While some executives debate the
meaning of innovation, many have
made it one of their top three initiatives for 2008.
The use of innovation as a competitive advantage continues to evolve as more companies tap their own creativity, think differently than competitors, and build new models
and ways of doing business. Companies who
successfully tap their creative capital have
discovered that innovation really is a cultural attitude. But to build this culture, a number of obstacles may need to be overcome.
“The top three barriers to innovation are
resistance to change, lack of time and fear of
risk-taking,” says Dr. Gary Selden, associate
professor of marketing and professional
sales, Center for Business Innovation and
Creativity, Center for Professional Selling,
Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State
University. “It’s up to the CEOs and presidents to remove these barriers and supply
the driving force behind the innovation culture in their companies.”
Smart Business recently learned more
from Selden and Professor Harry Vardis, co-director, Center for Business Innovation and
Creativity, about how to look inward for creativity and how to create a culture to mitigate the employee fear factor.
Why is it important to mine your staff for new
In today’s hypercompetitive environment,
the only real advantage may be to be more
creative than your competition, not only
around new products but also around
processes, ways to go to market, positioning,
project management and more. People are
the key to creative solutions. What better
source for new ideas than your own staff,
people who understand who you are and
what you do well? A good example of how to
mine your staff for new ideas is Cargill, a
meat packing company. Cargill is in a business that, you would think, might be a difficult incubator for employee creativity. But it
is a very innovative company. The company
listens and selectively harvests the best ideas
from their staff. This simple act is responsible for ownership, support and newness
coming from inside the box and not always
from the outside.
What can go wrong if employees’ innovation
and creativity are hindered?
You will wither away and die. Innovate or
die is a very appropriate way to explain what
happens to companies who are not willing to
innovate. You can get innovation from outside resources, but you better make sure
they have your best interests in mind.
In companies where employee innovation
is hindered, research shows innovation initiatives will be limited. People need to grow
in order to meet the needs of corporate
America. They also need to grow to meet
their own needs, and their greatest potential
for growth is through utilizing their creativity for new ideas and to take new approaches to living.
What are the consequences if an employee’s
ideas don’t work out?
Who says that all of an employee’s ideas
are going to be right and that all ideas work
out? Thomas Edison failed a thousand times
before he invented a light bulb. His comment after a thousand failures was, ‘Well, now we
know a thousand ways not to make the light
bulb.’ The point is not whether the ideas
work out or do not work out; the point is that
by listening to ideas and by collecting them,
you can select those that might work. And
then, through trial and error or some other
process, and by using the right criteria, you
can arrive at the winners.
How do you entice employees to come forward with ideas?
Our most recent study has a lot on this.
You’ve got to make sure you have the right
culture and a CEO who is willing to listen.
Next, you’ve got to have a willingness to take
risks, and a process that rewards and recognizes the value of an employee who has a
good idea. It’s also crucial to foster support
from your group and hire people who are
creative. Companies seeking the innovation
culture must have metrics in place to measure the results of innovation efforts and also
must utilize good communication models.
You should have lines of communications
established at all levels to deal with risk or
failures so your employees do not feel
How can innovation and creativity enhance a
Creativity and innovation are now core
competencies in growing organizations. It
helps to think of creativity as the process
and innovation as the end product. If by
enhancing we are talking about making the
company richer, here is the question to ask
yourself that will provide the answer: Can
you survive by always selling the same identical product without any innovation? Most
likely, you will say no. So you have a choice
either you innovate or someone else will
do it for you, and then you’ll have to copy
that innovation. So innovation is the survival
lifesaver of a company and also the way to
move into the future. Creativity is merely the
engine that gets you moving.
DR. GARY L. SELDEN is associate professor of marketing and professional sales, Center for Business Innovation and Creativity,
Center for Professional Selling, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. Reach him at [email protected] or (770)
499-3191. PROFESSOR HARRY VARDIS is co-director, Center for Business Innovation and Creativity. Reach him at (404) 285-1086
or [email protected].