Updated: Jul 28, 2021
As above, so below. Just as the Universe so the Soul. As within, so without. -Hermes Trismegistus
Innovation Translation: As within the workplace, so outside in the marketplace.
At the time the above quote was written (over 2000 years ago) Hermes was said to be a part of the most creative and innovative thinkers of the era. Who knew it would be the opening quote for a blog on innovation in the 21st century. I suppose it testifies to the eternal truth of the quote. While I know very little of Hermeticism beyond the quote, I do find it a perfect jumping-off spot for this post. Innovation, although wildly talked about in the marketplace, is far less touted in the internal workplace. As within, so without. And it's why I believe the next big innovation is hidden in plain sight within your company.
So what does it mean to move beyond talking about it, to being a company that lives it? Innovation starts within. And by within, I don't define that as a single internal innovation team, although those are useful. I mean within, as innovation permeating every cell of the organization. Every cell means every human employed in the organization. Today's most innovative companies have innovative cultures. And like chickens lay eggs and not bricks. Innovative cultures make innovative companies and create innovative products in the marketplace. As within, so without.
It doesn't work the other way around. And yet companies are spending like mad to create or acquire the next product innovation to bring company growth. All the while, the actual creative depth of the company feels disengaged, underdeveloped, disregarded, and disenchanted with company hype over the latest change coming down the pike. But no worries their creativity isn't going to waste. Employees are using their creativity. Creating their side hustle, to find that job that is more fulfilling, and to battle the mind-numbing suck the company has on their very soul.
The effects of innovative karma on your company
While the disengaged and disenchanted create their side hustle and acquire the resources and confidence to launch their start-up. Company leaders are scanning the horizon for that perfect start-up to acquire. That fantastic start-up they envision will bring growth, relevance, and competitive advantage. The company finds "the one" and spends millions to bring them in the front door while the disengaged and disenchanted slip out the back door. All the while, this innovation through acquisition model has a failure rate of an average of 70%. The failure rate is nothing more than karma. You can't overlook the innovative genius within your organization and hope to see it elsewhere. Failure to see what's within equals the inability to see what's outside. As within, so without.
When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things the chance to catch you. -Lolly Daskal, Founder Lead from Within
In contrast, leaders can spend a fraction of the cost to discover the creative abilities of their employees. The unleashing of this creativity will result in authentic in-house innovations. It's an abundance of innovation opportunities lying hidden in plain sight in the majority of organizations today. Instead of buying innovation, create an innovative culture. Building an innovative culture starts by solving the most significant HR challenges facing companies today. Solving these HR challenges results in the performance and innovation that will take your company to the next level. (Engaged employees exhibit 202% greater productivity)
How to create an innovative culture
Culture: the behaviors, beliefs, and characteristics of a particular group. Social, ethnic, or age group. (Dictionary.com)
Therefore, how the heck can a culture be innovative when according to the HR challenges its disengaged, underdeveloped, lacks diversity, and riddled with communication/relationship issues. The two cultures could not be more opposed to one another. To create an innovative culture, you must first remove every obstacle that is not innovative. Understanding the obstacle is the path is the first step.
The obstacle is the path -Ryan Holiday
Understanding the obstacle is the path is the first step to moving from the myriad of difficulties to a company culture of innovation. And when it comes to employees, there is a gold mine to be excavated. But first, we have to be willing to shift through all the dirt. And I'm not talking about shifting through people here, but the problems the people are facing.
Today's most innovative companies use a process called design thinking. It's a human-centered approach for creating innovation based on the needs of the user. It starts with the user's pain points. And the pain points we have discussed here aren't just the companies. The pain points belong to the employees. They are the ones in pain. A collective pain of the employees that have reached a fever pitch that companies are feeling the effects of it. Removing employee pain points ultimately removes them for the company. As within, so without.
Innovation is nothing more than answers to challenges. To know the answer, you must first fully understand the challenge. -Karen Zeigler
This human-center approach has been extremely successful in the innovation of products and services for customers. But it's yet to be tested on a large scale on the humans in corporations suffering the most - the employees. Yet I have known for decades that it's successful.
Success Under Extreme Conditions
For an entire decade of my career, I was the turnaround Queen. Not once but 5 times over a decade of the financial industry merger mania of the '90s. I would arrive in a non-performing business unit. Each time not only was the performance missing, but we were also in the middle of a bank merger. Yes. 5 in ten years. Every two years, new merger, new assignment to an underperforming unit. It was crazy.
Employees were disengaged and all the things listed above. And if that wasn't demotivating enough they were sure that being at the bottom of the performance reports would land them a pink slip in the current merger. Talk about disengaged and unmotivated. Yet like clockwork, every single time, the use of the design thinking process turned around engagement, motivation, and performance.
No, we didn't create any shiny new product or service. The team was up to its eyeballs keeping up with the product and service offering of the new organization. Our innovations were processes, marketing, and sales efforts to reach new markets, systems, and other issues controllable within the business unit. Through the design thinking process, we had blended cultures, engaged the team in creative problem solving, developed training for their unique needs, retained talent, and resolved internal conflicts. Over and over again we had not just survived, we had succeeded! Employees were happier and so were the leaders in the company. As within, so without.
It's time to apply a human-centered approach to the humans that work for us
Employee disengagement, underdevelopment, and other problems are more than employee problems. They are a leadership problem. For the employee challenges to change, leadership has to change. Change beyond managing, beyond coaching, to inclusivity and empowerment. Taking the true charge of leadership - to cast vision, set constraints, and allow for the collaborative efforts of the team to drive innovation. To cast vision by asking every team in the organization - How might we:
...engage the workforce?
...attract and retain great talent?
...better manage our internal relationships?
...better train and develop our employees?
...improve diversity in the workplace?
...help employees create health and well-being that embraces ongoing change?
then set the constraints (which boosts creativity/innovation) and unleash the collaborative efforts of every team. Not just the innovation team. And then sit back and watch how the energy, excitement, and yes innovation bubbles up from the bottom.
As I see it companies can use design thinking to develop an innovative product or service and succeed some time for a short time. Or leaders can include the power of design thinking to engage the heart, minds, and hands of employees and succeed for a long time. As within, so without.
Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of the talent is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage. - Greg Harris, CEO Quantum Workplace