Start Something: 20 Practical Tips for Defeating Innovation Inertia


Innovation is sexy right now.  

Thanks in part to a pop culture fueled myth that it's beyond the reach of the average person or organization. And somehow, in order for it to qualify as "real" innovation it has feel inaccessible, even otherworldly to the rest of us. 

I wonder if at least in small part, this fairy tale narrative has impacted our perception of what successful innovation is supposed look like in the context of our own organizations.   And by attaching mythic expectations for what innovation should be (insert famous Steve Jobs quote here), we undermine the opportunity to achieve what it actually is. 

While today’s innovation is faster, and arguably more open than ever before, the process of creating new solutions is as old as humankind. 

In truth, innovation is happening all around us, every moment of every day.  The biggest obstacle isn’t our ability to solve new problems.  It’s in our commitment to starting and sustaining the necessary environments from which big ideas are born.

A similar dynamic has at one time or another, held most of us back in our personal lives. Waiting for a perfect time, or perfect plan or perfect set of circumstances, excuses us from taking any action at all.  And when we attach grandiosity and acclaim to those expectations, it makes the simple act of starting feel like an even more impossibly heavy endeavor.

If we want to give innovation the chance it deserves, we must move beyond the notion that it manifests through a single idea, process, department or leader.

We must let go of everything we believe innovation is supposed to produce and instead, master the act of starting.  And we must create a culture where experimentation and iteration are celebrated across disciplines and hierarchies.  

“Today, not starting is far, far worse than being wrong. If you start, you’ve got a shot at evolving and adjusting to turn your wrong into a right. But if you don’t start, you never get a chance.”
— Seth Godin

In the spirit of starting, I’ve compiled 20 specific actions most organizations can take today to help overcome inertia, normalize change and encourage creative problem solving.  These relatively low risk changes may not all work in the context of your company or situation, but the goal is to simply, begin.   By starting and doing you take the first step in enabling the kind of open experimentation and discovery that innovation thrives on.

  1. Create an innovation manifesto to guide and inspire the organization.

  2. Develop a protocol that embraces ‘failures’ as opportunities to learn and optimize (see Failcon).

  3. Identify the top 3 administrative or technical constraints that consistently frustrate employees and fix them immediately.

  4. Add a virtual idea box to the company intranet and create a plan for engaging employees around it’s use.

  5. Form a steering committee dedicated to supporting the implementation of new ideas.

  6. Organize an internal “hackathon” where employees can collaborate to solve key organizational or customer challenges.

  7. Identify partnership opportunities with local universities, non-profits or government and create or sponsor a community hackathon series (see Goodie Hack or National Day of Civic Hacking).

  8. Ban the use of the phrases like “we’ve tried that already” and “that won’t work”. Turn this into a game where employees are rewarded for using and acting on alternatives like “I wonder if” and “let’s explore”.

  9. Allocate a fund to sponsor employee attendance at conferences and events outside of your organization's traditional scope (see Art Basel, World Business Forum, Future of Storytelling.)

  10. Develop a plan to disrupt longstanding business models and procedures that may be stifling creative capacity or triggering unnecessary stress i.e. meetings, employee reviews, telecommuting policies, etc..

  11. Designate a communal area of your office space and allow employees to transform it into a creative refuge.

  12. Routinely restructure the office seating plan.

  13. Challenge employees to replace traditional presentation decks with prototypes.

  14. Plan quarterly field trips that aim to inspire creativity and foster empathy towards your customers.

  15. Invite employees to teach lunchtime courses on topics they are passionate about.

  16. Welcome outsiders (entrepreneurs, artists, etc.) into the organization to inject fresh perspective.

  17. Borrow from the rapid innovation model to refresh your current approach to brainstorming.

  18. Start a company book club (Some suggested readings to get you started: Creative Confidence, The 10 Faces of Innovation, Make Space, Poke the Box)

  19. Ask employees to curate and share 3-5 weekly stories of innovation in action (from any sector) that they find interesting or inspirational.

  20. And last but not least, form a cross disciplinary “change council” to manage the process and hold leadership accountable.



Laura CiociaComment