Dangerous Ideas: 3 Ways to Power Innovation and Risk-Taking

Filed Under Innovation

business handstand
Arwen Petty

December 6, 2013

Everybody likes to talk about how innovation is driven by taking calculated risks, being open to change, and fostering a culture that promotes ideation and disruption. All true — but in practice, most companies only circle around the notion of following through with this stuff. Politics and red tape, and more than that, fear, still wear the crown of influence over the creation of executable strategies.

Here are 3 ways to power innovation using risky thinking — for real this time.

1. Have Faith in Transparency

Secrets, secrets, are no fun. Secrets, secrets… will hurt your company’s ability to aggressively innovate. So will hidden agendas, calculated communications, and honoring complacence over a few ruffled feathers. Throw these things out the window, and get comfortable with exposure, honesty, and reality. You can’t truly promote a culture of fearlessness amongst your employees if they’re never sure what’s okay to say, okay to do, okay to think, or if they don’t ever know what’s really going on with the state of their teams and the organization as a whole. Nothing kills innovation faster than doubt, much like nothing shatters collaboration quicker than closed-door discussions. Fostering transparency is a vital first step to driving truly bold thinking.

2. Set (Some) Parameters

To be clear, risk is not equal to “ridiculous.” A lot of the time, demanding that someone think outside of the box does one of two things: causes brain-freeze, because being forced into creativity can be extremely stifling; or, causes people to go way, way too far — like in the ’50s, when people thought it was okay to put jello and shrimp together in the same dish, and then it actually became trendy to do so. Equally as important is not letting desired outcomes be dictators of ideation, which can prompt the swift crushing of bold concepts if they don’t seem to fit with what you want. In other words, don’t approve pate-and-cherry salad, but moreover, never design boundaries so strict that ideators have no choice but to uphold the status quo.

Reward the Brave

This is essential. It’s basically providing validation and reinforcement that, not only is risky thinking allowed, it’s encouraged and appreciated. And remember, the small stuff counts, too. Says Forbes’ Christa Carone, “When shaking up the status quo at a conservative company, it’s necessary to start by celebrating small moments and simple out-of-the-box gestures.” For example, she says, “After the Digital Content NewFronts this year I received a personal note from a digital agency executive who sent me a recap of highlights by email. The note was thoughtful and informative and stood out among the barrage of emails that clutter my inbox every day. By following the content I curate on Twitter, he had figured out pain points and touch points that are defining our marketing strategy. Then, he took the time to craft highlights that would be interesting to me. He earned some credibility, asked for an opportunity to pitch and got it.” Encourage any level of innovation; you never know what good could come of it.