How to Keep Innovation From Getting Crushed in Your Workplace

A couple of years ago, I read a news story about a rare rabbit that was accidently crushed while being filmed at a German zoo.

During the filming of this rare rabbit, the cameraman, so focused on his job, stepped backwards and crushed the little fellow.

The cameraman was so caught up in his immediate goal and agenda, he ended up destroying the very thing he wanted to help promote.

What happened to the bunny is a cautionary parable about the workplace. It was a perfect metaphor — and unfortunately so — for how creativity and innovation often get crushed in the workplace.

Think of the workplace version of this unfortunate event, both when you were the bunny and when you were the cameraman. More specifically, think about this metaphor applied to this critical workplace Moment of Truth: Conversations about innovation.

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Does any of this sound familiar?

Think of times you have been in meetings devoted to solving problems and generating innovative ideas such as conversations around:

  • Product innovation;
  • Process improvements;
  • Executing organizational change;
  • Improving employee engagement.

As you recall meetings you’ve attended, see how many of these scenarios sound familiar:

  1. One group member puts all his energy into convincing others about the value of his ideas, and no energy into trying to understand the ideas of others.
  2. Someone with a strong personality or position of power shuts down a discussion by stating their position in a “this is the last word on the topic” tone of voice.
  3. Someone with a litigator’s mind and mouth punches holes in the baby-bunny-fragile idea of a team member, killing the idea and crushing the person’s enthusiasm for sharing more ideas.
  4. Someone engages in a less violent transgression, where the idea and idea-giver are not crushed, but merely starve from neglect. This happens when someone shares their idea and before a nanosecond of silence unfolds, someone else jumps in with their idea, shifting the focus away from the previous person’s point.

So, what do you do?

  • Remember the Crushing the Bunny metaphor. While an unpleasant image, its unpleasantness will remind you how important it is NOT to metaphorically do this to others.
  • Reflect on your way of taking part in meetings and one-on-one conversations, and ask yourself if you primarily talk at people or if you truly listen.
  • Reflect on your response to ideas and perspectives different from yours. Notice if you find yourself intrigued by them or if you see them as competitors to be vanquished.
  • If you have a forceful personality or a position of significant power, remember that even without meaning to, your power has a silencing effect on others. While you cannot control this, you can influence it by sharing your point of view in a way that communicates you want to hear opposing points of view. You can also directly ask for alternative points of view.
  • Ask for feedback about how well you listen, and the listen to the feedback.
  • If you think you need to grow in this area, take an EQ assessment, get 360 degree feedback, and seek out coaching.

While it’s too late for the one-of-a-kind bunny to be saved from the cameraman’s lack of awareness, don’t let the same thing happen to potentially one-of-a-kind, game-changing ideas offered up by your team.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 100 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.

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