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Innovation is the lynchpin to success in an era dominated by exponential growth and transformational change. You know that. For some reason, many of your employees seem to know it even better.

This raises the question: Is it an issue if your employees are more innovative than you are? And, what happens if there is a culture of innovation among staff that’s more developed and productive than anything your leadership team may have tried to encourage?

It may sound silly, but don’t worry. You may be doing a better job at encouraging innovation than you might assume—often, by doing less.

When Innovation Has a Life of Its Own

Innovation is at the heart of my Anticipatory Organization Model. The reason, simply put, is that organizations that lack an environment that promotes and rewards innovation will fall behind their competitors at an ever faster rate—or, as this article details, possibly fail to survive altogether.

Unfortunately, as many see it, management and innovation often don’t mesh very well. As an article that summarizes a roundtable discussion at Harvard Business School points out, many feel that “management” naturally implies control and close direction—policies that can often stifle a willingness to pursue innovation.

That might describe your organization. On the other hand, you may believe that your approach to encouraging innovation is rather hands off, yet innovation continues to occur.

Either way, you can see innovation taking on a life of its own and you’re a bit confused as to what you should do.

Take a few minutes to consider the structure and dynamics of your organization. When it comes to innovation, you may discover that the less you have in place to formally drive innovation, the greater the amount and quality of innovation that results.

3 Elements of an Innovative Environment

How can organizations innovate without a rash of formal policies and procedures in place? Elements of my Anticipatory Organization Model can pinpoint some clues.

  1. First is autonomy. Talented employees value a sense of independence, the freedom to do their jobs without a suffocating level of management control. That, in turn, can help foster creative problem solving as well as true innovation—the greater an employee’s sense of freedom, the more comfortable they’ll be exploring all sorts of new ideas.
  2. Next, is collaboration. Another benchmark of an anticipatory organization is an emphasis on collaboration. As I routinely point out, collaboration isn’t the same as cooperation. People cooperate because they have to; people collaborate because they wish to and recognize how collaboration can benefit everyone involved. A collaborative environment strongly contributes to a high level of innovation.
  3. And third, reward the behavior you wish to see. How can you encourage collaboration without being too heavy handed from a management standpoint? If you want to encourage employees to look for innovative solutions to everyday problems at every possible opportunity, make it worth their while. Provide financial incentives, offer some free time at work to pursue innovative ideas, or create other incentives that help produce the innovative environment you want.

Organizations that actively encourage a culture of innovation have a much better chance of becoming an industry leader and creating game-changing products and services. But the same can also occur at companies that, in effect, take a more hands-off approach, allowing employees to lead the charge to innovate without overly intrusive direction or oversight.

Whether hands-on or hands-off, there’s a lot you can do as a leader to foster innovation. You’ll gain skills when you order The Anticipatory Organization book from now.