Ed's Ink: Learning How To Make Innovation Happen In Your Organization

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Ed's Ink

There is a difference between improvement and innovation. Improvement usually means more and better. Innovation refers to creating and implementing the new and different.

Big difference. Improvement is much easier. “True Innovation” tends to be resisted by the existing organization.

Organizational inertia always pushes for continuing what the organization is already doing. Newness of more than a trivial dimension is typically squashed by the ongoing organization. Yes, squashed!

Slightly paraphrasing Harvard's Ted Levitt:

"Anyone who tends to doubt this needs only to examine please his/her organizational experience.

… Whether in an organization, a government agency, a country club, or church, an intense and usually fierce struggle predictably surrounds efforts to do drastically new or different things…

… One may ponder why the struggles are always so abrasive, and why the leaders of change efforts always pay such a heavy personal price…"

"Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread"

Peter F.Drucker and Levitt showed the most important task of the existing organization is to get today's job done. Rules, procedures, and standards define what is to be done, and how.

"Allegiance to the daily task remains the predominant and inevitable focus,” noted Levitt. “Within this powerfully constraining context, to focus as well on trying to get powerful innovations – to do entirely new and therefore disruptive things – is an especially difficult and fragile undertaking."

Most organizations establish order and discipline, that is, deep routinization of a significant part of the work required to produce today's products and services.

Innovation, or doing new and different things, by its very nature, destabilizes the organizational structure.

This makes many managers uncomfortable – especially, those without experience in how to accommodate needed innovations.

Wherever routine reigns, expect fierce resistance to innovation and innovators.

To reiterate: Newness is unsettling and disruptive to the daily tasks. Therefore, the human tendency is to focus on today's job and purge from the system anything that is perceived as disruptive.

Producing and Managing Innovation: The Structure for Innovation

So, how can an organization (whether a government agency, a not-for-profit entity, a business) successfully practice innovation? Drucker's contribution to the area of creating and managing innovation is without equal.

In this article, we are going to briefly discuss only one many of Drucker's prescriptions for innovation happen – namely, structuring for innovation.

This is particularly relevant given the above discussion of how the existing organization consciously or unconsciously tends to sabotage newness.

Structure for Innovation

Many innovative activities must be organized separately and outside of the ongoing managerial business. Repeat this five times to yourself. It could save your organization millions of dollars and prevent lost opportunities.

"Innovative companies realize that one cannot simultaneously create the new and take care of what one already has in full operation.

 The maintenance of the present business is far too big a task for the people in it to have much time for creating the new, different business for tomorrow."

Making tomorrow happen is far too big and difficult task to be diluted with concern for today. Both tasks have to be done. But they are different.

We cannot emphasize this enough. Innovative organizations put the new into separate organizational components concerned with the creation of the new.

An Example

Many universities and colleges entering the field of granting web-based degrees and certification programs have floundered. Yet some have exceeded beyond expectations.

The savvy schools such as Cornell and Penn State have created completely separate entities to deliver, market, and grow web programs.

If this is not done, it is almost guaranteed that "a war of the ancients against the moderns" will erupt and threaten the internal upstart web-based learning organization – and deprive it of the resources needed to innovate successfully.

Without doubt, continuing professional education and extended degree-granting education are on a collision course.

Our point? The existing organization to be capable of innovation, it has to create a structure that allows people to be entrepreneurial, that is, engaging the truly new and different.

The existing organization has to be sure that its rewards and incentives, its compensation, personnel decisions, and policies reward the right entrepreneurial behavior and not penalize it.

Summary & Conclusions

The existing organization tends to squash newness of any kind. Organizations exist, as Drucker has so effectively argued, is to get specific results.

People do not willingly subject themselves to rules, procedures, bosses, and deadlines for performance. They do so because the results they seek would otherwise be unattainable.

The organization exists to get today's job done. It's quite difficult, if not impossible, to do tomorrow's job very well.

 Tomorrow's job in many instances, needs a new structural entity, an autonomous, fully-functioning organization of its own.

Without doubt, many organizations are now incorporating into their leadership programs structured approaches to making innovation happen.

Simply put, producing and managing innovation is an acquired management skill and not a “Eureka moment.” Successful innovation practices can be taught, learned, and practiced.