Innovation is messy, innovation is risky, innovation is tapping into the unknown. Organizations want innovations, not the process of innovating. This is why:

  • Almost all successful organizations are based on breakthrough innovations in the beginning (past).
  • Innovation is innate to human beings. We are the result of innovation, and we are still in an ongoing process of innovation and will always be. Innovation is what is happening all the time; humans already are highly creative.
  • In order to exploit and market their own innovations, organizations have designed structures and procedures to tame, prevent, suppress or ignore innovation. Innovation has become a threat to the successful delivery of a standard product. What they want is reliability and controlled innovation, which actually is continuous improvement – and contradicory to genuine innovation.
  • Features of innovation are trial and error, chaos, insecurity, tapping into the unknown, messiness, risk,…
  • Innovation has become a risk in the mindset of many managers, as it directly contradicts their need to predict, control and know. They want innovation, but not the messy part of it!

Instead we need to unlearn our practices of innovation prevention.

What needs to be done is not to create a culture of innovation, but to unlearn and loosen the practiceof control, of preventing the human innate need to innovate, invent and imagine.

Getting stuck in the innovation double bind

Just open your eyes and see how most people are trying to impose a culture of innovation on structures that are exactly designed to promote predictability and prevent innovation. Look at all incentive systems managers and employees are hooked on. Look at the way people are conditioned and how they are now stuck in a double bind of “innovate but don’t risk anything.” I call this the innovation double bind. The best sign of this is the automatic reaction to failures: “See, this is what happens now.”

I see organizations imposing processes, behaviors and “innovation values” on people that actually go against the identity and DNA of the organization; it will fight back as soon as something truly new dares to emerge. This leads to a paradoxical situation, creating confusion, misalignment, resistance and frustration. If you look at traditional German car companies, being so identified with their engineering of engines, they have a very hard time thinking about mobility in new ways. They now got it, but not as a result of a new way of being and thinking, but due to an existential threat, by hitting the wall. They are followers, not innovators any more.

Creating a new culture is becoming aware of the nature of the present culture first

It is so naive to propogate a new failure culture, open feedback, design thinking, self-organization, etc. when the deepest belief is that innovation is a threat to business and existence, because of its erratic and chaotic and unpredictable nature.

I would love to see discussions going in this direction to start openly considering the paradoxical situation, the innate tensions, the fears and the beliefs undermining a truly new culture of innovation. This is the starting point, this is the conversation we have to start with.

Starting with new ways of thinking, not new ways of working.