And The Survey Says – About Innovation

Reading for Leading Audio


I wrote last week about innovation, and only three people left blog comments. Then I posted a 5-question survey about innovation. Take it. It will take you – about 2 minutes max. When you finish it’ll show you the results. But here’s a major preview.

83% of respondents said that “innovation is extremely important for our economic competitiveness,” and another 15.5% said it’s “pretty important.” But are we doing it? I don’t think I have ever worked at a place where 98% of us were acting like innovation was that important. Do your leaders – both the ones who get paid to lead and the ones who do it without title or position – act like innovation is that important? If we are serious about innovation and competitiveness, then I think we should put this question on every staff meeting agenda: What can we do that (more) customers or clients will feel we are giving them a better product, service, or deal?

And here’s the other primary takeaway from the survey results: people’s answers demonstrate, as Buckingham and Coffman wrote in First Break All the Rules: “managers trump companies.” It’s not corporate policy but manager behavior that creates an innovative work culture.  The two most important behaviors for creating an innovative culture, according to respondents are: “my manager values my ideas” (almost 60% say that’s extremely important) and “you don’t get punished for taking risks.” So, if you’re a manager the script is clear: listen to your people’s ideas and let them know how you value them, and do all you can not to punish creative thinking.

Develop a relentless focus on innovating for customers, and

Lead with your best self,


P.S.  Speaking of innovation – follow me at

  • I hope managers trump companies.
    “Companies” are pretty risk-averse these days:
    What percentage of companies are planning to increase investment in innovation this year?
    USA 44%…
    Rest of the world 66%
    (Boston Consulting Group/Business Week).

  • I think the results of the survey say a lot. Most people responded that innovation is very important, but that their own organization has room for improvement in that area.

    I’m a manager in the quality & compliance area at work, in which one key concept is the “quality system,” meaning that a company has established and documented processes, policies and procedures for assuring product or service quality, has strong management buy-in to those processes, and that the culture of quality is part and parcel of what the employees think and do. If we agree that innovation is critical to success, perhaps there’s a concept (or should be one) called an “innovation system,” a means of ensuring that everyone from the CEO on down (or more importantly, from the line worker on up) thinks and acts with innovation as a primary driver. Or as Tony Hsieh suggested so well in the survey “Get the company culture right, and everything else falls in place.”

  • Dan,

    Many corporate leaders are wrestling with trying to get their organizations to innovate through taking risks on-the-job. Helping managers get over the fear of failure can help cultural change at work.

    After years of cost-cutting initiatives and growing job insecurity, most executives don’t feel like putting themselves on the line. Add to that the heightened expectations on individual performance, where a one-year term determines a large bonus, managers postpone risky decisions for fear of failure—making mistakes that could lead to innovative successes. That’s why it is difficult for executives and their direct reports to make the shift from a play-it-safe corporate culture to an innovation-driven culture.

    Here in Metro Detroit, automotive leaders are talking about an innovation-driven culture that is imperative in today’s globally competitive world. But walking the talk within the culture requires corporate leadership to recruit or promote new business unit executives and engage outside executive coaches to help them get onboard and up-to-speed quickly.

    Lee Iacocca’s career within the automotive industry illustrates how emerging leaders can change corporate cultures to walk the talk of innovation. When the overhyped, oversized and overpriced 1960 Edsel failed in the marketplace, Ford Motor Company needed to listen to new ideas from emerging leaders within the company. The introduction of the 1964 Ford Mustang was an innovative product tuned into customers’ call for stylish affordability. Oh, how I would like to be able to find/buy an automobile so stylish, economical and fun to drive today as my 64 Ford Mustang was in days gone bye.


  • Dan,

    If you want to see innovation in action, watch children at play — not watching television or playing video or computer games, but truly at play. Playing is the business of children — it is how they learn to relate to one another and function as part of society. It is also how they learn to collaborate with each other and interact with their environment. Playtime is fun, but it is also serious business.

    Maybe the denizens of the boardrooms of the world should skip the power lunches and all go outside for recess. Take 20 minutes at 11:30 AM, and go shoot some hoops, sit on a bench in the sun and talk about that reality show none of you will admit to watching, play catch, or just lie on your back in the grass and watch the clouds float by. Cut the moorings on your mind and let it float free — propelled by the winds of change. Get a different perspective…which can lead to innovative thinking.

    If you can’t go outside, have hot chocolate for your break, or milk and cookies, or popcorn. Play charades. I tried this with a class I was subbing last week. There was a threat at school and we were in lockdown — I was covering primetime – a mini-study hall at about the same time as the threat. Instead of enforcing a quiet reading/study time which none would (or could) honor – I let them play charades and “act out” their feelings and nervous energy. The stress levels decreased and the creativity levels soared.

    Take it one step further, and create a Recess Room near the boardroom. Cover the walls with markerboards and chalkboards and corkboards. No chairs and no tables allowed. For 15 to 30 minutes anyone can propose anything – nothing is judged – everything is recorded. After the session, lock the door. No one goes in there until 8:00 AM the next day, when the ideas are copied down for evaluation, review, and discussion. Repeat as needed.

    As the caretaker of the Pleasure Planet (in the old Star Trek series) said: “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.” It is truly easier to color within the lines, if occasionally, you can scribble like crazy with the sparkly purple crayon…

    Speaking of innovation, I remain,


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