Politics & innovation


One of the major places where internal innovators fail is company politics. I lost count of how many things never got to see light of the world because they didn’t fit with someone’s career goals. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder whether it’s really that big a problem, as frustration with inability to get one’s idea forward is what often drives entrepreneurs to go out and “do it properly”. But out there it’s a different world, and it may be harder to execute on even a good idea – so net net it’s probably still a loss.

Innovation is a subject that will be threatening to someone in the organization. After all, it shows how things can be done better, faster, make more profit or even make people happier. Someone’s bound to ask unpleasant questions why hasn’t it been done before?
Whatever people tell you, most of us dislikes change, and innovation is about change. We’d like tomorrow to be more or less to be same as today. Maybe yesterday at the outside (especially if today’s a Monday). Off topic – it’s funny how we dislike change yet when we finally get to it, it easier to commit to a large ones than small.

You as a innovator of course don’t want to be bothered with all this – the advantages of what you suggest are clear. They MUST be clear to everyone, and anyone who doesn’t see it is an idiot! Look, here are the numbers, it’s CLEAR!

And that’s where it gets killed. Been there, done it, got depressed.

Innovators quite often get stuck with their idea and see the world only through it. That’s fine when you’re a one (wo)man company, but even if you are a small company the next step for the innovation to get out is to persuade others that it’s worth doing/buying your product/services – seeing the world a bit more like you do.

Most innovators try to persuade their audience on merits, in a very rational way. This may or may not work – depends on the company and people you work with. You may be surprised how often it doesn’t work, even though you should know better – after all, we select our politicians on rational basis, right? We like to think of ourselves as rational, and that we make our decisions in rational ways. Well, as much as I’d like it to be true, I know I don’t decide like that (and realizing it about myself was not cheaply bought), and I doubt you do either, unless you happen to be Mr. Spock

Most efficient ways of persuading people are not rational. It’s a sad truth, but if you disbelieve you’re only proving my point.

This is where politics comes into innovation. Most of us try to avoid it – for lots of reasons, some good, some dubious. Yet, it is the most efficient way of us getting what we want to achieve – for others as well for ourselves. Being a manipulative bastard really helps in getting your innovation across (been there… whatever).

Now, I don’t want to turn this post into a treatise on politics (there’s a plenty of good books on it, if you want more), but here’s one tip. Decide early whether you want the glory of an innovator or to get the result. Giving up ego (or seeming to do so) makes getting your idea across much much easier – for example, by persuading someone (or even better more than one someone) important that it was really their idea and letting them to do the political legwork. The more glory you want to keep for yourself (or want to seem to be), the harder your task is going to be. You should leave a seemingly honorable escape route even for your enemies, lest they have no option but to fight to death.

Of course, if you really want the glory, money and the girl (or boy, YMMV), go out and become an entrepreneur. If you think it means no politics…

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