Are You Killing Innovation?

Christina Chaplin Beyond Borders


Creativity and innovation have been business buzzwords for the past few years. There are endless articles about ways to spark the imagination and bring new ideas into your company. I would like to focus on one particular aspect of innovation – how to manage innovative teams and people.

20140506-innovation-lightbulbLet’s consider a famous case of how effective (and courageous) leadership is a vital ingredient for innovation to actually happen – Albert Einstein. Einstein is considered by many as synonymous with creative genius, but there was a point in his career that he couldn’t even get a job as a high school teacher, so instead he worked as a patent clerk in provincial Switzerland. In comes Max Planck, an eminent Physics Professor at the University of Berlin. Planck came upon Einstein’s paper “The Special Theory of Relativity” and recognizing its genius, published it in the most prestigious physics journal of the time, Annalen der Physik.

There are two important lessons to be learned from this story:

First, if it hadn’t been for the vision and support of Planck we probably would never have heard of Einstein. While many would like to think that it is with the lone genius that the key to real innovation lies, the genius is often misunderstood and ignored by most. His/her work could easily pass into a forgotten past if a more established leader doesn’t extend his/her trust and lend credibility to the idea.

Secondly, it takes courage to be the leader that supports innovation. Many of Einstein’s solutions disproved those previously published by Planck. Are you willing to encourage and support the very ideas and talent that will surpass you?

Innovation happens when we are able to see something we do or use in a whole new light, when our perspective shifts and we see the world with new eyes and the untapped opportunities that lie there, and when you let others do so as well. So what is one of the sure ways to stifle innovation at your company? Having your team work on the same tasks, with the same schedule and the same work environment, day in and day out. To encourage new ideas leaders need to think beyond the traditional boundaries of the organization and think about how to provide new environments and experiences that will provide that much needed change in perspective. Let your team explore, make mistakes and have some fun. You might just have the next genius in your midst if you're not too afraid to let her grow.