Innovation and Organizational Learning Pathways and Pitfalls
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
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"The way to avoid mistakes is to gain experience. The way to gain experience is to make mistakes."
— Laurence J. Peter, Peter's Competence Principle
- If your team or organization doesn't have a disciplined management system
and supportive leadership culture, innovation and organizational learning
is just wishful thinking.
- The only place you should try "doing it right the first time"
is with established, repetitive processes. Beyond that, this quality improvement
cliché can kill innovation. A major study from the American Quality Foundation
concluded, "we don't do things right the first time. Trial and error
— making mistakes, experiencing failures, and learning from them — is how
we improve. We need mistakes in order to learn; they are an integral part
of how we get better. Urging Americans to 'do it right the first time'
means asking them to omit a step in their improvement process. It won't
work...if Rocky had done it right the first time, there would have been
- I received a seminar brochure advertising an "innovation lab"
and a "change workshop." These were "designed for mid-level
management and professional employees with responsibilities for change
and innovation." Everybody in the company is responsible for personal,
team, and organization change and innovation. We can't separate these responsibilities
any more then we can separate quality improvement, customer service, or
human resource management. Developing a staff group of "innocrats"
is a sure-fire way to kill innovation and increase resistance to change.
- How many experiments, pilots, and clumsy tries are currently underway in
your organization? Depending on your Law of Averages, you will need many
times more projects and pilots in the exploration and experimentation stage
than you are hoping to eventually develop.
- Here's some very sound advice Peter Drucker has been giving us for at least
three decades now, "every three years or so, the enterprise must put
every single product, process, technology, market, distributive channel,
not to mention every single staff activity on trial for its life. It must
ask: Would we now go into this product, this market, this distributive
channel, and this technology today? If the answer is, 'No', one does not
respond with, 'Let's make another study'. One asks, 'What do we have to
do to stop wasting resources on this product, this market, this distributive
channel, this staff activity?'"
- It's the very rare company that can make their organization more innovative
by acquiring an entrepreneurial company. Within a few years, the acquired
company's culture has been "tamed" down to the same level of
mediocre innovation as the purchasing organization. Innovation happens
through transforming management systems/processes and leadership culture.
- Establish a regular review process for yourself, your team, and your organization
to reflect on the reasons for both your failures and successes. This is
a fundamental and critical component of learning. Based on the input of
everyone involved, some organizations produce substantial documents or
booklets on "lessons learned" following a major new product,
service, or business launch.
- Set up an Innovation Slush Fund to provide seed money to champions and
skunk works. Couple it with allowing your key operations people 10 - 15
percent of their time to work on projects that they feel have some high
innovation potential. The only condition of getting the money or time is
a periodic report (preferably voice mail, E-mail, videotape, or group presentation
rather than a bureaucratic memo) on the key lessons learned. Circulate
these reports widely.
- Set up an internal "best practices and good tries" system, clearinghouse
or network to continuously spread the learning about what works and doesn't
work across your organization. Many organizations are setting up electronic
databases, intranet sites, learning and improvement coordination processes,
active networks, and the like.
- Put on regular product and service fairs that allow all areas of your company
to show off their results, explain what they're working on, and swap ideas.
A giant two-day fair at a large house-wares manufacturer resulted in 2,000
ideas for new products.
- Time to pull out that leadership mirror again. Do you have an experimenting
mind set? What are some recent examples of personal routines or habits
- A major factor in our team or organization’s level of innovation is our own rate of personal learning. We can't build a team or organization into something different from us. Our personal rate of change, innovation, and learning sets the pace for everyone else.
© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group
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