Whenever demands made on a person, team, or organization aren’t properly matched with the resources needed to address them, stress is the result. Understaffed departments suffer from sloppier work and lower morale. Underfunded teams struggle to hit deadlines and meet quality milestones. This principle is as true of innovation as everything else.
Here’s how to fight “innovation anxiety.”
What Is Innovation Anxiety?
On one level, innovation anxiety is easy to understand. Innovation is a broad term: what’s innovative to a software company will differ from what governments need. If all you want to do is “innovate,” your team is going to wonder what that means. If it seems urgent and they don’t know what to do, a lot can go wrong, especially if the pressure suddenly ramps up.
Events surrounding the introduction of the iPhone are a perfect example of what happens in the wake of innovation anxiety. After the iPhone debuted, there was a steady stream of products that were clearly more the result of panic over the popularity of the iPhone than of genuine creativity.
That was particularly evident with companies that had built phones with physical keyboards. Microsoft rolled out the Kin, which tried to have it both ways with a physical keyboard and a touchscreen. Blackberry created the Passport, a square phone that squashed the keyboard down to the bottom. Neither wowed the crowds. It’s not difficult to see what happened. Other companies saw the iPhone, knew they had to respond… and were completely at a loss as to how. The result? Innovation anxiety and poorly conceived products.
Turning Anxiety into Calm
Fixing innovation anxiety, fortunately, is relatively simple. Follow these steps to reduce or even eliminate innovation anxiety for yourself and your team.
- Set clear standards. No one on your team should have to guess at what ideas you’re looking for or what innovation means to your organization. Have a clear set of expectations and goals that are shared across the company. In particular, find examples of innovation in your industry, or in related industries, that you can use to guide the way.
- Be transparent. If your team comes up with an idea, gets praise, and then never finds out what actually happened to it, they’re not going to keep bringing in those ideas. Transparency in the innovation process, from how ideas are collected to the ultimate results, will help. The rewards and resources should also be transparent, so people know their idea will have some force behind it.
- Stake time as well as money. For an idea to be refined into something usable, it has to be considered, tested, thought about, and otherwise managed. Pay attention and spend time on the innovation process.
- Make it about learning, not winning. Inevitably some ideas are going to fail, and they could fail for reasons out of anyone’s control. Often, the lessons you learn from one idea not panning out can be applied directly to the next idea. Celebrate the knowledge you’ve gathered, and make sure it’s applied going forward.
- Have fun. Innovation shouldn’t just be financially rewarding; it should be emotionally and creatively rewarding. Everyone should enjoy sitting down and brainstorming, refining ideas, and helping out.
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