Why Developing Corporate Changemakers is Essential for Innovation
We can all agree that Google is one of the most innovative organizations in the world. And this is true not only from the technology and information point of view, but also in their people’s operations, leadership and management approach. For them, culture eats strategy for breakfast,which translates in strategies revolving around the culture of innovation.
However, some big names such as Ev Williams, Biz Stone, Dennis Crowley, Ben Silbermann and Kevin Systrom didn’t find a space to expand and unleash their creative potential at Google. Those guys went on to create their own [now very famous] startups, Twitter, FourSquare, Pinterest and Instagram, respectively. They all had the greatest ideas and were loyal to Google, but ultimately couldn’t win the fight against limitations and structures.
Most corporations are designed not to foster innovation, but to suppress it.Regardless of what they say or what their core values and competencies are. These corporations have strict internal regulations that, one way or another, hinder people’s capacities and creative potential. Unfortunately, these regulations create a culture to which people are forced to fit in, and not the other way around. No surprise that 88% of the Fortune 500 companies have disappeared between 1950 and 2014, and that most of the existing ones will live only for a decade (unless they do something bold!).
In reality, organizations are full of internal changemakers. These changemakers are highly creative, high performers and collaborators, loyal to the company, yet very often (perhaps always!) frustrated by the limitations and stiff structures. Changemakers want to make things better and they are creatively thinking on ways to do it. They are the internal disruptors and the ones hacking the company’s products or services with the intention of understanding the flaws to solve them, find opportunities and innovate.
Regrettably, most companies waste changemakers’ talents and abilities by caging them into hierarchies, policies, rules, regulations, norms and many other things meant to control people. Many organizations and their leadership fear changemakers instead of developing them. They think that these disruptors will bring chaos to the organization. And they are right! They bring the type of chaos out of which the best ideas and innovation will come.
- Create cross-pollinating task forces: some leaders are afraid of working and collaborating with others because fear of them taking the credit. This is nothing short of ludicrous and stupid. Teams and people within an organization are working under the same mothership. They are striving for the same big long-term goals. Creating task forces with people from different teams create a collision of ideas and perspectives that will exponentially multiply the amount of solutions and innovations. Keep in mind that the best ideas often result from the combination of different fields, and not from within one alone.
- Incremental disruption: this is an oxymoron, but let me explain. Large organizations are like a big truck, they need a lot of room, time and space to shift to a different direction. Developing changemakers is one the best strategies for the entire corporation to identify new strategies and direction. However, it will take time and a lot of courage to make decisions. Thus, it is recommended that a changemakers’ task force is created in the “outside” of the organization. They will be given the authority and autonomy to follow their own rules in the disruption process. They will have a minimum budget, although the most important thing for them will be their capacity to self-manage their work avoiding unnecessary corporate structures. Once they identify and experiment with ideas, it will be easier to sell them to the rest of senior management.
- Encourage the team to find internal and external innovation: Peter Diamandis, founder of X Prize Foundation and cofounder of Singularity University, says that “if you relying on innovation solely from inside your organization, you are dead”. Changemakers teams must look both within and outside the organization for problems and opportunities, and solutions. They can’t rely exclusively on internal capabilities. This premise opens up another important advantage of changemakers task forces, they can easily partner with startups or individual innovators. In doing so, they are exponentially multiplying the possibility to disrupt the company from inside with better products and services.
We live in times of unprecedented change and disruption. Companies cannot afford wasting people’s talents and abilities. Instead, they need to develop them and give them the opportunity to reach their creative potential. This will be highly beneficial both for the individual’s engagement and motivation, and for the company’s long term sustainability, profitability and relevance. Developing corporate changemakers is a fantastic way to disrupt the company from within and make it better and stronger, before it is disrupted from outside, replaced and forced out of the market. Whether senior leaders want it or not, they either disrupt, or they will get disrupted.
About the Author: Enrique Rubio is an Electronic Engineer and a Fulbright scholar with an Executive Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University. Enrique is passionate about leadership, business and social entrepreneurship, curiosity, creativity and innovation. He is a blogger and podcaster, and also a competitive ultrarunner. Visit the blog: Innovation for Development and Podcast. Click here to follow Enrique on Twitter.
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