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Nine Excellent Ways To Stifle Innovation

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Innovation doesn't just happen…it comes from awesome intrapreneurial teams. Are you or your company guilty of killing good ideas?

Yes, everyone at the top is interested in innovation. It has become a business mandate in many organizations. But are the leaders serious? We find that plenty of companies are not walking the talk. They want innovation, but also don’t want to recalibrate the organizational systems. These systems are where a good idea has as much opportunity to succeed as me going to the moon. Why so?

For starters, organizations do not have an internal muscle for a creative process. The creative process is not well understood and it is truly a fragile process. This situation promotes uncertainty; something most leaders do not want to spend time on. Additionally, there are very few internal experts who can support it and nurture it like there are for project management processes, customer service processes, budgeting processes, etc. This is very tough in today’s short-term focus surrounded by the fear-inducing environment of rapid technological change and dynamic markets—but this also makes innovation essential.

So what to do? First, kill the innovation killers. Here is our list of innovation killers that will need significant moderation if not surgical removal. You can discover for yourself if you have an environment that is crushing good ideas or allowing growth and change to be welcomed.

  1. Clear(?) and cumbersome approval processes, rules, regulations for every action at every level within the organization. Making decisions takes forever and when they are made, they take forever to implement. Too much process everywhere.
  2. Silos are promoted. The organization loves to allow departments and individuals to compete against one another for resources and protect their areas.
  3. The truth is one-sided the truth comes mostly in the form of criticism without praise. The glass is always half-empty. The focus is so much on execution, that the culture often forgets the impact on human spirit.
  4. Don’t trust new ideas. All ideas are evaluated with great suspicion and ‘yes, but’. When someone contributes a new idea, the first thing someone says is ‘yes but…’ followed by ‘not sure if we can do that, or we have never done that before, or management will not approve it, etc.’ Moving away from the status quo is very difficult and not often welcomed.
  5. Control and calibrate everything. The organization is very systematic, dashboard driven, precise, and project managed. Although all of that is very essential, the system does not allow for any quick experimentation of new ideas or technologies with spontaneity. Missing target goals is frowned upon more than the lessons gathered through failure.
  6. Organization is very secretive. Restructuring, product launches, competitive news, and executive changes all occur in a secretive manner. Leaders believe that “the less people know, the better they can stay focused on the day-to-day job.” The firm does not like to share bad news with employees until the last minute. 
  7. Promote class-based relationships. There are seniors and inferiors. Seniority and tenure are heavily used to promote fear-based execution. The culture perpetuates the idea that seniors know everything and they should get the best of everything. The higher you are up in the ladder, the more you are allowed to look down at others. Unpleasant duties can be delegated to inferiors.
  8. The pyramid is inverted. The higher-ups know everything important about the business, and the bottom does not need to know how the business should be conducted; as long as they do what they are trained to do.
  9. Leadership is invisible. Leaders are not able to connect to employees. Employees do not have confidence in the leaders based on their action and those of the top management team.

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Innovation 2010 Report by BCG.

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BCG Innovation ReportIt is here again... "Innovation 2010 report by Boston Consulting Group" in partnership with BusinessWeek. As usual, this annual report is always very interesting; and at the same time, nothing new. To download the full report, please click here to our resources page.

Let me try to summarize highlights, to wet your appetite:

  • Once again, "Innovation" is a top priority for most companies in the world (now we have to figure what they mean by Innovation!)
  • Due to the tremendous economic pressure everywhere, most companies have much higher expectations form their innovation efforts then previously cited.
  • Most executives are much more cautious as they are trying to accelerate out of the recession with new strategies and tactics.
  • Survey shows that leaders of these companies consider a risk-averse corporate culture, lengthy product-development time, and inadequate measurement practices are key impediments to the future growth.

As you would expect, the emerging markets is where they are investing more so then ever before, China, India and Brazil, and feel most optimistic for the future ROI. At the same time, about 50% of the survey respondents believe that U.S. companies will remain the most innovative over the next five years.

One interesting insight I observed was the lack of attention to "Open Innovation" by these executives. It seems that they are still mostly focused on incremental innovation, and very little on breakthrough or discontinuous types of opportunities. This may be due to the market conditions, or the lack of education on the part of the leaders.  What do you think? Do your executives understand the value of innovation and the different "faces of innovation"? Do they understand how to use innovation to create a competitive edge?


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Innovation Tatva(Truth) #1: Never finish a task on time.

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Time LimitChallenge yourself to finish before deadline. Develop sense of urgency with excitement. The day is filled with busy activities and projects. Activities expand to fill time. Reducing time will force the team to focus on the effort and helps eliminate wasteful discussions.

Speed can be your best friend when it comes to innovation. Speed reduces censoring and judgment.

You might say, what about the quality? To me, quality is a standard that can be adjusted up and down. When it comes to innovation, experimentation with lower quality is required to get things moving - a very difficult concept in most risk averse cultures. But wait...that is why you're called the 'innovator' in your organization right?

Give it a try !

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How are Innovation, Creativity, Engagement, Personal and Human Values linked?

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1) Innovation arises from creativity.
2) Creativity is shaped by individual's engagement.
3) Engagement and commitment to one's work is directly linked to clarity of Personal Values and the Organizational Values of an institution one works for. 

Personal Values are molded based on one's Spiritual Integrity (alignment of thoughts, words, and actions). Spiritual Integrity is the expression of one's deep self-awareness of their inherent Human Values within. Human Values are the same in all human beings. One's ability to unearth the Human Values distinguishes one's moral compass vs. that of another - sometime called Character.

Innovation & Values

Therefore, if an organization wants to create a climate and culture innovation, best possible lasting solution is to help every employee and leader become more self-aware of who they are and what their personal values are. And I don't mean definition of personal values but the expression of those values; i.e. how do those values show up in their work? Their projects? Their email communications, etc.? This will allow everyone to 'tap into' the inner source where ideas to grow the business are sitting dormant.

Great Innovation Leaders figured this out long time ago - i.e. innovation arises from one's (or team's)deep passion for something much bigger then themselves.


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Developing Innovative Leaders

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Innovation + Leadership = Competitive Advantage and Sustainability

The DeSai Group's latest research suggests that organizations that prioritize innovation as a core competency and develop leaders who possess the characteristics to create a climate conducive for innovation, consistently outperform their competitors in nearly every category including top-line growth and bottom-line profitability. Employees cannot successfully innovate unless their leaders empower them to do so in an environment that values and rewards their contributions.

Behaviors of Innovation Leaders:

Through our work with executives in their respective fields, we have observed that there are certain characteristics and behaviors exhibited by those that could be considered to be "Great Innovation Leaders".

Research at The DeSai Group has uncovered four of the most critical behaviors that are essential for success as an innovation leader. These are:

  • Collaboration: A leader's ability to work as a true partner with other stakeholders within as well as outside of their organization adds significant value and competitive advantages not often recognized by leaders who remain insular.
  • Customer Focused: True innovative leaders always keep a razor sharp perspective on who their customer/s are.  This pertains to the internal as well as the external customer and involves an intuitive understanding of existing as well as anticipated future needs.
  • Quick and Effective Decision Making: Great innovation leaders make wise decisions quickly and effectively. This often occurs because they have established strong cross-functional communication channels and are informed about matters that are vital to decision making. 
  • Embrace Change: Great leaders understand that continuous change creates significant opportunities for growth and if a leader is unwilling or unable to continually adapt in today's business environment, it impedes the entire process of innovation.

Finding leaders that possess all of these traits is challenging. Developing these in others can be even more challenging. Some believe these are behaviors that are innate, but there is evidence that they can be cultivated over time. 

Do you agree?

Can they be built?

What would you consider the most important behavior? -

We would love to hear from you - join our community and collaborate on this and other issues...

- Dan

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Should every organization work on innovation?

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For us at DeSai, the question resembles to "Should we allow a healthy and vibrant living organism to grow?" No doubt, the answer instantly should be YES. A company that ignores innovation is a company that is decaying and dying with slow death.

You might wonder, in light of explicit evidence, why do many of the C-Level executives do not take a more active role is establishing a climate and culture for their organizations to innovate, grow and prosper?

In our work with senior teams and organizations across the globe - the one consistent answer is because they lack the courage and confidence to take risks.

The cause of this "effect" might be that most C-Level decision makers are not strategist, but mere manager. Many people who climb the corporate ladder are just managers not innovators and as long as they are calling the shots, there is a de facto ban on innovation in their respective organizations. Period.

They will not take the role of authentic champions, agents, and advocates of innovation, they are very happy just managing decaying (or stagnant or even dying) operations. To be an innovator the leaders must ask:

  1. Are we doing all we can do to generate sustainable growth?
  2. Are we providing our clients with the best products or services that we can and the best price points?
  3. Are we creating long term value for the organization?
  4. Are we challenging our employees to generate breakthroughs and derivative projects?
  5. Are the leaders committed and aligned together with strategies and direction?

In today's climate, innovation cannot be ignored - independent of industries, geographies, or economic climate. Just like breathing in and breathing out - innovation must be the ‘natural rhythm' of every organization - else the future is well defined - you will land on Commodity Island and ultimately sink.

Do you agree?


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Role of Innovation for Individuals and Organizations- Part 3

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Welcome to Part 3 of the Q&A series on Innovation. Below is the final thought provoking question and answer on Innovation. We have saved the best for last- the answer will provide you with great insight into successfully overcoming the current economic crisis

Q: What are some critical trends individuals and organizations need to know for weathering the economical storm and beyond?

A: There are several trends. For instance, the future of jobs does not look good for traditional jobs or regular activities performed in exchange for payment, including computer programmer, bank teller, customer phone representative, nurse, certain lawyers, doctors. Those jobs, according to research we have conducted, will be either enhanced or eliminated within the next 5-10 years due to two major trends: Information Automation and Globalization.
Another trend is that most businesses today are ‘wired' to create profits, not create new jobs. This is a critical point that is much forgotten. It means businesses will do whatever is necessary to make a profit. They will automate every job task and overlook the passion behind the job - the human element.
The only solution to the profit challenge versus maintaining valuable jobs is for individuals in various jobs to re-innovate themselves. This can be achieved by applying more human skills to existing jobs or developing new skills that cannot be automated or outsourced in the face of these major trends.
In our applied research, we have discovered that for most organizations considering automation over people, the answer is the same. In order to survive in business, organizations must rethink how to attract, retain, and grow talent pools with skills that cannot be automated - discovery, creativity, influence, resilience, implementation, and mindful action. These are some examples of competencies, which we believe will be in greater demand in the future. At DeSai, we call these the new ‘Hyper Skills' needed in every future job.To compete effectively, businesses will have to focus on the importance of the quality and readiness of their talent. Finally, I believe millions of new jobs will be created, not by organizations, but by creative and innovative people themselves. Those who can figure out how to re-invent their own jobs to keep them from being ‘automated or outsourced' will greatly benefit. The period when employers only designed new job positions are about to go, with more opportunities for those who can create their own job roles and activities to help their organizations.
One last point. I believe a large percentage of workers will need to seek a living outside the corporate umbrella in the future. I think that individuals who can consciously, directly or indirectly, generate income and profits outside the organization will see the most success in the future. We will definitely be more of an entrepreneurial society.
Your feedback, questions and comments are more than welcomed...
Jatin DeSai

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Role of Innovation for Individuals and Organizations- Part 2

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Welcome to Part 2 of the Q&A series on Innovation for Individuals and Organizations! Below are next three questions (and answers!) on Innovation by Jatin DeSai, CEO of the DeSai Group. Feel free to ask and discuss any thoughts, comments or questions you may have...

Q2: What are some myths associated with innovation?

Answer: Among the myths about innovation is that most people think of innovation as an invention or breakthrough products like the iPhone, hybrid cars, green computers, GPS in cars, etc. Another myth is the belief that innovation is only for large companies.Other myths associated with innovation include the idea that innovation is too risky, eccentric, and time consuming to achieve. Some think innovation is only for R&D areas or for high-tech companies and consumer product industries only. Some believe that innovation is too costly and it takes too long to identify areas in need of innovation and implement solutions. All of these ideas and many more are all unfounded. Every organization, for profit or not for profit, large or small, in every function and at every level can greatly benefit from innovation. The key is to understand it, define it for their respective business, and point all innovation efforts towards one of three value-generation business outcomes - to grow revenue, to grow profits, or to grow market reputation.

Click here to read the book 'The Myths of Innovation' by the well renowned author Scott Berkun.

Q3: You say innovation is a critical driver of growth. Isn't all growth done by innovation or do you mean folks stick to tried and true methods for growth?

Answer: Most businesses are designed to make profits alone. In our, more than 25 years of experience, senior executives seem to pay more attention to the bottom line(profits) and ROI metrics then to top-line growth. Top-line (sales/revenue) growth is much harder to achieve then the bottom line. Most incentives and compensation plans are primarily tied to the bottom line and stock value. I believe this is the primary cause of much of our financial system failure. Motivation to grow the top-line with innovation rarely exists in the business ecology. Innovation, by definition, requires allocation for ‘mindful failure' (planned projects for purpose of trial, error, and learning), experimentation, and courage to withstand financial performance pressures. When there is no incentive to grow by innovation, only those real leaders with highest moral integrity are willing to do it. Here lies the irony of our current economical situation.

Click here to read how the world's largest technlogy company HP is riding the recession wave using Innovation.

Q4: How can innovation help discover what your customers (internal and external) really want?

Answer: Innovation has very specific management processes. It can be organized and managed similar to every other organizational capability. At our firm, we have created training programs, courses, tools, and methods to teach our clients how to be more creative and strategic for future growth. One of our tools is designed to discover everyone's own "Innovation StyleTM"; i.e. what stimulates creative thinking and how people approach problem solving (click here for more). By understanding this ‘human side' of innovation, it is absolutely possible to identify a client's deeper intent (beyond the needs). Once everyone learns how to bring out the best 360º thinking in themselves and from others, the organization can achieve extraordinary success and generate maximum value with assets they already have. This sounds simple, but learning to ask questions tailored to an individual's style is a much more complex. However, once individuals and management in organizations learn the skill of asking the right questions, they will become more successful in determining what customers ‘really' want and need.



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Increasing Profits by Changing the Game

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Businesses today run on a ‘profit engine'. Everything in business is about profits only. Wall Street rewards profits. Executive compensation is tied to profits. Unless corporate profits increase, shareholders are not happy. Boards are motivated to make sure their companies are profitable.

This is a ferocious engine that has created the current financial crisis. The U.S. Government (and many other countries) are bailing out the very same engine that has brought this crisis in the first place. - without solving the real problem. It is impossible to improve the future with only historical thinking. We cannot use existing thinking(rooted in the past experience only) and use it to create future. That is like an engineering teacher certifying a group of students as excellent engineers, but then asking the same teacher to suggest that all the students should also learn American History and Business Management. This type of thinking would be incomplete. In fact, we never notice how incomplete and inadequate it is.

This suggests that most of our societal thinking(and other types of thinking) is completely wrong if the only way we think is from the past.

For businesses, they think, the easiest way to increase profits is to increase efficiency and to reduce costs. They generally do this by reducing employment and laying off workers, instead of driving innovation and grow the top-line (much harder to do). So, they resort to making ‘quick profits'. Why? Because that is how they are incented. This ‘underground' motivation - to gain personal profits have driven business leaders to be greedy - the fundamental root cause of the world's sad situation today - in all sectors, in all issues.

So what can be done? What can be done in our thinking?

We need a new more humanistic approach and out of the box radical thinking to this problem. I don't know of anyone thinking along these lines. Why? Maybe because it is too hard? Of course.

Solution I propose is to change the rules of the game. What if a corporation is allowed a specific profit per head for everyone employed? There would now be an incentive to employ as many people as possible. These people would still need to be employed productively because otherwise there would be no profit. The skill and thinking of executives would now be used to increase employment rather than to decrease employment.

What do you think?

-Jatin DeSai

The global financial crisis has led many companies to slice payrolls, but many employers are staying loyal. Meet 9 of this year's Best Companies that, as of mid-January, have never had a layoff. Click here to read more.

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Are you born to be a leader or can you learn to be a leader?

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It depends on your definition of leadership.

In my experience with building leadership capacity for an organization and coach C-level executives, I would highly suggest you first distinguish between what is Leadership and what is Management for your organization – at the top.

Once you have this definition then look for following traits to build via experiential learning(you can't teach leadership in classroom alone).

One of the best teachers of this subject is my friend Mel Toomey of Generative Leadership Group( He has taught me very important lessons about the topic of leadership, and I regard him as one of the best in the world. He says that most leadership education in Corporate America is Management Training. Leadership is a form of art. Management is a form of science. You cannot teach leadership in a scientific manner. You can create leadership literacy in class – but that is all.

I asked Mel, what is the one most important thing to teach (or learn) for different levels of leaders in a typical organization. Here is what he said:

1) New leaders: learn to TRUST THEMSELVES - a leader's capacity for trusting others is bounded by their trust for themselves.

2) Experienced leaders: learn to PREPARE TO MAKE MISTAKES... One cannot lead unless they are willing to be wrong... the handmaiden of original thinking are mistakes.

3) For senior leaders: learn that they WILL NEVER HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO MAKE THE DECISIONS THEIR JOB CALLS FOR... By definition, the decisions leaders make involve creating... bringing new things into existence, dealing with matters that are unique. While history will inform a leader, a leader’s decisions involve maters for which they must write the history.

4) Finally for the top level executives: they need to learn to BE A "LEADER EDUCATOR"... the source of growth and innovation in your organization will come from those you educate, develop and mentor as leaders. Be "the coach" and clear the field of play for your "experienced leaders."

If you look at the list above, the question you asked no longer matters. The answer becomes - all human beings have the capacity to be a leader. The difference is, what in the ‘context of leadership’, the ‘play arena for leadership’ are you talking about and what needs to be developed between where they are now and what level of leadership they need to practice. As a side note, most organizational cultures are not tolerant enough for the craft of leadership to be learned fast and safely – en entirely different issue, but an important one.

It is very unfortunate that, many “Leadership Programs” are just that – one brush fits all. Total waste of time and money – most of this stuff does not work.



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