As a leader, you champion innovation. You recognize its importance to your organization. Its role in creating new sources of revenue and competitive advantage, attracting and retaining talent, and ensuring long-term growth.
And because you believe in the importance of innovation, you advocate for it every chance you get. You talk to people throughout your organization. Heck, you even talk to innovators inside and outside your industry so that you can learn and share best practices and stay on the cutting edge.
But do you also talk to:
- Doubters tired of seeing innovation efforts come and go with no results?
- Naysayers questioning why money is spent on innovation that may or may not work when it’s needed somewhere that will generate returns?
- Blockers determined to save the company from the latest management trend?
Most of us don’t because it’s:
- Uncomfortable because you feel like you need to defend yourself and your work.
- Frustrating because you don’t feel heard.
- Infuriating because you’re punished for mistakes your predecessors made,
It’s so much easier to avoid them.
To talk to them only when you need something.
To grumble about them, their short-sightedness, and the day they will finally be forced to admit that you were right and they were wrong.
(ok, maybe the last one is just me because I do love a good “I told you so” fantasy)
It’s easier to preach to the choir.
Innovation is difficult for many reasons – the work requires people to embrace uncertainty in an environment designed to eliminate it, timelines often exceed organizational patience, and there’s no guarantee of ROI.
It’s also difficult because it requires us to be brave. And part of being brave is talking to the people who don’t believe in innovation the way you do and don’t support your efforts. (Yet.)
It’s important to preach to brick walls.
Talking to the doubters, naysayers, and blockers feels like running into a brick wall. You run into enough brick walls every day. Why bother seeking out more?
Because brick walls exist to protect things, to keep the bad out and the good in. They support things, enabling structures to grow, house, and help more people. Brick walls keep people comfortable and last for centuries.
And that’s precisely what the doubters, naysayers, and blockers believe they are doing.
But brick walls also have doors to allow people in and windows to enable people to see out.
So too do the doubters, naysayers, and blockers. You just need to knock.
Knock by asking about them as human beings and what motivates them as professionals.
Seek to understand why they do the things they do and say the things they say.
Bring gifts of empathy and inquiry, not demands of agreement and support.
Your goal as an innovation champion isn’t to break down brick walls.
It’s to find and open the door, learn what music the residents enjoy, and invite them to listen to the choir.
And, maybe one day, join it.