Making Innovation Everybody’s Job

Class after class I receive the same question as I teach my course on Business Innovation at University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education: How do you make innovation everybody’s job?

The fundamental principles are easy and Dan Pink ( stated them succinctly. Three things motivate people to their best and create best results:

  • Purpose –  the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives

If people feel and experience an environment, where these three components are engrained in their daily professional lives, they will happily make innovation their jobs. Let’s take a look at what most, if not all, corporate warriors actually experience instead.

Sloganism without Purpose

Take your regular management and all-hands meetings where business goals are shared, sometimes to adrenalin-rushing background music. You may feel good about the show C-level puts on but do you feel like you have an inspiring purpose to run back to your desk/lab/kiosk and start doing things better, faster, cheaper? I doubt that you do.

On the other hand, take Vijay Govindarajan’s $300 house vision ( Govindarajan simply explains how a $300 house can help billions of people on the planet and challenges everyone to contribute to such a house. Does that inspire you to do something new, novel and amazing? I would think so.

Hierarchy without Autonomy

Hierarchy may help you run your daily business but it won’t help you inspire people to do better everyday than they did the day before. For some reason, we all realize that we are at our best when we can decide for ourselves. But, most people do the exact opposite when they take on a management/leadership role. Even spectacular examples (eg. Linux, Wikipedia) of self-driven success do not deter many from their iron-handed approach to manage others.

Management without Mastery

Almost all companies I have dealt with emphasize the need to create detailed job descriptions, processes and procedures. These are presented to the employee under the disguise of “providing clarity of expectations” and are used for basis for discipline if not met. Training requests of employees are routinely turned down because “they are not in line with the company’s expectations”. How many people feel trapped in their jobs with nowhere to go? Taking away opportunities to build mastery does that to people.

Bottom Line

As I have been advocating before, large organizations have many advantages if they can overcome the obstacles I describe above. There are examples of organizations that successfully overcome these obstacles but their numbers can be significantly improved with appropriate leadership practices.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please feel free to contact me at ferhan [at] with relevant comments, ideas and thoughts.


2 thoughts on “Making Innovation Everybody’s Job

  1. The management without mastery happens in the majority of companies and few of them do something to make it be corrected.

    1. Unfortunately, this is very true. In my earlier blog posts, I argued that large organizations have a few advantages to bring new products to market. To do so, they need to establish innovation as everyone’s job. This requires, among others, creating a culture of mastery-seekers. Few companies have done it but it is possible if it becomes a focus area.

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