Editor’s note: This post was written byÂ Cheryl Heller, chair of the first MFA inÂ Design for Social Innovation, Board Chair of PopTech, and founder of Heller Communication Design. This story was originally featured onÂ NextBillion.net.
If it is true, as has been said, that all change begins with language, then it is equally true that the inability to change begins with language as well.
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. Whatâ€™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? Whatâ€™s the difference between social innovation and innovation? Whatâ€™s the relationship between design thinking and innovation? Whatâ€™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?
Intrepreneurship, innovation and corporate social responsibility (along with all their nuanced pseudonyms) are labels for activities and values that are used in order to separate them from business as usual. Of course, the cost of that to business is high, since they have become something separate from the normal life of a corporation, and they shouldnâ€™t. I spoke recently to a very smart woman from an international bank who said she was determined not to call the innovation work she was carrying on within the company innovation so that it would be seen as â€œjust part of peopleâ€™s jobs.â€ Itâ€™s brilliant thinking. While the potential drawback to her is lack of visibility and â€œtrendyâ€ status, the benefits are worth it; it makes good, creative work an expectation instead of an extracurricular activity, and itâ€™s less likely to be chopped the first quarter that financial expectations are not met.
Adding to the confusion, companies succumb to the organizational habit of adding rather than fixing. Companies afraid of environmental riskâ€”instead of fixing thatâ€”add a chief sustainability officer or CSR department. Companies that have a disengaged cultureâ€”instead of fixing itâ€”create a superficial program to raise morale. At one company I know, because no one had time to think long-term about innovations formed a â€œWonder Teamâ€ whose job it was to wonder what the future might be likeâ€”instead of making innovation central to the company’s mission. Not surprisingly, they never had time to meet.
In aÂ recent article in Harvard Business Review, Scott Anthony writes about how big companies can unleash innovation, rather than shackle it. He cites the example of Medtronic, a company that has, since itâ€™s founding, been built on breakthroughs and is now demonstrating how to do it at a massive scale. Most recently, theyâ€™re piloting affordable diagnosis and pacemakers for rural Indians. At $16 billion, Medtronic has the right combination of size, knowledge, category depth, distribution and motivation. Was an intrapreneur involved? For sure. Maybe even a whole company of them.
Do we imagine that at Medtronic, people have as many words for innovation as the Inuits have for snow? Is it likely that they consider entrepreneurial thinking â€œabove and beyondâ€ whatâ€™s expected?
It is precisely this arbitrary delineation between normal and extraordinary behavior that lulls us into believing that itâ€™s OK if we donâ€™t figure out how to overcome the quotidian, urgent challenges of business in order to make time for new ideas.
Creativity, clarity of purpose and social responsibility should never be seen as someone â€œthinking beyond their job description.â€ In fact, only when it is their job description will we see lasting change, happier employees and healthier companies.
The answer is simply, but not so easily, to simplify. Like revisiting the core values that a company holds as its purpose and the core commitments that a team member makes to that company, we can revisit the essential words we need to create, express and act on ideas. Adding words, complexity, distinctions that obfuscate rather than facilitate keep our brains in a kind of jail. They separate us from each other because of our education, status in an organization, job function. Instead of helping us share common principles and processes, they create divisions and more silos. And in perhaps the worst crime of all, they eat up the hours of our days that could be spent creating just talking about them and trying to keep them all straight.
Just for fun, take a look at the labels you use and see how many you can eliminate. Letâ€™s go back to business as usual, but letâ€™s make sure our definition of business includes enlightened creativity.
Ashoka and Accenture have teamed up to launch a new competition that seeks creative fixes for business and society: â€œThe League of Intrapreneurs: Building Better Business from the Inside Out.â€Â The best 15 entrants will form the inaugural League of Intrapreneurs, join an elite network of global innovators, and receive big-time media and press coverage (including a feature in a globally distributed intrapreneur toolkit). The top four winners will be profiled Fast Co.Exist and receive consulting support from Accenture Development Partnerships. Find out moreÂ here.Â