The tension between continuity and change is said to constitute the groundwork of history. Not only nations but organisations experience this tension in some form and measure. Continuity is guarded by solid, stable no-nonsense administrators while change is advocated by a small band of impatient innovators. One rests largely on traditions and conventions and is highly procedure oriented. Every time you suggest a new idea they would give you five reasons why it will not work. They would sacrifice results for rules. The impatient innovator, on the other hand, tends to measure success in terms of results obtained even at the cost of bending the system.
Obviously a balance has to be struck between the two. One can well empathise with the routine administrator cautioning chaotic pushers and equally, understand innovators being frustrated by what they unfairly consider as obstruction by wooden headed bureaucrats.
If these two views are represented by two strong individuals for a fairly long period, there ensues a clash of personalities and issues get distorted. I am sure this has been the experience of many Organisations that need both the skill of the administrator and the impulses of the developer. Organizations that cannot resolve this conflict are often led by poor leaders!
May be the answer lies in leadership that builds strong but flexible systems and fosters a culture which permits fast, timely responses while ensuring that any new commitment of resources is a calculated move based on a careful assessment of cost and advantage.
The problem facing many of today’s organizations is different. It is not inertia or absence of change. The problem is that they have too many creative persons and too few innovators.
In one of his lesser known classics, Prof.Theodore Levitt distinguishes between creativity and innovation. His words should benefit organisations that are brimming with ideas.
Creativity, according to Levitt, thinks up new things. Innovation does new things. A new idea, in today’s organisation, can be creative in the abstract but destructive in reality. Yet we go by the novelty of the idea than by its practicability. I quote Levitt, “Anybody who knows anything about organisations knows how hard it is to get things done, let alone to introduce new ways of doing things, no matter how promising they seem. A powerful idea can kick around unused in a company for years, not because its merits are not recognised but because nobody has assumed the responsibility for converting it from words into action.”
“Ideation,” says Levitt “is relatively abundant. The scarce people are those who have the know-how, energy, daring and staying power to implement ideas….vigorous and systematic follow through with detailed proposals for implementation, or even suggestions of the risks, the personnel requisites, the time budgets and the costs vis a vis benefits.”
The trouble with creativity, he says, is that many of the people with ideas think that their jobs are finished when they suggest them; that it is up to someone else to plan the details and then implement the proposals. How many suggestions come out of the employee suggestion boxes that are not even evaluated, let alone rewarded!
This is not to suggest that we should risk loss of receptivity or suspension of thinking on new ideas. I am pleading for just the opposite – a balance between conceptualising skills and implementation abilities. We have all seen brilliant ideas taken out and dusted every now and then and put back on the shelf for want of attention to detail-without a word on what can be implemented, how, by whom and within what period.
If the senior leadership has to foster a culture of innovation, they will have to start by removing several mental blocks, separating issues from persons, rewarding ideas that are linked to actionable plans and ensuring that thinking helps rather than hinders action.