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This post was refreshed on September 8, 2023

When people lack innovation and creativity at work, it’s not just a problem for the individual. It becomes a corporate problem. Company profits will suffer if employees are unable to generate new ideas and new solutions and make complex decisions when the job requires it. 

In this article, we’ll look at what corporate innovation means and why it’s important. We’ll explore some studies about corporate innovation. Then we’ll look at some standout innovators and the role leaders play in creating a company culture that fosters innovation.

 

What is Corporate Innovation?

A finger touches an illustration of a lightbulb

In the dictionary, “innovation” is defined as “the act of introducing something new.” “Corporate innovation” is how a business stays current and competitive. New ideas are generated which are novel and creative, but are also useful, either to the business itself or to consumers who are serviced by the companies. 

For example, a company may find a new way to provide customer service, which may provide faster response to customer issues or is more user-friendly. Creativity is necessary to generate new ideas. But innovation is the act of putting those ideas to use in a viable way to solve problems.

 

Why is Corporate Innovation Important?

A woman looks at a screen and smiles, energized by a new idea

For a company to grow, it must change with its target market or audience. If the company’s ideas stagnate, the company may find it is no longer current and competitive, and is losing business to other companies targeting the same markets.

Old solutions are generally not the answer to new problems. By promoting employee innovation, organizations can stay current, and may also anticipate future problems. For new ideas to work, they must be feasible, and the company must have the means and finances to adopt them.

In addition, new ideas and innovations are constantly needed. Innovations will eventually become outdated, because the markets and consumers — indeed, the world —are always changing.

For companies to remain competitive, their products and services must adapt to consumers’ changing needs.

 

Employee Steps to Innovation

A 2017 study looked at innovative behavior by employees in several European countries, including Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Using the Innovative Behavior Inventory (IBI) and the Innovative Support Inventory (ISI), researchers rated the behaviors of 2,812 employees and 450 entrepreneurs. 

They found that successful innovation required several steps by workers. These included not just generating new ideas, but also communicating those ideas, involving others to help with implementation, and overcoming obstacles.

 

Obstacles to Employee Innovation

Another study outlined why it is often difficult for companies to promote innovation in employees. 

The Accenture survey of more than 500 executives revealed some surprising information: More than 50% of the business executives stated that they had a poor output of innovative ideas. In addition, only 18% of those surveyed felt that their ideas actually helped their companies become more competitive.

The study suggests that businesses need to encourage corporate innovation among workers, but must also remain flexible in their ability to put these new ideas into action. 

Although the findings suggested that company management was lacking in some ways, a key component cited was the need to properly train employees.

 

Corporate Innovators

Hands hold up a ball of light

There are innovators in all industries who help their companies remain leaders in their fields. Workers in companies such as Google, Apple, and Amazon are constantly creating new ideas, new products, and new processes that keep their organizations at the top of their markets.

But there are individual innovators whose new and novel approaches to problems are changing the world, and the way people think. Let’s take a look at a few of these people:

 

Reshma Saujani: Changing How Women Are Viewed

Reshma Saujani is an activist who is changing how women are viewed both in the business world and on the homefront. She was the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. Saujani started a non-profit, Girls Who Code, which has directly taught over 300,000 girls in computer science programming. Through her organization, the Marshall Plan for Moms, she advocates for policies that value women’s contributions to society outside the home, as well as women’s work in their homes.

 

Mary Barra: Guiding GM In Emergent Technologies

Mary Barra has been the CEO of General Motors since 2014. Through her innovative ideas, GM is focusing on the manufacture of electric cars, such as the Chevy Bolt. Under her leadership, GM is also moving toward research and development of emergent technologies, such as the self-driving car. She is the first female to lead one of the “Big Three” automakers in America.

 

Jan Koum: Founded WhatsApp

Jan Koum emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine at the age of 16. He discovered his love of programming and founded WhatsApp, one of the most used international apps.

 

Ursula Burns: Led Xerox To Diversify

Ursula Burns was the CEO of Xerox from 2009-2016. She is the first Black woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She was appointed CEO in 2009, just as the country was emerging from a recession. She quickly realized that Xerox had to diversify in order to grow. By helping Xerox to acquire a company called Affiliated Business Services, Xerox was transformed from a business machine company to a business services company.

 

What’s Keeping Your Employees From Innovating?

A man looks at a bulletin board pinned with many drawings and ideas

Although employees don’t need to “change the world” with their ideas, workers in any organization need to be encouraged to develop new ideas to keep the company in the forefront of its market.

However, there are three particularly insidious cultural dynamics that are likely to  interfere with innovation at your company:

  • Distraction 
  • Reactivity
  • Work environment

Let’s take a look at how each of these dynamics stifles the ability of your team members to bring new and useful ideas to the table.

Distraction

Distraction is accepted as what happens routinely in a workday – but that is simply not true.

What is true is that knowledge workers must manage a tidal wave of information and interruptions daily, making a myriad of decisions, and communicating and applying information as appropriate.

According to research from Dr. Gloria Mark, we switch our attention every 3 minutes and 5 seconds—and her more recent research suggests it’s more like every 47 seconds on average! Let’s really think about that for a moment. We’re trying to do the important stuff of work and life in increments of under a minute at a time. 

Three minutes and five seconds—never mind 47 seconds— isn’t enough time to bring all your mental power to solving a problem. It isn’t enough time to summon all of your empathy, warmth, and humor during an interaction. In increments of a few seconds, you certainly don’t have time to innovate.

 

Reactivity

Faced with this flood of incoming information, interruptions, and distractions, many knowledge workers are so overwhelmed that they spend much of their time “playing defense,” are less able to identify priorities, and stay mostly in reactive mode.

They spend the majority of their time reacting to what happens to them rather than proactively tracking and acting upon the most important or the highest-impact activities. 

It’s easy for knowledge workers to confuse being busy with being productive when faced with this combination. Even though they are busy all day long, when knowledge workers are in reactive mode, they are not in the frame of mind to do the proactive thinking that true innovation requires.

 

Work Environment

The work environment only compounds the issue. Research shows that open-office floor plans reduce attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, concentration, and motivation. 

An open-office layout poses many issues that lead to distracted workers. Finding ways to help workers be more productive is even more challenging in an atmosphere with so much going on at once.

This sort of physical environment often leads to a culture of urgency, one in which “everything” is considered an emergency—so real urgency disappears. In this situation, constant interruptions are accepted as “business as usual.”

Even team members who are fully remote can find themselves doing little else besides answering emails and chats and attending Zoom meetings. 

Suffice it to say that when these three obstacles are present, no one can catch their breath, let alone unleash their genius to think creatively. Innovation dies in companies with distracted, reactive employees who are rushing around feeling like everything is urgent.

 

The Solution: Attention Management

A woman draws gears with the words "Innovation" "Creativity" "Technology" and "Teamwork"

Only attention management can slay the productivity-stealing dragon of distraction and create the kind of deep focus required for innovation.

Attention management is a collection of behaviors, including focus, concentration, mindfulness, presence, and flow. Together, the practice of attention management gives you the ability to consciously direct your attention in any given moment, to be more proactive than reactive, and to maintain control, rather than inadvertently relinquish it.

Unfortunately, a lack of attention management is one of the defining characteristics of today’s workplace cultures. Without attention management, knowledge workers stay mired in distraction — which quickly becomes a habit that follows them into their personal time.

Employees decide what to do next based not on their priorities, but on whatever is demanding their attention at the moment, whether that’s an email, social media notification, or a colleague dropping by their desk to chat.

 

Unleashing Your Team’s Genius

A corporate team

“Genius” is not just a description of the Albert Einsteins and Marie Curies of the world. We all have a kind of unique “genius” — our own way of thinking, doing, being. And this is where innovative ideas are born.

But the fast pace and relentless high-tech distractions of modern life are throttling our genius.

Trying to keep up with an endless tide of emails, notifications, and other stimuli makes it a struggle to bring our full selves to any task or interaction. The sad result is that we’re constantly busy, but only infrequently accomplishing or experiencing what’s truly meaningful to us. We’re rarely able to “unleash our genius” in our lives.

Attention Management techniques give us the tools to make progress on the issues and tasks that are important to us.

Benefits of Learning Attention Management Techniques

A woman sits at a desk with an open book and looks up, thinking

Employees can reap the benefits of attention management with the proper training.

They will stop wasting mental energy trying to figure out what to do next. They’ll know the best use of their time in any given moment.

They’ll claim extended periods of uninterrupted time so they can apply deep focus to their most important work.

They’ll communicate better and maintain stronger relationships because they’re fully present with others — instead of checking their phone or worrying about all they have to do.

Instead of staying connected to work 24-7, they’ll understand the need to regularly take time to recharge and refill their reserves of patience, insight, and creativity.

They’ll no longer be at the mercy of email and other technologies. Instead, their tech tools will actually support their productivity instead of sabotaging it. Then they’ll more often be in the state of mind in which innovation is truly possible.

 

Promote Innovative Thinking

A leader sits at a table and works with team members who stand around

When team members are clear on their duties, and can be proactive in their work, they will be more satisfied with their progress. 

When they feel productive in their work and understand their roles in the organization, they can feel accomplished in making significant and innovative contributions to the company.

Comprehensive productivity training that includes attention management helps workers regain time in their days so they can be creative and generate new ideas. Satisfied workers are happier workers. And happy employees can only benefit companies in achieving success.

 

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