It's no secret Millennials are eager to have an impact in the workplace with their ideas and innovations. In fact, 62 percent of Millennials would describe themselves as innovative. Additionally, 66 percent of Millennials say innovation is a key ingredient in making an organization an employer of choice and 78 percent believe that innovation is essential for business growth.
With a knack and appreciation for innovation, Millennials are quick to pitch their ideas. Unfortunately, too often those ideas are met with dismissive statements such as, "Don't rock the boat," or "This is always how we've done it," or "Wait your turn."
Phil McKinney, retired CTO of Hewlett-Packard and current President and CEO of CableLabs, would call these statements "corporate or innovation antibodies." In his book, Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions that Spark Game-Changing Innovation, McKinney describes innovation antibodies as the "antagonist of the innovator."
I recently sat down with McKinney to ask his advice on how Millennials can successfully pitch their ideas by overcoming the four innovation antibodies that plague today's organizations:
Jenkins: How can Millennials overcome the first innovation antibody, "the ego response?"
McKinney: Typical ego responses are, "Oh, I already thought of that a long time ago," or "I have something better." An ego antibody is a person who has an ego response upon hearing your idea. Their immediate reaction is to shut you down because they don't want to look bad for not having the idea themselves.
The best way to get an ego antibody to support your idea is to write out three or four ideas on a piece of paper to review with them. Then wrinkle up the paper, lay it flat, put coffee cup rings all around it, and scratch on it.
Why is this important? You don't want the person you are pitching to think the idea is final. You want to clearly send the visual signal that these are just some ideas. Ask them for advice and council by asking, "What do you think?", "Am I missing something?", "What can you contribute?" Incorporate their comments into the final pitch so that it makes them a supporter for the overall idea.
How can Millennials overcome the second innovation antibody, "the fatigued response?"
Typical fatigued responses are, "You'll never get approval," "We tried that before," or "It won't fit our operation." A fatigued antibody has given up after years of hitting walls with their own ideas and innovations.
The best way to overcome a fatigued response is to engage with them and understand what it is they tried before. Rather than treating them as the antibody, treat them as an advisor and coach. Ask them what hurdles they ran into so you can learn how you would modify the approach when you encounter similar challenges.
How can Millennials overcome the third innovation antibody, "the no-risk response?"
The no-risk response typically are the people who have one of two titles, the Chief Financial Officer or the General Council. Their jobs are to manage risks so you'll likely hear them reject ideas by saying, "Not enough return on investment," or "We can't afford it."
To address these concerns design your idea by asking for a little bit of money, then prove it out, then ask for a little bit more money, then prove it again.
This allows everybody, including the senior management team and lawyers, to see progress being made before more money is allocated to the idea or project. Even inside an organization where they don't have a funding model in place, I would include this in the idea proposal because that will address the risk profile for some of the antibodies.
You can also point the management team or lawyers to other companies that have done similar kinds of innovation to see how they did it and how to deal with any legal concerns. In some cases the CEO, assuming you have a CEO who is supporting the innovation effort, just has to step in and make the call.
How can Millennials overcome the fourth innovation antibody, "the comfort response?"
The comfort response are people who are comfortable with the way things are. Typical responses will be, "We've always done it this way," or "Our customer likes it this way," or "Don't rock the boat." Organizations that don't pick up the pace and are stuck in this comfort mode won't be around much longer. They will get eaten alive by the other companies who are innovating.
The way to get around the comfort antibody is to find someone in a leadership position that is not of this comfort antibody. You need to find someone in a senior role who is pushing forward, changing the organization, and get them to act as a mentor. You will need that air cover sponsorship for getting around the other comfort antibodies.
Do you recommend leaders become more open to Millennial ideas?
My advice to leaders is to create a mechanism, a culture, and an environment that encourages the entire team to experiment. Find ways to make people comfortable so that they can try new things and fail; and it's not going to hurt their career.
Leaders have to remove friction from processes, open up doors, and stand back. You will be amazed when you unleash the full creative power of your team, the kind of impact they can have on your organization.
Innovative Millennials need to be aware of the four innovation antibodies; but also to keep in mind their own needs. If you are constantly shut down by antibodies and your attempts to circumvent are continuously thwarted, then it may be time to make a bold move to an organization that will support your ideas.