Archive for the ‘Innovation’ category

Why we don’t like to innovate?

May 22, 2010

This weekend I was pondering on one of my very ambitious projects, an application, which I had led the development for at my previous organization.  The organization is one of the largest providers of market research solutions in India.  This application was developed for the online survey scripting department [which I was a part of] of this organization with the primary aim of:

–  Improving productivity of resources

–  Improve across team resource utilization opportunities

–  Help standardize programming practices and make it easier to device-deploy programming best practices

Estimated productivity savings were to be in the range of 20-25%, it would enable us to achieve more from less and bottom line figures for the department would be looking good.

With several rounds of simulation exercises once the tool reached a logical stage, series of iterations to the business case – projections and estimations, I was convinced that the application will deliver the % saving what I promised it would.  I had no doubt in my mind about its capabilities…a simple reason was, if I could use application and achieve all of what it promised to deliver, then anybody could.

But did it happen as it was planned for?  Did it work the way I proposed in the business case?  Well, the fact that I am asking this question would’ve made you think ‘No’ and you would not be wrong.

I along with my team struggled in the first year of its development and deployment.  We tried various methods, several demos, numerous one-to-one buddy/shadow sessions but the user acceptance was not at the level expected.  More to add, the top folks in the team either did not or failed to see value in this application.  Really? I asked myself.  What we planned to achieve, in terms of penetration and user compliance in 3 months took us over 6 months to achieve – double the time.  Obviously something was not going right.  What was it?

Most chose the easier answer – ‘the application’.  I disagreed because I was more than convinced about the application and its potential to deliver.  It delivered for me so it should deliver for others too.  My objective reasoning for the time taken and others issues faced led me to conclude the following:

[1]  There was ‘no alignment’ – the users did not follow it because their leaders did not follow it and there was nothing that made them leave their conventional scripting method to adopt something new.  No one seemed to be aligned to the cause of productivity – something which was an undeniable requirement of the future to come.

[2]  An innate human nature – that of ‘resisting a change’.  We all like the change which ‘we want’ and not what is needed or what is right…well not always.

This point made me think deeper and ask myself why we resist change – even when it is for our benefit.

Why do we get an answer ‘…that’s how it was done and that’s how I was told to do things when I was new’ anytime we probe or ask questions about practices and processes?  Why don’t we question them and instead go by what was asked to be done? 

And more importantly, why don’t we innovate at work?   Why the ‘Herd’ behaviour?

I realized, purely from my experience, that a lot of people are resistant to create or do anything really different.  This is due to the fear of ‘other’s opinions’ about them.  We are more worried about what others will think about us if we do something, rather than worrying about if I am doing the right thing.

In other words, we relentlessly work to avoid ‘image risks’ or make unfavourable impressions on colleagues, peers, seniors or subordinates.  We prefer to be ‘liked and loved’ more than ‘respected’ – we look out for acceptance all the time.

I feel that it is this worry of image risk which drastically reduces and diminishes one’s ability to think different and questions things the way they are done…there by reduce opportunities to innovate.

More often than not, a subordinate may be scared of sharing his thoughts or ideas with his superiors or peers due to a fear that they might think he has ‘stepped out of the line’.

I have also experienced that it is those who do not like to change, those who do not innovate themselves are often the first ones to point fingers to those who do and add a negative peer-pressure.

But in this economic scenario, which is like a forest fire – those who can’t endure it will be weeded out, one needs to constantly question the current methods, challenge the status quo.  One needs to seek to find different, effective and efficient ways of doing things he currently does.  Innovation is no more a ‘nice’ to have thing – it is the ‘need’.

In my view, if we want our people to be open to change, constantly think of new ways to do things and innovate, then…

[i]  I think innovation is largely cultural and not process driven, it can not be imposed but encouraged and inspired

We need to create a culture where being innovative, asking questions and challenging current methods of doing things is desirable.

[ii]  Recreate the job descriptions to include a requirement that employees contribute new ideas, promise and provide enough support systems to take these ideas to next level upon validation, have them own the projects emanating out of their ideas, setup measures to quantify their contribution and reward those who have added value to overall business or performance either at team level or company level. 

This way it will become a part of the culture to find new ways to do things and no more will one feel their image to be at risk…instead it would be vice versa – those who would resist the change, not want to innovate would feel at an image risk.

Do you resist a change or encourage it?  Do you point fingers or raise your hand in support?  Which side of the line are you?