Can Social Business Reverse Our Growing Crisis of Innovation?
Recently I was talking with a friend who works for a Fortune 500 company. When I asked about social media and collaboration, there was a slight chuckle. “Even if we had time to collaborate” my friend said, “the bosses have no interest in new ideas. All they care about is this insane push for us to hit our numbers.”
I must admit I was not completely shocked. Even with the enthusiastic press and daily chat feeds calling this the ‘new era of social collaboration‘, I knew that a majority of workers remained more like my friend than not. And given the recent data it makes a lot of sense.
America’s Crisis of Innovation
As Steve Denning recently reported, America remains mired in a generations-long innovation crisis. Despite the nation’s rebounding economy and renewed optimism, most American firms simply can’t compete in the global marketplace.
While we might be quick to point the finger at broader economic and political factors, two recent polls suggest that the causes may be much closer to home. In fact, they may be within the workplace itself.
An Epidemic of Disengagement
Data now suggests that a large majority of American workers spend their days in environments that discourage collaboration and creative thinking. While this is especially the case with millennials, a majority of workers of all ages feel discouraged from thinking outside the box and contributing new ideas.
Reporting on a study recently published by the firm MindMatters, Denning notes that
Only 5% of respondents report that workers in innovation programs feel highly motivated to innovate. [And] while more than half the respondents (55%) say that their organizations treat intellectual property as a valuable resource, only one in seven (16%) believed their employers regarded its development as a mission-critical function. (in Forbes)
Add to this a recent Gallup poll finding that more than two-thirds of American workers feel disengaged from their jobs. Here again, we see millennials hit especially hard.
According to Gallup, over 71% of millennials currently feel disengaged from their work. Gallup reported that
This finding suggests that millennials may not be working in jobs that allow them to use their talents and strengths, thus creating disengagement.
The Gap Between Aspirations vs. Execution
For businesses, these numbers reveal a significant disconnect between organizations’ professed ambitions and their daily execution. While business and political leaders might say they long for the kind of fresh thinking needed to reestablish dominance of global markets, those on the front lines hear quite a different message.
This leaves us with a question: If social business is ushering us into the next wave in innovation, how can a social mindset help to reverse this epidemic of disengagement?
Pushing Social Even Further
There is little doubt that social technology is a key player in the future of work. The current dialogue focusing on social tools and strategies for workplace engagement is an important one. It’s a wellspring of transformation for what business currently is and will become.
Yet if American business is serious about reviving innovation, the conversation needs to go even further. As future-leaning thinkers, we will have to expand our current dialogue and consider an even bolder vision for the potential of a social mindset.
For instance, can we push the idea of “social” further to envision management practices more open to uncertainty and the risk-laden terrain of creative thinking? If so, we may open a doorway to collaborative cultures more welcoming to risk, uncertainty and new thinking.
The Risk of Looking Deeper
But there is an important caveat: any meaningful conversation about opportunities must also consider the forces impeding them. In some cases this means coming face to face with issues perhaps considered too delicate to discuss. For example, for managers this will likely mean examining the deeper reasons why they treat innovation and change more like threats than as opportunities.
I’ll explore some of these deeper reasons myself in the next piece. But for now I hope to hear some of your thoughts on pushing the social mindset, expanding creative thinking, and exploring the barriers to innovation.