In 1955, Rudolf Flesch wrote of the poorly-developed reading skills of contemporary American children, in his well known classic, "Why Johnny Can't Read". In it, he claimed that the education establishment was failing by teaching reading skills as a “read and guess” method of word association to subject context.
When it comes to innovation skills, we rarely seek out any education or skill training before the need arises to come up with a game changing idea. Most innovation practitioners, in my experience, are self-taught on a just-in-time basis. As a result, bright ideas from thought leaders tend to appear (initially) through serendipity. Consequently, repeatable innovation means guessing, a lot. The practice of innovation, then, becomes an exhaustive experience, which sets up many possibilities for failure. Innovation, taking on the stigma of risk and failure, is avoided as a general practice. It is instead marched out for special circumstances (usually a crisis), which, as a result, guarantees that a prior lack of institutional learning of fundamental innovation barriers, will stop innovation time and again.
So, in the spirit of a similar question asked over fifty years ago (with the understanding that our protagonist can be male or female):
Why can't Johnny innovate?In my experience, some or all of the following six reasons (in no specific order) will likely stop Johnny from coming up with a great idea.
- He doesn’t have any incentive.
- He doesn’t have the time.
- He’s disconnected from key technical expertise.
- He’s not trained, adept, or comfortable with proactive, creative thought.
- He doesn’t have immediate or easy access to critical knowledge.
- He can’t look beyond his immediate problem-solving needs.
Over the coming weeks, I will be offering in follow-on articles some of my observations from the field as to how each of these barriers to innovation manifest themselves, and how to mitigate or eliminate their impacts on the innovation practitioner, organization, and company.