Innovation “Stickiness”

“To innovate or not to innovate” is not The Question. We live in a business world (and, increasingly, beyond business) wherein the drive to be competitive means irrelevance lingers for those who do not continuously improve their craft. The Question becomes, “What is your organization doing to make innovation ‘sticky’???”

Management gurus like Jim Andrew of the Boston Consulting Group articulate the value proposition for innovation very nicely. (see: http://ow.ly/9aXoP) Yet, what seems to be lacking in many of the discussions is how to keep positive change going, growing, and gaining acceptance. In an upcoming presentation to HR leaders at the CAI conference, “Crushing Your Competition With Your Culture & Talent,” (http://ow.ly/9aYYl) we will be talking about the stickiness factor as it applies to innovation.

Silk fiber strength = stickiness!

Often, when we are trying to explain a nuance of a challenging problem, we turn to nature. The spider’s web is a great simile for innovation. How is it that a spider can weave an intricate web that catches others, but not itself, in its sticky strands? Scientists have studied these webs and found that the threads that are taut and strong are the stickiest, and the looser ones the pathway by which the spider traverses the web without becoming stuck. If the spider prey encounters, on the other hand, threads that are too sticky (strong), a struggle can break the strand and the prey is liberated. Yet, if the “glue” is only so sticky, a struggle may momentarily free the prey, only to become attached to additional strands that eventually fatigue the struggling prey before the battle is lost.

The concept of sufficient stickiness applies to organizations in this way: if we develop ideas with insufficient “strength,” they lack staying power because they don’t captivate; but ideas that are too strong/rigid break under the pressure of market forces. Balance is key! Whether you have actually read Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point or the brothers Heath’s Made to Stick, you have probably observed ideas that come and go versus those that have longer lives. It is incumbent upon us as managers, agents, and advocates of innovation to tell a story of uncommon sense that is founded in a value that can be demonstrated.

What? If our innovation does not lead to a competitive advantage that is unambiguous and precise, then there’s no point. Even if we have something of concrete value, there has to be a uniqueness that tackles an issue in a new way to capture the minds of your intended audience. Differentiated ideas/initiatives that are clearly articulated, finally, must be shared in such a way that the listener is drawn emotionally into the narrative and feels compelled to “get on board.” Resist becoming too enamored with one’s knowledge, however, as the inability to adapt/consider alternate viewpoints can be the hubris that breaks the strands of success!

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