Innovation By Consensus–You’re Kidding, Right?

 A Critical Doer attacks problems and creates opportunities from the inside out 


In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Gary Hamel of the London School of Business and Nancy Tennant, Vice-President for Innovation at Whirlpool, coauthored an interesting piece that is something akin to an “innovator’s manifesto” called “The 5 Requirements of a Truly Innovative Company.” 

The article describes a corporate framework to foster innovation.  There are 5 principles they espouse for innovative companies, and to some degree they all swirl around the idea of agreed upon ideas and for heaven’s sake metrics as well to measure innovation.  Once again I’m certainly not qualified to argue against a distinguished professor and a Fortune 500 VP…but once again I’m going to do it anyway.

I completely reject as “bovine scatology” the thesis that innovation can be the product of consensus.  To suggest such a notion indicates a lack of understanding on the definition of innovation…which is often erroneously confused with improvement.  A quick visit to a dictionary reveals that innovation is the introduction of something new, while improvement is making better something that exists.

Everyone has the capacity to see ways to improve, and organizations should foster a culture that empowers and rewards its people for thinking diligently and making improvements that increase margins and save money…all of which produce victories for the company and customers.

Not everyone has the capacity to see an alternative future that completely changes the operating environment as you know it.  In an early Critical Doer Deep Dive about where innovation comes from, I described a more practical model of innovation that describes the reality that only a small number are capable of imagining alternative futures.

In my model, innovators have ideas that can be comprehended by a group called “bridge builders” who probably won’t conceive of an alternative future but can understand it when they hear it and most importantly link innovators with consensus…where the real work of an organization actually gets done.  Leaders build on-ramps that allow game changing ideas to get into the mainstream of consensus and actually come to life for profit and improved quality of life.

Successful organizations embrace diversity of not only thought but patterns of thinking.  People whose talent is for process are just as important as your true innovators.  The leaders who link these together change the world…the ones who don’t appreciate diversity of thought and gravitate to labels for people produce dysfunction.

Your challenge, Critical Doers, is to avoid the poison of labels and embrace innovation…embrace sound processes…and embrace leadership that unites the two as a team. That is what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: June 18, 2015 — 12:32 am