a person who defies convention to bring unorthodox ideas to life, and succeeds against the odds.
"he was one of the great innovators in jazz"
Create an innovation program that lets any employee be an innovator.
Whitespace projects are self-directed projects that employees work on in the whitespace of their jobs. No permission. No funding. Just one tiny step at a time. The ground rules are simple: never create risk, and never let it interfere with assigned duties.
See a problem in operations? Great, go fix it. See a new market opportunity? Great, go unlock it. Think someone is fumbling product design? Great, go try a new approach.
At 3M it’s called “bootlegging”. At BMW it’s called “U-boat projects”. These projects have a long history of success.
There’s something special about solving problems we weren’t hired to solve.
Employees that lack the freedom to experiment with their ideas, will lack the interest to implement management’s ideas.
Create a team of innovators.
If all the good ideas come from managers, you have a team of followers. That’s risky.
Being a manager is hard enough without having to have all the answers. Whenever you lead innovation or transformation, 80% of what you think is going to work won’t work. Experimentation is key.
Whitespace projects let employees experiment with their own ideas, while staying committed to the team effort. This increases the chances of success, and lets the team explore the full solution space for better solutions, and more breakthroughs.
“One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.” —E.M. Forster
Let employees scout out the next breakthrough.
Most breakthroughs come from people and places the “experts” least expect. No one would have picked Einstein to revolutionize the laws of physics. No one would have picked the Wright Brothers to figure out powered flight.
By all means, let your superstars lead innovation teams and skunkworks projects. But let your other employees take a crack at breakthroughs as well. Whitespace projects create a pipeline of innovation projects for free.
Once employees scout out promising opportunities, managers can sponsor the projects they like. This keeps innovation aligned with strategy. And it lets managers play the game like a venture capitalist…and win.
“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” —Albert Einstein
“If you put fences around people, you get sheep.” —William L. McKnight
Transform into a company of innovators.
Instead of trying to change the culture, let employees do what they already want to do: tackle challenges they care about.
Thanks to management innovators at 3M, Google, and HubSpot, we know what works: (1) CEO grants employees permission to work on whitespace projects. (2) Catalyst provides dedicated support to employees. (3) Managers let projects operate under the radar, in the whitespace of work.
The catalyst creates the dynamics that make this work. To use a Star Wars analogy: You need an Obi-Wan Kenobi for the Luke Skywalkers in the company (unlikely heroes of ANY gender). Without an Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Luke Skywalkers never set out to save the universe.
“If folks don't appear to be creative at work, it's not because they lack imagination, it's because they lack the opportunity.” —Gary Hamel
Are you trying to make your company more innovative?
I’d love to hear what you’re up to!
Drop me a line so we can connect. I’ll reach out to you via LinkedIn. Or you can send me a LinkedIn invite. I look forward to it!