January 10, 2011
Innovation from the Inside Out

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These days, almost all of Idea Champions' clients are talking about the need to establish a culture of innovation.

Some, I'm happy to report, are actually doing something about it. Hallelujah! They are taking bold steps forward to turn theory into action.

The challenge for them is the same as it's always been -- to find a simple, authentic way to address the challenge from the inside out -- to water the root of the tree, not just the branches.

External systems and protocols are not sufficient to guarantee meaningful change. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Systems die. Instinct remains."

This is not to say that organizations should ignore systems and structures in their effort to establish a culture of innovation. They shouldn't.

But systems and structures all too often become the Holy Grail -- much in the same way that Six Sigma has become the Holy Grail.

Unfortunately, when the addiction to systems and structures rules the day, an organization's quest for a culture of innovation degenerates into nothing much more than a cult of innovation.

Organizations do not innovate. People innovate. Inspired people. Fascinated people. Creative people. Committed people. That's where innovation originates -- from deep within the inspired individual who understands that his/her sustained effort is what's required to go beyond the status quo.

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The organization's role -- just like the individual manager's role -- is to get out of the way. And while this "getting out of the way" will undoubtedly include the effort to formulate supportive systems, processes, and protocols, it is important to remember that systems, processes, and protocols are never the answer.

They are the context, not the content. They are the husk, not kernel. They are the menu, not the meal.

Ultimately, organizations are faced with the same challenge that religions are faced with. Religious leaders may speak passionately about the virtues their congregation needs to be living by, but sermons only name the challenge and remind people to experience something -- they don't necessarily change behavior.

Change comes from within the heart and mind of each individual. It cannot be legislated or evangelized into reality.

What's needed in organizations who aspire to a culture of innovation, is an inner change. People need to experience something within themselves that will spark and sustain their effort to innovate -- and when they experience this "something," they will be self-sustaining.

They will think about their projects in the shower, in their car, and in their dreams. They will need very little "management" from the outside. Inside out will rule the day -- not outside in. Intrinsic motivation will flourish.

People will innovate not because they are told to, but because they want to. Open Space Technology is a good metaphor for this. When people are inspired, share a common, compelling goal and have the time and space to collaborate, the results become self-organizing.

You can create all the reward systems you want. You can reinvent your workspace until you're blue in the face. You can license the latest and greatest idea management tool, but unless each person in your organization OWNS the need to innovate and finds a way to tap into their own innate brilliance, all you'll end up with is a mixed bag of systems, processes, and protocols -- the husk, not the kernel -- the innovation flotsam and jetsam that the next administration or next CEO or next key stakeholder will mock, reject or change at the drop of a hat if the ROI doesn't show up in the next 20 minutes.

You want culture change? You want a culture of innovation?

Great. Then find a way to help each and every person in your organization come from the inside out. Deeply consider how you can awaken, nurture, and develop the primal need all people have to create something extraordinary.

Idea Champions


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 10, 2011 10:58 AM


I think this article is full of organic language and this is good. There is systematic order and there is organic order. Organic order promotes innovation (probably adaptation using organic language). If something fails in systematic order the system fails. If something fails in organic order the failure may build the order up. Using the tree metaphor again, if a tree dies and falls to the ground it has "failed" but it enriches the soil as it rots. This ensures "breeding ground" for new anything. Innovation requires order that would allow it to be dynamic. Systematic order is static and prevents unhindered innovation. I truly believe organic order would allow for innovation. Excellent post by the way.

Posted by: Kaleb Heitzman [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 6, 2008 09:10 PM

Kaleb: Thanks for the kind acknowledgment. If you want to read more about our approach to an "organic order," you may want to check out another blog posting here re: Garden of Innovation. It describes our model for how we help organizations foster a sustainable culture of innovation. MITCH DITKOFF


Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 7, 2008 11:56 AM

Mitch: The Garden of Innovation post is excellent! I am currently pursuing my master's in leadership and this idea of organic community has absolutely encompassed me. Thanks for the resource!

Posted by: Kaleb Heitzman [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2008 12:36 PM

Hi Mitch:

I already like yor blog. THANKS for creating it and then sharing it with all of us.

As you say, a Culture of Innovation (or Quality, or Excelence) is a way of being and not just a simple way of doing.

That is the "subtle" difference between culture and politics.

Posted by: JOSE JOAQUIN PEREZ KRUMENACKER [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 17, 2008 09:37 AM

Hi Mitch:

This is me again with a "contextual" comment.

I noticed that the two previous comments as well as your reply are dated February 2008.

Posted by: JOSE JOAQUIN PEREZ KRUMENACKER [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 17, 2008 09:41 AM

Jose: The earlier comments are dated February 2008 because that's when this posting originally appeared on the blog. I decided to re-post it a few days ago for those people who had not yet seen it.

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 18, 2008 08:33 AM

Great blog and post. A lot of similar experiences from the innovation field at my blog. http://petervan.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/how-real-is-your-innovation/ and elsewhere

Posted by: Petervan [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 15, 2010 06:42 AM

So you're talking about how important a culture of innovation is for some companies, and how ineffective systems on there own are. Fine.

But what are actually doing something about it?

(besides talking about it and "getting out of the way")

Posted by: Patiwat Panurach [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2011 12:14 AM

Patiwat: Mighty fine question. The answer is A LOT. Everything I do (and everything my company, Idea Champions does), is focused on helping organizations establish sustainable cultures of innovation. We do it in a variety of ways, depending on the need, commitment, and profile of our clients. For example, we worked very closely with Atlanticare's Innovation Council for 18 months, helping them drive the process of innovation in their organization. After 18 months of our assistance, they won the Baldrige Award. We also deliver "Applied Innovation" workshops as part of our clients' various Leadership Development Programs. Our effort there is to increase awareness of what, precisely, a culture of innovation IS -- and then facilitate the process whereby participants consider what they, individually, can do to make a difference in that regard. I also deliver interactive keynote presentations that focuses on the topic of "culture of innovation" -- helping audiences cut through the motherhood and apple pie mindset and really figure out what they can do to foster innovation within their spheres of influence. Additionally, we train facilitators to run effective brainstorming sessions so they can be catalysts of change in their organizations. Recently, we've launchd a very inexpensive online tool, Free the Genie, to help individuals approach innovation challenges in new ways. Bottom line, we are very much walking our talk. We don't claim to have a magic pill. But are doing everything in our power to stir the soup, increase awareness, and help people commit to innovation in new and productive ways. Our blog, The Heart of Innovation, is just one way we keep the conversation going....

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2011 12:51 AM

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