Myth #4 Innovation is only for large IT companies

If you think innovation is only for genius inventors like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, you’re short-selling yourself. Anyone is capable of being innovative, and the concept is much broader than invention, says George E. L. Barbee, author of 63 Innovation Nuggets For Aspiring Innovators.

There are many misunderstandings about what kind of companies successfully innovate. Some believe that large companies are too stuck in their ways, using mantras like “We have always done this way;” and “We tried that and it didn’t work.” Small companies likewise duck innovation by claiming that they are too small and can’t afford the cost.

Robert B. Tucker addressed universal innovation in his 2011 book Innovation is Everyone’s Business with this definition: “Innovation is the act of coming up with ideas and successfully bringing them to life to solve problems and create opportunities” (p. 4). According to Tucker, anyone engaged in conscientious employment will have continuous opportunities to innovate. It is basically a mindset of being alert to changes and the offer of value-added contributions to one’s group work (p. 4).

One of the most important features of innovation is engagement on the part of employees. Peakon, which is an employee engagement platform, has made available on their website a free introductory e-book The Psychology of Employee Engagement, a 60+-page, well-documented expos outlines the drivers of engagement. This e-book is an excellent insight into this most important quality so vital for innovation. Engagement is driven by a sense of competence and the freedom of autonomy and psychological safety in the workplace among other features.

Engagement expresses itself in what is known in the business world as “regular progress”, the continuous flow of competence toward completion. The Peakon e-book sites The Progress Principle:

Professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer wrote in detail about how progress can boost performance in their 2011 book, The Progress Principle. After analyzing 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees across seven major organizations, they found that when people consistently make progress on meaningful projects (even in small increments), they become more creative, productive, and engaged as employees.

Innovation, then, is part of the engagement mindset that is continually alert to opportunities for growth and progress. To say that innovation is “everybody’s business” is the presumption that everybody is engaged in the work-at-hand. Employee engagement is a corporate responsibility that permeates from the top on down.

There are other presumptions, therefore, that come into play involving a whole company team approach from administration down through the ranks. Leaders are called on to recognize and encourage engagement by personal involvement at all levels of the company. The larger the company, the greater the challenge of such involvement. This is when supervisors truly represent c-level administration through personal and empathetic leadership.

In smaller companies, leadership encouragement more easily becomes personal. When leaders realize that employees are the company’s most valuable assets, then workers are esteemed for their value to the company rather than as an expensive overhead that can be quickly discarded in times of downturn. As valuable assets, employees more easily become engaged to the point that innovation is a logical, normal response to progressive achievements whether big or little.

In the right climate, environment, and corporate culture, innovation truly is everybody’s business in a company that innovates ahead of the curve of today’s consistent changes.

[1] Tucker, Robert B., 2011. Innovation is Everybody’s Business: How to Make Yourself Indispensable in Today’s Hypercompetitive World. Wiley, Hoboken, NJ

[2] Amabile, Teresa; Kramer, Steven (2011) The Progress Principle, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA