by Cathy Dunn and Phil Allcock

How to support and enable innovation

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of old ones.

John Cage

There are many different contributions to the process of innovation. You may not be the one ‘doing the innovation’, but perhaps you are the manager or a co-worker of someone who is generating new ideas and products. If that’s the case, then you might like to think about your behaviours and whether they help or hinder the process of innovation.

Innovation and innovative ideas are easy to squash. If the person with the idea(s) doesn’t feel listened to when they propose new ideas or ways of doing things, they are likely to feel diminished and will eventually stop suggesting things – or they will take their ideas to a competitor who will listen and you and the whole organisation will have lost competitive advantage.

As a manager, it’s important to develop the skills of listening well to all your staff. You might like to look at the topic on Listening Skills for some exercises and tips to help you improve these skills. These will help you when people come to you with suggestions for new (and possibly improved) ways of doing things or even completely new ideas/products. Let the individual explain their ideas without interruption and without those seemingly-negative comments, such as ‘we’ve tried that before’; even if that’s true, the world may have changed and it may be possible to implement these ideas now.

The Innovation Potential Indicator

There are also some questionnaires that can help identify the mix of behaviours that can support innovation or that can identify innovative organisations. One such is the Innovation Potential Indicator (published by OPP Ltd).

This questionnaire looks at behaviours that affect how new ideas, processes and products are generated, developed and implemented. It looks past the propensity for having ‘bright ideas’ to looking at how these ideas are introduced and applied for the organisation’s benefit. The results can be used to understand how innovative an individual has the potential to be. Or, when used with teams, the profiles can be combined to provide a framework to help the team be more open to a culture of innovation.

The Innovation Potential Indicator identifies four areas of behaviour that can lead to the introduction of new and improved ways of doing things in organisations:

  • Motivation to change – wanting to seek and adopt change, including a wish to understand and solve complex problems
  • Challenging behaviour – this relates to the willingness to take risks and challenge current thinking
  • Adaption looks at ways of solving problems, either through evolutionary steps or by looking for completely new ways of doing so
  • Consistency of work styles looks at the various ways of approaching work – whether methodical and consistent or whether the approach tends to be more impulsive and non-conformist.

The indicator should be used only by qualified personnel, but can give significant insight into how teams and organisations approach innovation.