Why do companies have to be innovative or die?

Let it be.

As is well known, the state of a society can be recognized by its flag words. Innovation is one of those words that everyone is currently expecting enthusiastically. Everyone uses it, nobody likes to do without it. Especially not managers. They know that regular drudgery and hard work make success less and less likely. In addition, the age of mass production in Western Europe is over: fixed costs too high, labor as a resource too high. The opportunity lies in innovation, in differentiated, highly qualified products and services.

One of them sits in a morning roach bomber, flips through a business magazine ... and reads an article about Lee Iacocca or Jack Welch or some other model athlete who all alone (didn't he at least have a secretary?) Made his company a stock market darling. “Six Sigma”, the man reads, is the name of the revolutionary program with which a company can breathe the spirit of innovation. Innovation, yes, that's what it's all about, let's see if we can do it. Hardly at the head office, the assistant is whistled, wathastewatkannste copied, the key messages highlighted in color, a project manager appointed and released with the order to "do something about innovation now". He develops a tremendous operational hustle and bustle to point out the importance of the topic (and of course on himself), issues absolutely necessary calls to finally become innovative after all, praises an "innovation prize", the FIO 2006 project passed ( Firmen-Innovations-Offensive 2006), raises the number of suggestions for improvement to the truly "innovative" yardstick of things and thus the early industrial company suggestion system to the innovation vehicle of the 3rd millennium, forces the skeptical line managers into degrading justifications, why not and why they not much more Innovation ... and is immensely disappointed when the board soon declares the initiative to have failed.

Again the question was: “How can I make the employees innovative?” Another question was not asked: “Why are our employees no longer innovative?” Again, structures that destroy innovation were not analyzed, but rather the employee was denounced as unwilling to innovate. Again, the solution was at hand before the problem was even defined. And once again the organization was sacrosanct, but the individual fell ill. So what are you up to when you are up to “innovation”? A distraction discourse.

Distraction discourse

Our forms of life are historically developed structures. They want to stay the way they are. Innovation is alien to the organization (as an organization). Yes, organizations live from their tendency to ignore innovation, ideas and knowledge, because otherwise they would question themselves as an organization. The special organizational form of the company is also geared towards efficiency and repeatability - not the largely idle energy of trying things out, going astray and possibly discovering things. Because, to put it straight away, the idea of ​​innovation usually does not come true. In searching and trying, failure is far more common than success.

In order to hide this organizationally-related improbability of innovation, the creative intelligence of the individual is called upon as a substitute. You imagine lateral thinkers (I never knew how to think outside the box) who oppose the next step, which leads to the impasse, with an energy of doing differently. A feeling of liberation and refreshment in the face of the heavy melancholy of what has become - that is what connects with the innovator's versatile wishful concept.

In fact, those calling for innovation associate misunderstandings with mendacity. For example, everyone is in favor of consolidating Germany as a location with innovations - it already becomes clear that someone who speaks this way thinks anti-innovative: Location is something static and “consolidating something” is again static. In addition, it is widely believed that the innovative spirit can be tied into the corset of a narrowly defined economic practice. However, innovation requires an attitude of mind that pervades the entire everyday culture: art, literature, sport, schools, kitchen, architecture - and not just economic practice with its short-term profit expectations. So if holding on dominates in society as a whole, the engine of innovation will also stutter in the economic sphere. Companies also like to hold on; especially with linear thinking: We press the button here and the yellow innovation lamp goes on for the employee - as was the case with the helper of the ingenious Daniel Düsentrieb. One can hardly imagine the connections more naively. And yet again and again in management one comes across the belief that one can measure and calculate the parameters through which innovation results almost automatically. Today's managers have arrived at the same omnipotence fantasies that 19th century physicists fell into.

If we want to achieve great things in innovation, we have to bake small rolls. Innovations are nontrivial occurrences that cannot be forced to occur. Whether it is genius that does the whispering, chance that let the dice fall as they are, or whether a productive error brings about something new - management can at best improve the conditions for innovation. It can create a climate that makes innovation more likely. Not more. But no less either. So let's ask what is hindering innovation. For example ...

... the view that people are fundamentally not innovative

“All human beings”, so begins one of the most famous books of philosophy, Aristotle's Metaphysics, “naturally strive for the new.” Francis Bacon even makes the creative into the human par excellence. He asks the question: what are the characteristics of a person? His answer: through curiosity. Man is the one who wants to discover an infinite amount of new things. This curiosity for discovery can only be hindered. And that's exactly what happens in companies. Quite a number of requirements there are extremely anti-innovative. Which has macroeconomic advantages: It leads to the boom in the DIY stores - crisis profiteers who benefit from the structural deficits of working hours before 6 p.m. So we are not only allowed to individualize the topic, but also have to look primarily at the structures in the company.

Innovation does not consist in prescribing a new rhetoric. The necessary condition for the change in the direction of the new is the regression of the old structure. “The process of creative destruction is the essential fact for capitalism. That is what capitalism consists of, and that is what every capitalist entity must live in, ”wrote Joseph Alois Schumpeter in 1942. Innovation therefore always means getting rid of what has been successful up to now. That should actually create a dispute. Already almost five hundred years ago Niccolo Machiavelli had remarked: "Whoever wants to introduce innovations has to be enemies who benefit from the old order." But there is no dispute. Why also? Innovation is good as long as it stops in front of my office.

Didn't we just say that all people are innovative? They are, but only if they want to. When they are addressed in their own activity. Not if you force them to innovate. Then they go into resistance. But instead of talking about it and the structural constitution of the company, one hopes for the peace-building effect of the common profit interests. And sends employees to seminars on creativity techniques. Some of these techniques seem to produce groundbreaking discoveries when you spray your colleagues with a water gun from a beanbag chair.

... a vague innovation term

However, if you take the topic seriously, the first question must be: What does innovation mean? Which innovation do you mean? Should only the number of patent applications be increased? Or should the number of board members also be reduced? Innovation in everything and everyone? Also in financial accounting? Also with the policies and rules? Also in the leadership? How much innovation do we even want to expect? How necessary is it? And very important: what happens if nothing happens? If the answer is “nothing!” Or “not much!” Then the topic is not important and can be put aside. In short: I first have to formulate the question clearly in order to be able to check whether an initiative actually answers it. Depending on the focus of the innovation term, a completely different approach can be expedient.

Once this question has been clarified, there is a second: Whose question is it? One can also ask: Whose problem is this? Or: in whose interest is the solution? It often becomes clear very quickly that the person who is supposed to be innovative did not even ask the question. Subjectively, the need for change is not at all plausible to him. It is not his problem, he has also - subjectively seen - little of the problem-solving. So why should he change?

“But everyone should see that it is also to their advantage to be more innovative.” I cannot repeat it often enough: that is naive! Regardless of whether someone accepts innovation as a threat to his quality of life - he must experience the problem as his problem before action results from it. A problem has to concern us, it has to affect us existentially if it is to develop its pull. Otherwise it is like everywhere in management: The corporate cultural initiatives fail because of unaccepted individuality.

... success that makes learning disabled

An experiment: take two empty bottles, catch some bees in one and some flies in the other. Place both bottles flat on the table with the unsealed opening facing away from the light / window. Watch you! With the greatest care, systematic energy and the greatest zeal, the bees will search every millimeter of the bottle bottom facing the light for an opening until they finally die of exhaustion. The flies, on the other hand, are buzzing excitedly back and forth in the bottle, haphazardly, unsystematically, until they, one after the other and each one by chance, get out into the open and fly away. The bees are dying. The flies survive.

The bees follow their program, and that is experience - regularity. They respond to changed circumstances with “more of the same”. The flies survive because they respond in a colorful manner, because they forego efficient, coordinated procedures, and because they give chance a chance. Time and again people are successful precisely because they have no experience. Basically, every experience narrows down. The power of habit is arguably the toughest glue in the world. And if we have been successful with one approach for a long time, we can hardly imagine that we could perhaps be even more successful in other, original ways. Nothing is closer to decay than high bloom. We normally only gain confidence in behavior on the basis of conventions that are self-evident and show great persistence. We try to adapt new experiences to the familiar pattern and only expand them if there is no other way. "I've done well with it so far, why shouldn't I be successful with it in the future?"

This conservative basic trait of coping with life is a tried and tested form of reducing complexity. Every living system would have to collapse if it wanted to start all over again with every new piece of information. However, the developmental fact that more than 99 percent of all living beings died out again shows that relying on conservative opportunism in learning alone is no guarantee of survival. Traditional knowledge conveys yesterday's success in adapting - with no guarantee of success for tomorrow. If you want to prevent the success trap, you don't rest. He wants innovation in all areas. It basically opens up to the other way, to an alternative practice, and it also allows the employee to try it in his own way. Because nothing is as anti-innovative and dangerous for tomorrow's success as yesterday's success.

... cost destruction acumen

Evolution is a risky survival game - whoever wins can continue to play. However, too much slave replication can be just as deadly as too much new. We need both: conservative replication of what has been successful and dosed admission of random deviations - it depends on the mix. However, the faster the environmental conditions change and living systems tumble into survival crises, the more they reward the innovative principle, the deviations.

If you listen to evolution, the words of the renowned evolutionary biologist Professor Hubert Markl apply: “We encounter egoism, sloppiness and sex. And we will see that biological innovation is based on chance / waste / selection and reproduction or in other words: on originality / willingness to take risks and control of success - the opposite of planning / thrift / conservation subsidy / preservation of assets and production restrictions. ”The small copying errors are important in the manufacture of imitations. The genes of two individuals are randomly mixed through sex and distributed to common offspring. The range of possible variance thus increases exponentially. Variance is important against competition; The more frequently he changes his form, the worse it can adjust. From the point of view of selection, variance is also always redundancy - and thus an adjustment reserve.

This is the rule: in a survival crisis, allow more deviations. Focus on diversification. Be wasteful of trying new ways. If the future becomes less unknown, the familiarity stocks fall into ever shorter half-lives, then only the expansion of the variance pool can improve future selection chances.

As a result, innovation cannot be obtained for free. The variety of ideas that generate innovations diminishes efficiency - but bears the rich fruit of adaptability. The excessive cost-destruction acumen is a mistake of the century.

... increasing pressure to justify itself

I don't know who said it, but I repeat it bluntly: Everything really new in the world comes from those who dare to have a blast. Innovation needs space. It only thrives on one important condition: renouncing justification. Anyone who wants their people to be more innovative has to reduce the pressure to justify themselves. He has to accept uncertainty. Give up control. Much of innovation cannot be justified immediately in an absolute sense. It would be crushed by the need for explanation even before it unfolded. Especially in Germany: The criticism of the existing is widespread; the criticism of the emerging is a very German specialty.

The demand “Be creative!” Is paradoxical. Nobody can do that. You have to expressly allow the unreasonable, even the unreasonable, if you want something new to come into the world. That, too, is ultimately paradoxical. Because provoking the unpredictable, from which fruitful developments can arise, is not unreasonable, but reasonable - namely, when these developments can lead to solutions that are more relevant and more realistic than they were previously visible. A largely norm-relieved territory in which people can move freely instead of feeling constantly observed is helpful for this. Isn't it appropriate to life to expressly allow the apparently unreasonable, where no extreme damage is to be feared, and where even the emergence of anew is to be expected? It's close to playing. People only do that in an atmosphere of trust.

... ignore unclear impulses

The same applies to technical innovation: the acceptance of initially unclear impulses or vague ideas and the willingness to follow them up to a level in which they can be tested for their economic relevance is a particularly conducive condition for innovation. The innovative usually does not appear safe and coherent. It starts out as an indefinite, often unclear guess. But it drives the creative to try a formulation. What is felt is not the object of the innovation, but the feeling of irritation and the impulse to pursue this matter.

Innovative people answer the question: “Who do I work for?” With a clear “For me!” This does not mean decoupling from the company. And no flat egoism either. This means that I work in the company, but not for the company. But for me. Only when I do something for myself do I allow myself to be infected by the eroticism of the object in such a way that something actually changed, improved, even new comes into the world.If something is “my project”, if I work with a high degree of self-control and time sovereignty - only then will my individuality develop. Only then does one of the company's last reserves of value open up: my natural self and trust in my feelings. Trusting this trust is the great challenge facing companies in the 21st century - if you want to be innovative.

... rewards for innovation

Many managers still believe that appeals can make people in the company more innovative. In doing so, innovation is brought close to a sweaty exertion. In order to emphasize the appeals, they are hung with money bags and sold as "innovation management". Does anyone seriously believe that the reward makes people innovative? A company that lacks all of these conditions, and therefore the culture that might make innovation possible, will not solve its problem with the prospect of financial rewards. Those who do the best job because they want to do it should also be rewarded as best as possible. Nothing more is necessary. And everything else does more harm than good. Whatever we know about the source of innovation: it can never be induced from outside. The innovative mind is always intrinsically motivated. The new arises from curiosity, not from zeal.

Attention oriented towards the task can therefore not be sharpened by reward (coming from outside, not in the matter). You can't make an effort to be creative. Ideas for improvement fall to the curious - he is greedy for new things. An increased interest through money does nothing for the ability to be innovative. Innovation cannot be ordered or bought.

On the contrary: rewards destroy innovation. There are now a good two dozen scientific studies that have proven beyond doubt that rewards encourage people to choose the safe path, the one that reliably promises the reward. That is why simple, quickly solvable and primarily quantitative tasks are preferred. People are then less and less inclined to take risks, explore new possibilities, and accompany complex and lengthy processes. Cornell University's John Condry sums it up: Rewards are the "enemies of curiosity." So innovation brings money. But money doesn't bring innovation.

... benchmarking

Everyone is talking about innovation - and imitating. For example through benchmarking. This is the exploitation of the pasts of certain companies to shape the future of others. A questionable recipe for success - at least when we talk about innovations.

What used to work may still be useful to a limited extent, but is no longer sufficient today and will certainly prove to be inadequate in the future. The Anglicisation also disguises the poor essence: It's about comparing. When comparing something is equated. Is that a target for innovation? Do the same? Copy what others have submitted?

In addition, benchmarking as a driver of innovation shapes the collective unconscious of the company: All good things come from outside! We run after! The company is supplied with the defensive energy of imitation. This may be something for little minds, but never something for setting out on new shores. Instead of looking at the competition, companies should concentrate on developing offers that inspire their customers and capture new market potential. Those who fail in the future to avoid the head-to-head race with industry rivals through innovation are in poor shape.

An English dog owner thought so too. His greyhound only came second in the dog races. A veterinarian found that the dog was nearsighted. He got contact lenses. That was innovative. Since then he has won one race after the other. But why does a dog win if it wears contact lenses? Well, the greyhound always followed the man in front because otherwise he would have got lost. Note: If you only run after the man in front, you will never come first. You have to take care of things yourself. That would be really innovative.