How people respond to ideas in your organization signals its innovation productivity

In organizations with anemic innovation cultures that produce little innovation that significantly changes the path the business is on, people reflexively reject ideas.

In healthier cultures, people are more likely to ask how can we can try the idea out and see if works? These cultures will have more innovative successes.

Here are a few ways anemic and healthy cultures deal with new ideas differently.

Anemic — Leaders need to buy into the new idea for it to be tried. Healthy — Leaders ask how would I know what will work? Try it and find out.

Anemic — We don’t have enough resources to try too many things at once. Healthy — How can we try lots things in small ways to learn something? Let’s get creative.

Anemic — Our systems can’t handle it. Healthy — Let’s learn about it and see if it’s worth changing our systems.

Anemic — We can’t risk putting products out that are not fully baked that might tarnish our brand and reputation. Healthy — Let’s explore strategies to minimize risks for putting out prototypes, like making it available in limited quantities, using a different brand name and letting customers know.

Anemic — We tried that before and it didn’t work. Healthy — Let’s review what we tried to see if there are new ways of looking at that experience based on recent learning or variations on the idea that might work better.

Anemic — Status earned by explaining why an idea won’t work. Healthy — Status earned by trying ideas and learning from them.

Anemic — Thinks it can beat the odds by being smart. Healthy — Plays the odds by trying lots of things on small scales in hopes a few will work out.

Anemic — Fierce competition for credit for the few ideas that get tried. Healthy — So many ideas are being tried, nobody needs to steal credit.

Anemic — People put distance between themselves and failures and learn nothing from them. Healthy — Failures are the norm and learning from them can lead to breakthroughs that works.

Anemic — Confuses small, marginal improvements of 1-3% bumps with innovation rather than seeing it as optimization. Healthy — Looking for game changers that can bump the needle 5%, 10%, 20% or 100% or more.

Anemic — Applies linear problem solving processes that serve well in optimizing existing operations to new ideas. Healthy — Uses creative problem solving to try new ideas.

Anemic — Settles on a single solution for new idea that will be rolled out before seeing if customers want it. Healthy — Tries various ways to solve the same problem on small scales to see if different variations work better than others.

Anemic — The current, leader-sponsored idea is going to work! It’s just great! We have to believe in it for it to be successful!


Consider your organization’s revenue trajectory over the past 10 years.

If it has largely been a function of external factors, like population growth or growth of the industry, you are probably in an organization that treats new ideas like the anemic culture described above. The future of the business is not in your company’s hands.

If you can point to a steady stream of moderate to big successes that have significantly altered the company’s revenue path from the industry around it, congratulations.



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