I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

How To Get Your Innovation Moving In A Bureaucracy: Leverage The Leader's Field Of Vision


In the movie Paranoia, Liam Hemsworth plays an innovative developer who gets caught between two lifelong rivals. His problem? Overeducated but underpaid and exploited, and he can't get his good ideas taken seriously no matter how good his presentation.

In real life, professionals at every stage find themselves frustrated by a seemingly immovable and impenetrable corporate mechanism that seemingly resists every attempt to inject a new idea. I have often wondered why we put such an emphasis nowadays on advanced education and technical certifications and then ignore the precious advice we've already paid for.

But it can be done. One example: Goucher College provides academic support for the Hispanic community on the weekends, including daycare. But something was missing, realized one student: The community needed a GED testing center, because the credential is important to apply for jobs successfully.

Instead of dropping a voting card in a suggestion box, the student did extensive research, found out exactly how the process works, showed the school how it could be done in a practical manner, and won approval. In my mind there is no better example of innovation for good - this student has  put food in the mouths of children.

Align With The Leader's Field Of Vision!

When presenting his idea, Liam Hemsworth did not understand the perspective of his boss. The leader had created a great technology, only to have it stolen by a partner-turned-rival who was better at marketing it. Had he understood that perspective, he could have presented the innovation in a way that fit into the leader's field of vision.

Do you know how your leader views the world? Vision and values are not enough. You must see what they see when they look out the window from their office. This is essentially how they think, how they take in information, and what motivates them to act.

You Are A Thousand Times Better Off With Your Leader's Support.

A common misconception about innovation is that it must upset people. This is absolutely not true. In fact, most organizations and most people actually welcome it.

The problem is that change takes many years to take root, and you must have an incredibly strong base of support to withstand the winds that will whip against you like a hurricane. (Consider the Internet, social media, and now mobile and "Internet anywhere.") 

So when you are the lone ranger who has an innovative idea - even one as simple as my friend's, who said we should use smaller margins in government correspondence to save paper - do whatever you can to fold it into your leader's vision. You may not get credit for the concept - in fact it is probably better if you do not. What matters is that you use all your cognitive and emotional intelligence to figure out how to get the idea done, and then focus very very hard on researching, presenting and then executing it.

Paranoia has a different ending than the one I'm presenting here. I won't spoil it except to say that Hemsworth finds it impossible to work within the rules. But if you intend to make your career in a large bureaucracy, you have to find different tools than the ones he employed. Understanding where your boss is coming from, and then presenting a solution that makes it easy to say yes, is a very good way to think about it.

* All opinions my own.