Is Your Organization Innovating as Fast as the World is Changing?

Companies are born from good ideas, and they continue to grow and evolve by developing a continuous stream of better ideas.

Innovation is the lifeblood of an organization’s vitality and sustainability. Companies need to consistently generate relevant and actionable new ideas, or risk being eclipsed by competitors from around the globe.

Innovation has previously been associated with the development of new products or technologies, and only a select group of employees had responsibility for innovating within the company. However, more and more leaders now view innovation as the responsibility of the entire organization.

Breaking free of long-held views

One of the biggest challenges: would-be innovators need to break free of pre-existing views within their departments and organizations.

Unfortunately, the human brain is surprisingly adroit at supporting its deep-seated ways of viewing the world and ignoring evidence to the contrary. Academic research suggests that even when presented with overwhelming facts, many people simply won’t abandon their deeply held beliefs and opinions.

By identifying and then systematically challenging the long-held core beliefs within an organization, companies can improve their ability to embrace new ideas and gain an advantage on the competition. Many thought-leaders believe that continuous innovation is the only path forward for sustaining business.

Professors Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen tested and observed 3,000 executives over a six-year period. In a Harvard Business Review article, they noted five important “discovery” skills for innovators: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking.

But, the most powerful overall driver of innovation they discovered was associating — making connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”

Looking everywhere for a competitive advantage

Another strategy to encourage creativity is to impose artificial constraints on your business model. This tactic injects some much-needed “stark necessity” into an otherwise low-risk exercise.

Imposing constraints to spark innovation may seem counterintuitive, yet without some old-fashioned forcing mechanisms, many potential creative thinkers spin their wheels aimlessly or never leave their intellectual comfort zones.

The hyper-competitive market in which we find ourselves has created the need for companies to look for innovation and competitive advantages in every aspect of their business — and that requires everyone to think about new ways to approach their work and improve the business through both conventional and non-conventional means.

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Creativity need not be a trait reserved only for a lucky few, and we all can make innovation a cornerstone of our corporate strategy. By immersing employees in unexpected environments, confronting ingrained orthodoxies, using analogies, and challenging our organization to overcome difficult constraints, we can dramatically boost creative output.

What will you do today to up the innovation quotient in your company? 

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

Michelle M. Smith

A highly accomplished international speaker, strategist, and author on performance improvement; Michelle is a respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, employee engagement and talent. She’s published and presented more than 1,100 articles and lectures and is a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and governments.

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished industry leader who has worked in every facet of recognition and incentives, both domestically and internationally.

She has appeared on Fox Television and the BBC, and been featured in magazines like Fortune, Business Week, Inc., and Return on Performance; as well as national radio programs, and contributions to the books “Bull Market” by Seth Godin, “Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk,” and “Social Media Isn’t Social.”

Michelle is President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association and Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University. She’s Vice President, Research for the Business Marketing Association and serves on the Boards of the Incentive Federation and the Incentive & Engagement Solutions Council. She was also the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine.