They are everywhere, and not just lurking in the dark corners of the office building. They sit next to us, they are in our same teams, some of them are our friends and, very often, they are the leaders of many organizations and the bosses. They think of themselves as the experts in their fields, which frequently prevent them from adding more value by exploring alternative ideas and solutions to existing problems. They don’t see opportunities when problems arise, but more problems. And when somebody comes up with ideas to create and more add value, they feel threatened. They are the idea killers.
Today, more than 50% of the work force does creative work, and that number will quickly rise as more mechanical activities are outsourced to machines and robots. And more creativity implies more ideas, and more ideas require a new level of tolerance and open mindedness to those ideas.
We live in a time of unprecedented volatility and uncertainty. The pace of change is faster than it has ever been, and no skills or ideas remain relevant and sustainable for too long. It is necessary to tackle problems and opportunities from a different perspective. This means that the need to be open for new ideas, fostering people’s curiosity and creativity is more significant than any other time in history.
Unfortunately, many organizations are still fighting a huge internal battle. In this battle two approaches are confronting each other. On the one hand, we have the dying system of managerial control, heavy long-term strategic planning with low or no openness to failure and risk-taking. This system is often sustained by idea killers. On the other, the model for quick and exponential innovation development, based on the design of minimum viable products, experimentation and testing, and scaling.
One might think that in times of fast and disruptive change, the second more flexible approach should already be implemented in every single organization. However, there’s still a thick layer of old-system thinkers that don’t let go of the expired ways, and insist in applying organizational and leadership models and theories that don’t fit the reality anymore. This layer usually ranges from top to middle management, supporting the first system explained above. They are idea killers.
However, like the layers of the Earth, regardless of the thick and heavy top layer, there’s another one full of motion at the bottom. This layer is comprised by the curious and creators. And there are eruptions of creativity and innovation everywhere. This layer of innovators is creating startups that are quickly disrupting entire industries or creating new markets. These innovators are producing better quality products, at a much lower cost, with faster implementation cycles. One of their unique characteristic is the open-mindedness to new ideas, and the understanding that the best way to prove whether an idea works or not is by experimenting.
The lifespan of Fortune 500 companies is now no more than 10 years. Most of the big corporation that we know today won’t exist in the next few years. They will all be replaced by the disruptors of today. It is fundamental to renew and update the corporate mindset in order to survive these times of disruptive change, while remaining competitive, profitable, sustainable and relevant. To do that, it is essential to be open to new ideas.
As opposed to the industrial and manufacturing revolution, when implementing an idea meant investing millions of dollars and hours to install physical capacity, today it is easier than ever to experiment and test core assumptions. Idea killers think that experimenting with new ideas is too expensive, or that the potential for failure is too big of a threat for them. However, to remain relevant it is necessary to understand that there are great ideas to implement now, ideas which time hasn’t arrived yet, and other ideas which sole purpose is to make us fail and learn new things.
Organizations must be aware and look out for the idea killers. They need to be either inspired to find the best of all ideas, whether they fail or not, or just replaced by those who can think within the second approach explained before. If organizations are not intentional about changing the idea killing culture and behaviors, they will eventually be disrupted (and killed!) by the ones that are actually open to experimentation, risk-taking and failure.
On what side is your organization? What can you do to change the culture and behaviors in order to be open to curiosity, creativity and innovation?
Follow me on Twitter: @erubio_p Visit my blog: www.innovationdev.org
About the Author: Enrique Rubio is an Electronic Engineer and a Fulbright scholar with an Executive Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University. Enrique is passionate about leadership, business and social entrepreneurship, curiosity, creativity and innovation. He is a blogger and podcaster, and also a competitive ultrarunner.
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