“Make Others Jealous”—A New Motto for Innovators

You may have heard the saying, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” It’s an expression typically addressed to frontline innovators to encourage them to try new things. It reflects the fact that, in many organizations, innovating is subtly discouraged—despite the fact that innovation is often highly praised. 

This paradox is understandable. Many businesses find that simply executing their existing strategy is very challenging. As a result, when middle managers are training and supervising frontline workers, they emphasize the importance of precise execution. In effect, they send the message, “Follow the procedures, do what you are asked to do—and above all, never step outside of the frame!” 

If you are a frontline worker whose days are spent performing these prescribed functions—operating what I call the execution engine—it can be almost impossible to get advance permission to try something new. As a result, the company’s innovating engine is neglected.  

One way around this problem is suggested by the motto, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” It encourages frontline workers to break the unspoken rule that discourages innovating, promising that they will be forgiven if their outside-the-box experimentation produces a positive result.  

There’s a problem with this motto, however. When you think about it, you see that it reflects the constricting logic of the execution engine. It assumes that innovating is something to ask forgiveness for, which actually reinforces the fear of failure that prevents many frontline employees from innovating in the first place. No wonder most employees play it safe and avoid the risk involved in innovating. 

To solve this problem, I’ve come up with a new motto—one that is addressed to middle managers rather than the frontline employees they supervise. My new motto is, “Give permission to innovate and make others jealous.”  

Notice how this new motto implies a completely different attitude toward innovating. Rather than being a “crime” that requires forgiveness, it assumes that innovating is a positive behavior that others will find attractive and admirable—which of course is true!  

It also activates the healthy sense of competition most middle managers feel toward their peers. It triggers thoughts of the praise and appreciation they’ll experience when their team members begin exercising their innovating capacities to generate new and better ways of doing business.  

My new motto banishes the concept of failure that hangs darkly in the air over so many corporate efforts to encourage innovating. Instead, it focuses on the excitement of trying, experimenting, and learning, which are at the heart of innovating. When these behaviors are permitted, encouraged, and rewarded, work becomes more fun, interesting, and creative.  

Departments in which innovating is permitted are the ones that other frontline workers are eager to join. They are the ones where new ideas are constantly bubbling to the surface. And they are the ones that other middle managers want to learn from and imitate. The resulting “jealousy” is a positive emotion that helps to create an upward spiral of experimentation, innovating, and achievement throughout the organization.  

Try spreading this new motto—“Give permission to innovate and make other jealous”—throughout your organization. As it begins to change the atmosphere, you’ll be pleased by the results.  

Here’s a challenge for everyone reading this blog post: Have you ever worked in a company where there was a department, a division, or a team that was known for its innovating spirit? (Maybe you were lucky enough to be part of that special group!) If so, please use the comment space to share a story that illustrates how they operated. Maybe your story will make other readers of this blog a little jealous—and inspire them to start innovating, too!

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