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Should everyone innovate?

Should everyone innovateRecently, a lot of innovation writers and bloggers have been lashing out against “innovation gurus” who claim that everyone inside a company should strive to be innovative.

Personally, I’ve always been critical of innovation speakers that come in and try to get everyone in a company fired up about being innovative. Not necessarily because of the message, but because rah-rah sessions, without focus and real management commitment to change, provide a temporary boost at best.

Unfortunatley, these types of programs are usually followed by a big letdown – often leaving people more jaded and cynical than before the effort.

But before completely writing off the “innovation for everyone” crowd, let’s look at the role innovation must play in a successful company. As I wrote about in my last post, one of the key roles of innovation is to eliminate a market constraint – in other words to create new customers.And as Peter Drucker said, since creating customers is the purpose of any business, marketing and innovation are its core functions.

That doesn’t mean the other functions in a company are unnecessary. It means they they need to support these core activities. For example, while someone in purchasing or accounting may not be called upon to develop a new product, these functions enable sourcing new materials and accepting payment when new products are sold.

So no – not everyone in the company can or even should innovate. But everyone must understand how what they do contributes to the success of innovation and ultimately align their actions for the success of the organization.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Arjun Shrinath February 27, 2011, 5:52 pm

    The word innovation means to renew or to change. I think there is a difference between innovation when it pertains to a product and innovation in general. While I agree that, people in some departments may not be called upon to participate in the innovation of a new ‘product’, I definitely believe that they should be ‘innovating’. The teams can definitely try to renew or change the way they do things to become more agile, efficient constrained however by the needs of the organization. Otherwise one may see conflicts arise between the different groups.
    An organization can be seen as a system where the different departments are sub-systems and as system theory goes highly optimized sub-systems do not necessarily translate into an optimized overall system.
    I’d like all your thoughts on this.

    • Michael A. Dalton February 27, 2011, 9:47 pm

      Thanks for your comments Arjun. It’s great for everyone to have the opportunity to grow in their jobs and for individual departments to operate more effectively inasmuch as those improvements increase global system throughput.

      As Goldratt says, improvement at a non-constraint is a mirage. Actually, a mirage is the best case because optimizing one group’s results often comes at the expense of the global system’s throughput as you point out.

      One way to prevent sub-optimization is to make sure everyone understands the importance of innovation and how their roles can contribute in a cross functionally coordinated organization -ie elimination of silos

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