When most people think of innovation, they think of Steve Jobs. They are right to do so. He was absolutely an innovator who changed the world with the work that he did. (Can you imagine carrying a camera, iPod, books and a cell phone separately now? The man saved me several pounds of luggage weight for my vacations with his inventions!)
Given that Steve Jobs is an icon, he sets the bar really high for the average person to think that they have anything innovative to offer. And although the average person innovates all the time in their personal lives tinkering in their garages, kitchens, workshops, basements… we are afraid to define ourselves as innovative at work. Instead, we leave it to the engineers and product development people.
I recently worked with an innovation team at a local well-respected company. The team was diverse and included employees from a variety of areas — IT, Sales, HR, Manufacturing, Administration, and Finance. This dedicated group of employees (not an engineer or product development specialist among them) was the team who accepted the challenge to innovate.
At the start of the project, 5 out of the 8 participants admitted to being afraid of what was ahead, feeling that they lacked confidence in their ability to contribute. No one had ever asked them to innovate before, and they weren’t even sure they knew how. But they trusted us to take them through a system designed to enable everyone, everywhere, every day to innovate. Our twelve-week innovation journey began that day.
Our journey was filled with great moments that made me proud: the receptionist on the innovation team was part of the presentation to the executive team,sharing a supporting business case for the team’s idea; I listened to the finance person start to get creative and excited during the idea generating process; I watched the IT people answer product development questions. My point in all this? Job title is just that — a title. It doesn’t speak to one’s passion, interests, or imagination.
In my career, I have rarely experienced prejudice because of my gender. I have, however, experienced prejudice because of my previous job titles. Just recently, I heard of an executive who wrote off my ability to partner with them because they felt an ‘HR person’ had no business helping them with innovation.
This is the limited mindset that holds companies back. We focus on titles, and not ability, experience, knowledge and passion. Let’s take those special ingredients and combine them with a system that is designed to leverage diversity. Then, let’s use it all to drive innovation and real, tangible business results.
Just ask the employees who have their names on a patent for a product that their company is taking to market.
That’s the kind of ‘great thing’ I want to be a part of. I don’t care what your title is.