Innovation in America

Where is the innovation in America's workforce? The answer is in the question.

Innovation is alive and well in the American workforce. So why is everyone wringing their hands about innovation, and asking how America will compete in a global marketplace?

The problem is not that today's workers aren't creative or that they don't want to solve problems, it is that their management has failed to challenge them to think and innovate.

American history is replete with examples of people with great potential who have been overlooked or under-challenged by their managers.

F.W. Woolworth"s boss forbade him to wait on customers because he "lacked the sense needed to do so." He started his own business.

Soichiro Honda was turned down for a job as an engineer at Toyota Motor Company. He decided to make scooters.

Oprah Winfrey was deemed too emotionally involved for the news. She ended up in daytime TV.

When management doesn't challenge its employees, the best ones leave. One of the top four reasons employees offer for "voluntary" termination in America is that they didn't feel challenged.

When management fails to provide employees with challenging work, the high performers become disaffected and resign. Management is left with -- guess who -- employees who are comfortable not being challenged.

Does American enterprise need to innovate more to win in the global marketplace? You bet it does!

As Gary Hamel said in a recent interview: "There are very few companies that have really made innovation the work of every single employee." He explains that American companies face three big challenges: "A company that can change as fast as change itself, a company where innovation is everyone's job, and an organization that truly merits and deserves the best contributions that everyone can give every day."

CEOs can start with their business leaders, describing the biggest challenge the CEO
sees, department by department, whether it's manufacturing, sales, marketing, or R&D.
Then have each business leader propose a solution that brings new ideas to their business process.

This requires the business leader to enlist the whole department in finding new ideas to make the company's product better, faster and cheaper. And it can't be a one-time exercise. You need to make innovation part of your culture. It could and should become a source of pride that your company will prosper because you will innovate faster than your competition; this makes for improved sales, profits, job growth and job security.

Innovation will also make your company a more fun place to work because ideas are always welcomed and your employees will feel invested in the company. Use the same process when you recruit talent to your organization. Set the expectation with candidates that you are looking for people with ideas, people who want to make a difference. Turn the job description into a challenge, and have candidates propose their ideas to meet the challenge.

Let's stop wringing our hands about how we will innovate in America. Dig deep into your organization and challenge them to help you find innovations that will catapult your company forward.

Who knows, you may find the next Soichiro Honda or Oprah Winfrey.

John Bronson is the Head of Corporate Sales of The One-Page Company. He was formerly the EVP of Human Resources for Pepsi-Cola Worldwide. Connect with Bronson and 1-Page on Twitter @1pagebiz, Facebook, and 1-page's blog.