A few days ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who made a statement that I used in the title of this post: “Innovation is a skill, not a position or job description.” I wholeheartedly agree with his statement.
Our Business Innovation Certificate program at University of Toronto primarily attracts entrepreneurs and middle managers. These two groups of people face different challenges. In a couple of earlier blog posts (here and here), I wrote about the differences between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur. Middle managers fit into the description of intrapreneurs, at least the ones who come to our classes.
The most common challenge among intrapreneurs is breaking through the culture of their organizations to bring new and experimental ideas to life. As they correctly notice, taking an idea through the treacherous path of commercialization is their true challenge. There is no one simple solution to this challenge and, in my opinion, this is why innovation is a mystery to many organizations. To deal with this mystery, organizations typically add “innovation” into job descriptions and titles, hoping that if it is somebody’s job, that somebody will be motivated (or, obligated) to figure it out. WRONG!!!
Innovation, in fact, is a personal skill that needs to be developed and nurtured. Innovation, just like any other skill, requires a supporting environment (organizational culture) and relevant tools and techniques to practice it. Therefore, the role of organizational leaders is to create such an environment where people are motivated, not obligated, to learn, practice and improve their innovation skills. Culture of an organization is the one single thing that makes or breaks innovation. All leadership energy needs to focus on creating an appropriate culture or modifying the existing one to support innovation. It is not an easy task but it is possible. Just one hint, do not start with making it a job title or part of job descriptions.
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