Upon hearing the phrase “break out”, many people would conjure up the vision of a group of prisoners escaping from their maximum security institution, or a group under siege somehow making their way through the siege lines to freedom. This post is about a slightly different type of “break out.”
Every organization puts up walls, virtual or real. They wall off information from competitors, cutting off any possible type of collaborative, mutually beneficial efforts. They wall off functional areas from each other, putting up obstacles to internal communication. Many leaders solving problems wall off the process of finding solutions from those who know the most about the problem and the processes involved. All of these are issues, and all of them deserve a “break out.”
But the focus today is on innovation break out. Innovation is a process that by its nature should be inclusive, a process of gathering data and ideas from a variety of viewpoints. Much like doing a 360° assessment on an employee in order to gather information from all directions, innovation should take place in multiple dimensions. That means breaking out of the functional or even cross-functional teams companies create and breaking out of the corporate walls and seeking answers everywhere.
There is a willingness to seek external opinions in some arenas. Product designers often use focus groups to gauge interest in products. Technology creators seek user input through testing to attain the needed level of utility and user-friendliness. Open source groups share and bolster ideas. So, there is some precedent for going outside of an organization.
But still, with successful precedents in evidence, there are still numerous organizations that continue to resist. Why?
· Fear of losing intellectual property
· Fear of competitors
· Fear of lost profit
· Fear of being discovered to be less innovative
· A belief that nobody knows the business as well as I do (or my team does)- and maybe behind this is a fear that one does not have the most knowledge of their own company
Many complain about bosses who do not like an idea unless it is theirs. They know how to work those bosses to place good ideas in their heads and get them to think the ideas are their own. But, what about companies that refuse to open themselves to any ideas from outside their own team? Is it any different?
Perhaps the smartest companies are the smartest because they do not live in fear. They live in a world of abundance, where ideas and innovation can be found everywhere, and they are willing to look everywhere. They are willing to learn from whoever is willing to share.
Institutions often protect their turf and their sacred cows. They may stop questioning why things are done a certain way- they just accept it. Those outside the organization have no vested interest in protecting anything. They can ask any question without an agenda attached to it. They can open doors.
What is there to lose in injecting some fresh air into an organization? This can be done through an advisory board, ad hoc focus groups, intentional innovation “mixers” or through bringing in the right consultants to stimulate innovation. It can be done by sitting down with customers and learning where they are headed in their businesses and what you can do to help them get there. It can be done by sitting down with vendors and suppliers and learning what others are doing with their products and brainstorming different applications or upgrades.
Break down those walls and break out of the fortress created to keep others out, but has, at the same time, kept your team locked in.