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From the author of Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

As managers trying to find the next big innovation, we set up ground rules that our teams should follow:

  • Every idea is valuable.
  • Everyone should take at least x hours per week to think of new ideas.
  • Management will be available to discuss your ideas each month.
  • We want to have a 10% increase in innovative new ideas each quarter.
  • Follow the yellow brick road.

All of these sound like good management practices, but they don't actually create an innovative environment. They create goals, but not a means to reach those goals. In fact, as we shall see, they create fear of attempting to achieve those goals.

Hold on, you say. "Follow the yellow brick road"? Yes, exactly. This is no different from much of the other valuable management guidance we provide our employees when it comes to innovation. Watch the movie The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was sent on her journey to Oz with the simple directive, "Follow the yellow brick road." Yet, there are multiple places where the yellow brick road splits. Dorothy must make a decision on her own, with little or no information, on how to achieve her stated goals. And to top it off, the evil witch will likely succeed in killing Dorothy if our heroine makes a single wrong choice.

Sounds like the view many employees have of "everyone should innovate," "everyone should think outside the box," "no idea is a bad idea," etc. Fear of making a wrong turn, looking stupid, and getting burned alive by management are very strong innovation inhibitors. Employees need more than rules and directives if they are to accomplish the goals of management and create new innovations.

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