Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Innovation and the Need to Instill Courage

"Any feedback yet about the Innovation Initiative?"

In an earlier post, I proposed the first of three questions executives should ask themselves before embarking on a crusade for innovation.  The second question, which concerns courage, is the topic of this article.

Right off the bat, let’s acknowledge the reaction portrayed in the cartoon is a bit extreme, but it illustrates an important point: “innovation wannabes” need to realize there will be resistance and sometimes sabotage in response to their efforts. As a result, uncertainty and even self-doubt inevitably sets in.

A Lesson from W. Edwards Deming

"Massive training is required to instill the courage to break with tradition.”

This quote is from W. Edwards Deming, one of the fathers of Total Quality Management (TQM). For all his attention to the statistical aspects of quality management, Deming was equally forthright in calling out the need for instilling courage.

The above quote nicely frames the two-fold challenge facing “innovation wannabes.” First, it is intensely personal. If you want to be an innovation champion, be prepared to face the inevitable nay saying that calls into question your judgment and your choice of priorities. Second, you must fully prepare and support the “troops” as they use innovation to break with tradition.  

The question for Innovation Wannabes
“Do we have a process for innovation?” or “Does my leadership style foster creativity?” are often the types of questions heard when discussing this topic. These inquiries, however, seem inadequate to the challenge at hand; they do not directly address what is required of individuals who are trying to “break with tradition.” And this is the point Deming was constantly trying to communicate.

Without a doubt, innovation requires courage. Heck, there’s no way around it! So, if you’re serious about innovation, you need to ask yourself, “Do I have the courage to lead this initiative and, in so doing, do I have what it takes to instill courage in others?”

‘nuff said!

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