Innovating Words Make Healthy Corporate Hearts


Cheryl Heller, Board Chair of PopTech, a laboratory for disruptive innovation focused on technology and social change, says that,

The wealth of jargon used to describe intrapreneurship (itself a bit of jargon), innovation and corporate social responsibility is more exhausting than enriching, and as their importance becomes more evident, the labels and complexities grow. What’s the difference between corporate social responsibility, cause branding, cause marketing, and a triple (or sometimes lately double, as if we can just decide to leave the environment out of it) bottom line? Should companies now stop all their work on sustainability in order to focus on resilience? Has all independent thinking, or even perhaps all generative thinking inside big organizations become intrapreneurship?  What’s the difference between social innovation and innovation? What’s the relationship between design thinking and innovation? What’s the difference between disruptive innovation and incremental innovation? Is some innovation more innovative than others and is more innovation always better? And does anybody else see this as a silly and dangerously circuitous trap of our own devising?

The significance of the debate about the proper terminology is to find a means to communicate disruptive breakthrough ideas as a valuable corporate asset–without simultaneously creating anarchy! Words cited in Heller’s comment (above) evoke values and desired activities that can help an organization create–or sustain competitive advantage.  Yet, if innovation is perceived as an altogether separate category than “ordinary business,”  then it can be argued that no one will want to do what is methodical if they can be celebrated and rewarded for dreaming over practical execution of existing initiatives. Most organizations and their leaders would prefer that employees see the process of introducing initiatives as a normal part of their positions, rather than stand alone activities that become the topic du jour and are jettisoned when times get tough in favor of “that’s the way we’ve always done it here. (TTWWADIH)” 

TTWWADIH can be a pervasive attitude that implies that we can add to what exists, but should not be expected to improve what exists. In this scenario, positions and/or departments are launched rather than tackling sticky, often political issues. Star studded teams are put together many times to represent cutting edge thinking, only to exempt the teams from performance, which ultimately leads to demotivated executive management.

Yesterday, we looked at Scott Anthony’s HBR article about Medtronic, a company well known for innovation, and their efforts to become even more adept at broad scale innovation. The Healthy Heart For All product has been launched towards the rural Indian population target market. Medtronic is large, smart, connected, positioned and incentivized enough to out-hustle upstart competitors. Though they brought in a key intrapreneur, the company was effective in changing the corporate cultural stance on what it takes to be competitive.

No one wants an unmotivated workforce. Nor do we want idealists who are not well grounded. The concept to “innovate properly” is a core value of a former employer of mine who understood that creativity and innate personal responsibility for the benefit of others must work in concert. By including this core value in position descriptions, the leadership team recognized the need to challenge employees to see advanced initiatives as the responsibility of every employee–not an isolated activity. Furthermore, when innovation becomes the expectation, we don’t have to “stop the presses” to encourage innovative thinking and actions.

Find a way to articulate your expectations for intrapreneurship (or innovation if you prefer) (or corporate social responsibility if you are a part of a grandiose cause) inside your environment. Ask people to define what they mean when using these terms. Expect all employees to take initiative!




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