Recently this blog has focused heavily on promoting innovation through creative thinking, fostering diversity, and creating innovation amidst regulation. However, while reading leadership guru Joshua Spodek’s Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity “SIDCHA” series, it occurred to me that I had been neglecting the fundamental foundation of innovative organizations: Discipline Systems.
Many of us have worked for bosses or organizations that lack discipline. The hallmark of this environment is everyone being “very busy” while nothing is actually getting done. When strategy, goals, and methods change too quickly for people to adapt, motivation is destroyed.
I learned this the hard way my first year teaching when I was continuously making improvements to my procedures and classroom expectations. Though these changes were improving the process, I was making these changes far too quickly and not giving the students time to adapt. By failing to value consistency over continued process improvement, I torpedoed my student’s motivation. From the education world to the energy industry I have seen overeager leaders and innovators hobble their success by refusing to allow follows the time needed to acclimate to changes before moving on.
In one organization I worked for, we called it “line-of-sight delegation.” When the leader was struck with an idea, the first person he saw was tasked with dropping everything and running the idea down. As you can imagine, this created two behaviors:
- Few projects were ever completed because at a moment’s notice you would be re-tasked with something completely different, only to be re-tasked again once you neared completing the new project.
- Team-members actively avoided entering the leader’s field of view, lest you be given a new boondoggle to chase down.
The salient point from this example is that this behavior happened even though most of these ideas had significant merit and could benefit the company. Despite the validity of the ideas, few ever came to fruition because employees never had the time to carry them out in earnest. Make no mistake, embracing chaos and allowing for experimentation is essential to growth, but without some consistency you cannot have effective innovation.
I like to think of innovation like weight training. If you show up on day one and load up six plates (315 lbs.) thinking you can just “will” your way to strength you’re going to have a bad time. Equally as useless is showing up the gym consistently but only lifting the bar and never increasing the weight. Instead, strength training requires periodic stress (i.e. change or increase in weight) and adaptation (i.e. consistency of the change so that your muscles can respond).
“Eureka moments” and overnight millionaires are a myth. Invention is a story of industrious creatives making incremental improvements over time. Simultaneously, firms that fail to adapt fail to survive. Given this reality, it is easy to see how successful innovation only comes from hours and hours of consistent repetition of stress and adaptation. This is why the bottom of the innovation model is discipline systems. Without discipline systems an otherwise “innovative organization” becomes a money pit, whose ideas lack enough grounding to be implemented in the real world. Moreover, these organizations will fail to bring any idea to market because their “innovators” will change ideas and strategies faster than can be implemented.
So what does this mean for you?
People don’t succeed because they have more information. They succeed because they act.
If you want to be an innovator, you must start by practicing the fundamentals. Jazz musicians do not start by improvising on day one. They learn their instrument, learn the rules, and only then are able to best know how to break them. If knowing something were the same as doing something no one would smoke cigarettes. Every smoker knows it is bad for them, so why don’t they quit? Because there is no “magic pill.” Routine and habit are a powerful force in one’s life.
How can you apply this towards innovation?
Practice, practice, practice. Building successful routines and systems create your base, and from there you can boldly walk into the unknown. If you are worried about your health, your bills, your relationships, etc. you are not going to be able to devote sufficient time towards innovation.
How do I get started?
Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to help people start creating discipline systems:
- @Spodek’s SIDCHA method and burpees
- Scott Adams’ (creator of the comic Dilbert) blog and book on creating Systems instead of Goals
- The Reddit forum “Get Disciplined”
- @cduhigg’s The Power of Habit
- @LollyDaskal’s 7 Smart Habits of Great Innovators
The resources are out there. If you want to be a great innovator, the first step is not to know, but to act.
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