Nurturing Innovation

Some see innovation as a hat trick, or a  gift from the Muses to we lowly mortals. It appears out of thin air without warning, pushing the envelope of the expected and common place. Of course, the truth is far less spacey and ethereal; but no less magical.

Innovation does not spring wildly from the minds of genius, but takes time and cultivation. A 3 hour brainstorming session or weekend treat isn't going to cut it. In a fast paced, results driven culture this may seem like blasphemy, but there are no shortcuts to innovation.

Companies such as Virgin, AT&T, and General Motors have recognized this fact, which is part of the reason they have been household names for so long. A great example is 3M, sighted as a pioneer in intraprenuership and autonomy by Dan Pink in his book, Drive. Their president and chairman, William McKnight, gave employees the option of spending 15 percent of their time on any project they wished way back in the dark ages of the 1930s and 40s.  As crazy as this sounds, especially for that era, what McKnight was doing was planting seeds of innovation that 3M is still reaping the benefits of today.

Another company you may have heard of, Google, has adopted a similar culture. Instead of 15 percent, they give their employees 20 percent of their time to work on any project of their choosing; now 50 percent of their new offerings come from this measure. This has led to the creation of such products as Gmail, Google News, and Adsense.

The thing these companies understand is that you can’t expect things to grow up overnight like Jack and the Beanstalk. It takes seeding, watering, fertilizer, trimming, and of course, the proper soil in which to grow. Once you develop this culture and give ideas time to grow, you will unlock the true magic of innovation.

Written by Ken Hammond on January 21, 2011


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Written by
Ken Hammond