“Feeling innovative” – Why common innovation training has little impact (and what to do about it)

posted on July 18th 2017 in Innovation & Training with 0 Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Choosing an innovation method to take your business to the next level offers diverse opportunities – design labs, innovation hubs, accelerator programs, agile management, different kinds of canvases, lean, sprint – there have never been more possibilities to innovate.

All of the methods available have their right to exist and deliver a variety of benefits. But how do you know if they will make your company really innovative? Or if they will create a real and long lasting impact? Do these methods truly initiate change or simply make you feel innovative?

It will save you a lot of time and money in the long run if you invest some effort in understanding what is important for innovative change in a business and how to reach it through effective training. And no, it’s not with sticky notes or beanbags. Sorry.


It takes (a lot of) time and practice

Innovation is a cognitive process that centers around learning. Learning leads to a cognitive and behavioral change which ideally is long lasting. That means the results of innovation training should include learning processes to ensure a lasting impact on your business.

American psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Poser suggested that learning and skill development is sequential, that is, it comes in several stages. Only after around 50 hours (!) of deliberate practice, focused learning and hard work on one specific topic, can we reach a stage of “being good enough”. At that stage things became a habit.This means after 50 hours of learning you somehow reach an innovative mindset, which you are able to apply in your daily work.

If you have a look at most innovation-related trainings, they offer quite the opposite.

In the definitions of agile or lean management, design approaches and so on, you will find expressions in combination with words like quick, fast, and rapid. With the “Sprint” method, the name says it all.

These programs meet the needs of today’s managers: quick and practical results with a financial efficiency (as little input of resources as possible with as high an outcome as possible).

But basically, these programs respond to the needs of people, who have never been trained to think or don’t like thinking. This is exacerbated by a solution driven culture promoted by the major consultancies. Which leads me to the next important point.


You’ll get options, not solutions

As we stated earlier, innovation is a cognitive process and at its most basic level it is all about learning. The important part of an innovation process lies therefore not in finding a “solution” but actually dealing with the problem which is often not clear at first sight.

The innovation process has no predefined goal that needs to be reached. Innovation occurs through work and learning on the basis of a problem and delivers several equivalent options for change.

With most innovation training, people make the mistake of leaping straight to solutions without first understanding the real problem. There’s nothing wrong with being eager to find solutions, but there is a right and wrong approach to get to the end result.

Even though problem resolution is the end goal, a lot happens between gaining new knowledge and solving a problem. Recognizing the important bridge over this gap is vital to successful innovation. This leads me to my next point.


It takes a bridge over the knowing doing gap

Again, innovation is a cognitive process and at its most basic level it is all about learning (I can’t stress this enough). Successful learning isn’t just the accumulation of knowledge. It is based on deliberate practice and hard work to master a skill. Few innovation training methods ensure people are able to apply the knowledge they gained. People may “know” cognitively, but if their actions do not change, they have not “learned”. What’s even worse, we often try to apply the proven “magic” of others to skip ahead.

We like to pretend the gap from knowing to doing is small, but it’s enormous. Few people are willing to do the work to close that gap, as it means more time, more effort and more money.

Money is actually an important factor when it comes to effective innovation training, which leads me to my last point.


Invest wisely

In the US, organizations spent around 5 percent of their annual budget on learning and development in 2016. On average 1 to 1.2 million dollars was spent per 1000 employees, while the total loss of money through ineffective training summed up to around 13 million per 1000 employees (for more details, have a look at the statistics of the 2016 ATP Industry Report). Europe isn’t any better.

These staggering figures tell us a very simple fact: corporates are increasingly aware that, first of all, monetary efforts on training and development are directly linked to an increase in knowledge and expertise among employees and secondly, that organizational learning is central for innovation. But this significant investment failed due to ineffective training.

Those figures unfortunately back my hypothesis. The training itself does not guarantee any performance. So what can companies do to ensure better performance?


What to do

Current research on the effects of training investments on innovation and learning shows clearly that corporate learning, when it is an integral, dynamic and complex process on multiple organizational levels, significantly increases organizational innovative performance over a 2-year period.

Investing in innovation training – which is the best thing you can do given it has an incredibly high ROI – should be done wisely.

Make sure to focus on problem learning processes that lead to a constant change in behaviour and mindset. If you can achieve this, you will be among the few to effectively utilize innovation and outsmart your competitors. In the truest sense of this word.


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