Leadership of Innovation 5 – Lack of Trust and Lack of Ownership

Welcome to the penultimate blog in my series of leadership innovation discussions.

In my last blog, I looked at the paralysing influence of lack of patience and lack of boldness when it comes to growing innovation in organisations. Both are like toxins that kill innovation stone dead.

In this blog I will look at two other powerful toxins: lack of trust and lack of ownership.

Lack of Trust
Trust is vital because innovation requires creativity, creativity requires freedom, and conferring freedom on people requires that you trust them. There is no other way. This is so blindingly obvious that it should not need to be said, but most organisations seem entirely blind to this self-evident truism.

If we want to see innovation prosper in our organisations, therefore, we need to trust people (employees, management teams, partners, investors) enough to give them three key things: autonomy, mastery and control in their work.

People desperately want these three things – because they free the human spirit – but, more importantly, they free the human mind, which is surely what innovation is all about?

How can people innovate if they feel distrusted? This is why, at Inzpire, we try very hard to genuinely trust our people and to show it in tangible ways. It is why we stamp out the permission seeking behaviour so prevalent in many organisations. It is why we try to give people genuine authority to think and act for themselves. It is why my favourite phrase to hear as CEO is: “I intend to” and my least favourite phrase to hear is “Please may I?”

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At Inzpire, we allow our people to live where they like (a significant number of us live overseas), to work from home whenever they need to, and to enjoy a completely uncapped leave allowance. We take this approach because fundamentally, we trust people to manage their own lives, while still doing their jobs properly. It is a two-way psychological contract, fuelled by trust, and it works well.

We believe everyone should be within the circle of trust, until they prove themselves not worthy of our trust. This is the opposite of how most organisations operate. As an example, we give our people financial spending authority that is the envy of larger organisations and we try hard not to have hundreds of policies and rules (which are, in any case, normally just a just proxy for lack of trust). Instead, we try to operate according to single three word philosophy, wherever possible: Use good judgement.

We’ve found that, by taking this trust-based approach, a kind of magic happens. It is like applying “Miracle Gro” to those innovative ideas. People suddenly become very relaxed and very creative, because trust is the ultimate lubricant of innovation. It constantly surprises me that more organisations don’t see this.

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Lack of Ownership
The problem here is that most people, in most organisations, see innovation as someone else’s job; normally someone wearing a white coats in an R&D department.

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But, that is, frankly, undiluted, industrial strength, bulls*it! Innovation is everyone’s responsibility, and it is the job of innovation leaders to ram that message home. Innovation is not a solitary activity undertaken by a clever and privileged few, it is a participative activity undertaken by everyone. It involves the whole organisation because it happens through networks, through collective intelligence and through the wisdom of the crowd.

This is because it requires debate, argument, disagreement, constructive dissent, diversity and as little hierarchy as possible. Challenge, in all its constructive forms, is very important to innovation; because we can never know which junior person will have the next great insight.

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In innovative organisations no one should be afraid to question anyone. We are all humans, so we can, therefore, all be wrong. In 58 BC, at a speech to the Roman Senate, Cicero said “To err is human….”, and he was right, because humans are predisposed to make mistakes. Even Einstein and Steven Hawking have got things wrong and, if they can be wrong, so can anyone.

Our job as innovation leaders is to ensure that challenge and constructive dissent are encouraged in our organisations and that innovation is seen as everyone’s job. We must ensure that innovation is so utterly embedded in the culture, the mindset, the ethos and the strategy of the organisation that not thinking innovatively is seen as a heinous corporate crime. We need to ensure that everyone personally feels the responsibility for innovation, not just a privileged few in a research lab.

This is important because innovation is rarely manifested in massive leaps forward that only boffins can make. Much more often, it is vested in the smallest changes that anyone can make, like this.

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A simple reversal of the bottle means there is an approximately 100% increase in the chance of getting the sauce on your food and not the ceiling!

In my next and final blog on the topic of innovation I will expand on these ideas and look at what really makes an innovative organisation.

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