Bob Rosenfeld, a leading authority on innovation, believes that the keys to innovation in an organization are not readily apparent. In his book, titled Making the Invisible Visible: The Human Principles for Sustaining Innovation, he writes: “I noticed that people at all levels within the company had ideas that could benefit both themselves and the company … a few of these ideas found a supportive ear, but most of them did not … I was convinced that if there were some way to infuse these ideas into the organization, they would be of value to the company.”
Thirty-five years ago, Rosenfeld was brimming with ideas as a young, energetic chemist at Eastman Kodak. Today, he is a leading authority on innovation. He founded Idea Connection Systems and is currently Innovator in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership.
While at Eastman Kodak, Rosenfeld saw that there were no effective mechanisms to connect individuals’ ideas to the larger organization. The barriers to innovation that he saw then are still common today. Some of those barriers include lack of language, limited scope, isolation, comfort with the status quo and lack of trust.
Let’s look at them in turn:
- Lack of language means that organizations may not have effective ways to talk about the innovation process.
- Limited scope occurs when organizations encourage small, incremental changes rather than new products, breakthrough ideas or unusual concepts.
- Isolation happens when departments and groups within the organization don’t communicate, creating subcultures that are different from the rest of the organization and limiting exchange of ideas and information.
- Comfort with the status quo is a deadly weapon against innovation, when people are dependent on the familiar, leaving little room or tolerance for anyone with wildly different ideas or behavior.
- A deficit of trust is damaging because innovation requires structures that are supported by bonds of trust, confidence and respect for those involved.
To address these problems, Rosenfeld, along with others at Eastman Kodak, set up the first Office of Innovation. Since then, Rosenfeld has helped other companies establish similar systems for innovation. One thing he learned was that the measure of success is tied less to the mechanics of innovation and more to the human dynamic.
Rosenfeld also found that innovation needs sustained commitment at a high level. A high-ranking officer needs to understand the difficulties involved and be committed to the ongoing and long-term success of the program. Rosenfeld thinks that without that support a program will fail, no matter how much compelling evidence is produced to show its value.
Finally, leaders must look beyond the mechanics, techniques and even results of innovation to the underlying – and usually unseen – principles of sustained innovation. As Rosenfeld writes: “The most important aspects of innovation are not readily apparent. To become successful, the invisible must be made visible.”