Traditional learning and innovation are not well-suited to one another. The school of life offers a much better innovation curriculum than any university ever could. Reading and lectures are no substitute for conceiving an idea and testing it in the real world. That is, people need to observe, and better yet, participate, in innovation, before they believe that they are capable of making it happen. How do you get past this chicken and egg conundrum and reach the critical mass at which your innovation capacity will flourish?
Part of the solution lies in focusing on how people learn. There is much talk about learning through failure and giving people permission to fail. But the emphasis on failure is misplaced. The emphasis needs to be on reinforcing what people are doing right, on where they are succeeding. This requires that, when it comes to innovation, you focus, at first, on successful learning. And for successful learning, the end result does not have to be a breakthrough idea that generates millions of dollars. In fact, an idea doesn’t even have to get implemented. So many external factors contribute to that ultimate go/no go decision– market conditions alter, decision makers and their preferences change, available resources fluctuate – that you will need to distinguish effort from achievement in order to ensure continued progress. A viable concept, a solid business case for it and a well-crafted argument to support it equals success, even if it goes no further. But some ideas will go forward. And there will be a gradual accumulation of success stories and people who have been part of them. In time your workplace will gradually, but steadily, increase the number of people who successfully experience innovation.
People learn in various ways and at different paces, as do organizations. The best leaders recognize this and create environments where unique ideas and different approaches thrive and grow. A culture of innovation is a commitment to continuous learning, ongoing dialogue, adaptation and support. The learning never ends. The rewards, eventually, come in many forms, including new businesses, recognition and revenue streams, as well as an engaged workforce.