Surviving an Organization that Stifles Innovation


I have worked at institutions that both encouraged and stifled innovation. While working in these environments creates various challenges, you should not have to ask for permission to succeed. Organizations that stifle creativity and innovation work to preserve the status quo. This can be especially frustrating for those of you who like to try new approaches to solving problems. Without resorting to giving up or finding another place to work, there are some strategies you can use for surviving an organization that stifles innovation:

Don’t Create More Work for People – Many times new ideas can be quickly shut down because there is the perception that it will create more work. This can be especially true if you suggest an idea that you expect someone else to implement. If you bring something to the table, offer a plan that illustrates that you will take the lead and offer the resources needed to make the idea a success. Let them know that you simply need their support in principle, but not necessarily in resources or time.

Align Yourself with Decision-Makers – Without being perceived as a “kiss up,” take the time to develop relationships with those who will have a direct influence over whether new ideas are utlimately implemented or not. Not only will you better understand how these individuals make decisions, but you put yourself in a better position in which your ideas will at least be permitted to be presented.  

Provide Data and Evidence - People normally support ideas that have more of a possibility of being successful than a failure and a waste of time and resources. Do some background research on your idea and have data and evidence to support it. Sharing specific examples and case studies will lend credence to your idea. If necessary, pilot test your plan before presenting your larger vision to the group. By doing this you can demonstrate that you have had success and are able to support a larger initiative. If the pilot test does not work, you can either refine the initiative and try again, or simply scrap the idea and forget about presenting it to the group.

Create “Wins” – Find out what motivates your colleagues and superiors, and attempt to develop plans that create “wins” for them. Wins can be anything from increased program attendance, time and resource savings, increased exposure / publicity, and even prestige. These wins, of course, should align with the values, goals, mission, and vision of your organization. You will have a more difficult time gaining support for your own ideas if they do not in some shape of form create wins for others.

Spawn Your Own Projects – Stated simply, blaze your own trail. Use the amount of freedom that you do have to create your own projects. As long as you are following within the parameters of the mission and vision of your organization, you do not have to apologize for trying to create progress through new ideas. If you wait around for approval or acknowledgement from others, you may never bring a new idea to fruition. As I stated in the opening paragraph, you should not have to ask for permission to succeed.

Become a “Thought Leader” – Innovation breeds innovation. Those who are seen as experts in a particular area and strive to create new knowledge or innovative ideas will attract others who want to be a part of those exciting new developments. Tap into an area you are most passionate about, and do your best to make connections with others within your organization who share the same passions. You can even expand your circle of influence to include others you interact with online and via professional development networking opportunities (i.e., national and regional organizations, webinars, conferences, social media, tweet up’s, etc.) Blog, tweet, and publish your innovative ideas in order to gain a level of respect about your area of expertise. The more you are seen as a thought leader, the more likely you will be able to influence change within your own organization.

What are some other strategies that you have used to implement a new idea within your organization? Please share your thoughts below.

* Photo Courtesy of Pop Catalin

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