiency. In most operations the problem is clear and solutions are knowable. Fast response is an overriding value in executing a “fix” and getting the operation back on-line.

Development, on the other hand is a constructive conspiracy. It is the development function, who’s job it is to replace the current ways of doing things, with new tools and assumptions more in line with changing business and organizational conditions. Development is rife with ambiguity; it is a searching and learning process. The overriding value is gaining commitment to change.

Innovation and Development is fragile, complex and conceptual. Nothing kills it faster than premature exploitation- rushing to capitalize on it too soon. Development is not charted but it is navigable, it is a learned activity in action where hunches are tested and theory is developed in the process of action. The context of development is uncertainty. Operations on the other hand, works to reduce uncertainty to a program, an operational term.

Learning It While Doing It

Operations are based in control. Developments emerge and are always subject to un- intended consequences in action as development is moved toward its purpose. One of the themes of these essays is that developments are realized through the process of development, it is in effect learned in the process of doing it.

Usually there is not a great deal of organizational understanding and support for doing this. An often operation does not see the need or understand the purpose of the development itself. For this reason, development needs protection at a certain stage. Protection and understanding go hand in hand. As the development is understood the protection can be loosened which is necessary to gain the institutional support for prioritizing the resources for more disciplined development.

Boundary management means the protection and support of a differentiated development culture and the managed change of this culture when appropriate. Boundary management is a continual effort of judgment and balance because technical organizations optimize performance and their activities are always influenced by demands and feedback from a variety of sources in the global environment. Establishing and managing boundaries is both necessary and problematic.

Perspectives on Innovation

Recommended Articles

A Process for Continuous Innovation and Controlled Chaos
Qualities of an Innovator
Three Questions that Will Kill Innovation
The Number One Key to Innovation -- Scarcity
Defining Innovation

Additional Articles

Eight Communication Traps That Foil Innovation
The Global Innovation 1000: How the Top Innovators Keep Winning
RealInnovation.com - many articles on innovation
Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization
Five Secrets of Great Innovators
How to Sell an Idea to Your Boss
How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted
The Next Big Thing in Managing Innovation
Dimensions of Social Innovation
Can a Big Company Innovate Like a Start-Up?
What's Wrong With How We Innovate?
Finding Innovation in the Flattened Organization
Innovate like a Kindergartner
A Quirky Way of Innovating
Delivering Your Innovative Ideas
How to Execute Great Ideas
Social Networks Will Change Product Innovation
Leading Innovation
Defining, Accepting and Training “Innovation,” Part One
Defining, Accepting and Training “Innovation,” Part Two
Will Machines Always Make Life Easier?

Perspectives on Creativity

Creative Thinking Skills Can Be Learned!
Tunnel Vision Will Get You Nowhere
Enchanted Mind - Creativity Techniques
Creative Thinking
Review: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down
Creativity in Adulthood
Leadership: Creativity and Innovation
The Right Way to Get Your Ideas Heard
Creativity and the Learning Process
Creativity for Managers
How Companies Can Develop Critical Thinkers and Creative Leaders
The Three Threats to Creativity
How to Get Your Idea Approved
Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization
How to Sell an Idea to Your Boss
How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted
Three Approaches to Communicate a “Rejection” to an Idea
The Creative Leadership No-Brainer, Part I
The Creative Leadership No-Brainer, Part II
Battling for Creative Solutions
Unlocking Creative Potential – A Neuroscience Approach, Part I
Unlocking Creative Potential – A Neuroscience Approach, Part II
Unlocking Creative Potential – A Neuroscience Approach, Part III


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