After publishing our last article on “How to Design a Culture”, the biggest reaction we got was this:
“I like what you’re saying, but it sounds so easy for you guys. You are designing a new culture from scratch! How do I build an innovative culture in a traditional organization, when there is a lot of resistance to change? You know, in Mauritius, there are a lot of people who are just working for a paycheck, waiting for pension payout, or who are so comfortable and set in their ways, that they just don’t want to change! Whereas others (like myself) understand that we really need to change, to be able to improve and stay competitive and even relevant, in our industry!”
Well first, congratulations, on wanting change. The good news is that it is possible. The even better news is that you can lead this change, no matter who you are.
I know what you are now thinking. That in YOUR organization, it probably feels more like this..
The biggest mistake you can make, is trying to work on the majority, or even worse, the resistors. This completely drains your time and energy, and more critically, any sliver of hope you have left in your bones. Successful change-makers know that:
1) change starts small
2) change takes time
3) change begins with ourselves
The key is to first find the Innovators in your organization. These are what we call (in creole) bann JACK. They may sometimes be the CEO who has such a bold vision that nobody thinks it is even possible, or that manager who doesn’t toe the line and is often seen to take some personal risks, that millennial in your team who has somehow managed to introduce a small recycling program in your office, that front-line staff who found a better way to automate her workflow so she can do less admin and spend more time with customers, that technician dude who didn’t even complete Form-4 but somehow finds a way to fix everything that is broken (although not very beautifully!). These are all real people that we have met in Mauritius.
The JACKS are all around us. What we love about innovation, is that it is accessible and inclusive – education level or rank is never an indicator of our ability to innovate.
In general, we find that innovators have these qualities:
- Joyful, optimistic and hopeful about the future
- Activated, go beyond what you are “paid to do” and care deeply about something
- Curious, not afraid to ask questions and challenge the status quo
- Kind, shares and collaborates to help others grow
- Solution-focused, comes up with constructive ideas and never makes excuses
Find them. And then create activities that get them WORKING together on something the group collectively cares about, and don’t just talk about it. Even without management support, this could start as informal activities such as creating a football team to promote a more healthy lifestyle, doing anonymous small acts of kindness to bring positivity in the office, participating as a team to a blood donation event, or starting a forum to share innovation successes and failure stories!
One of our favorite examples of this, is how a group of young civil servants in Singapore (who met at a Hackathon) felt so constrained by government bureaucracy, they started their own informal group called the under-gahmens (“under governments” in local slang, witty name!) as a magnet for other civil servants across various agencies, to work directly with communities in a more empathetic way.
If you have CEOs or managers who are also JACKs, you’re in luck! Take the opportunity raise a more formal project (e.g. digitizing core workflows to reduce paper and make your operations a lot leaner, or organizing a cross-functional group to tackle a strategic project to enter new markets, or create new products). You may even be able to negotiate a bonus for your group if you successfully complete strategic projects that affect the bottom line 😉
We found the JACKs in every organization we interacted with, and decided to bring everyone together, every month. We’ve had three Innovators Meetups, getting the JACKS across government, corporate, and social sectors.
Eski to ene JACK? (Are you a JACK?) Leave your email on the right to get updates, and come by our next meetup because there’s a community waiting for you!