Here’s how to avoid the same old mistakes:
- Strategy. Unglamorous and incremental innovations can make money.
Take a fabric company that made complex woven materials. After a new executive came on board, a veteran worker who spoke little English shyly approached him and offered an idea for ending thread breakage. His suggestion worked. Asked later how long he’d had the idea, he said 32 years.
- Process. Forget about tight controls. Leave those for mature products. For new products, loosen up and expect deviations in plans and budget. Otherwise, you’ll stifle employees and smother innovation.
Example: The Office, the BBC’s big comedy hit, was an accident that happened when a new recruit took training video money and made a pilot.
- Structure. Do everything you can to encourage personal bonds and . Reach across established channels and divisions. But don’t give the innovators conspicuously more status and perks. If you do, you’ll spur the people in existing lines to crush the innovators.
- Skills. Innovation leaders need good “ ” and communication, both oral and written. And keep start-up teams together the entire project. Finally, cultivate “connectors.” They know how to find brilliant collaborators within the core business or out in the marketplace. Such connections are innovation’s high-octane fuel.
—Adapted from “Innovation: The Classic Traps,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review.
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