Bureaucracy and the fear of breaking the rules in innovation is like a bucket of ice water to the face.
Rules are designed to reduce risk. Rules reduce individual thinking. Rules show a lack of trust.
We have too many rules.
The role of the innovative leader: Make every effort to ensure that structure, policy, procedures, and systems don’t get in the way of innovation.
Structure and systems are great. By definition though innovation doesn’t have a rule book. After all we are coming up with something new that is not currently done. It doesn’t fit within the rules. The environment of innovation is just too fluid.
Yes, process is important, but to effectively get the job done we have to know why the rule or process is in place. Knowing the spirit of the law allows the appropriate execution of the process. We don’t live in a black and white world so process flexibility is necessary.
How about if we innovate the process to accommodate more flexibility?
Biggest Innovation Problem – Fear of Breaking the Rules
A simplistic sequence of events for innovation:
- The opportunity for an idea
- The idea
- Initial evaluation of the idea
- Basic exploration
- Personal Brilliance Innovation Model
The fear of breaking the rules can wreck this sequence at every step. However, the most tragic is at step 1, 2, and 3. At these early stages in the birth of an idea the idea is very fragile. Too much negativity at this point can relegate an idea to the trash heap before it can gain any momentum.
Worst of all is if the fear of breaking rules – maybe breaking a rule – kills even the creation of an idea at step 1. If that happens throughout your organization we are in effect not coming up with ideas at all. It’s not worth it. We’re too tight to foster a great idea so why waste effort even coming up with great ideas, right?
How do we avoid throwing the cold water?
The approach we take to rules and compliance sets the tone for innovation.
For example, as a change leader it’s so much better to say to a constituent, “we’re trying to identify areas where we may get in trouble and avoid those problems,” rather than, “they make us do this risk matrix.”
Do a rules audit
Root out antiquated rules. Identify the reason for the rule. Does it still apply? Can we achieve the goal of the rule without a rule? Or, can we identify exceptions to the rule that can be made without someone’s approval?
Strategically use the Devil’s Advocate
Don’t critique an idea too early in the process. There are enough naysayers to kill an idea later on.
Make sure everyone participates as they generate ideas. Get people working on innovation. Be sure not to penalize participation. Don’t make it too hard to be innovative.
Related article: A New Rule – Really?