No matter where you look, innovation is transforming old, overwhelmed systems. No industry is like it was 5 years ago. Online shopping disrupts store-front retail. Online degrees disrupt campus-based education. Newspapers are failing, and Twitter is growing. Entrepreneurs crowdsource their start-ups, seek gigs rather than careers, and use Uber rather than buy a cars.
No More Status Quo
This fits with generational cycles. Every 80 years or so, we go through a period of massive disruption when the status quo is reinvented. All of us are living and working through a period of massive disruption. Our companies, our jobs and careers are taking unexpected turns. So you have a choice. You can hang on, hoping you won’t have to change. Or you can step up to innovation, recreate your work and remain relevant. Here are some pointers for each generation.
Boomers remember when innovating meant making things like videotape, a space capsule, an artificial heart. But today’s innovation is less about making things and more about connecting things--not "what,” but “how.”
This is why Boomers must step up and do the difficult work of learning new technologies in order to innovate and run with change. (Surveys show that fewer than half of Boomers feel comfortable with the tech they use at work). At this stage in their careers, experienced Boomers on your team can be an anchor in the storm—but only if they are comfortable with the tech it takes to plug in those skills.
Xers are known for working alone. “If you want it done right,” say Xers, “do it yourself.” Even highly innovative companies founded by Gen X (think Microsoft or Apple) tend to innovate using very small teams. The 3-pizza rule is classic Gen X thinking. If a project team can’t be fed with 3 pizzas, the team is too big. What’s the biggest challenge for solitary Xers when things are changing fast? Collaboration. if you are an Xer make a point of scheduling time to collaborate with others, especially Millennials. That way you won't drift out of the loop of change.
Millennials and Gen X are often a study in opposites. While Gen Xers tend to innovate alone, the Millennial default is innovate with others. But sometimes a group process becomes a slow process. Stepping up to innovation for a Millennial may mean initiating things alone and then hooking into the collaborative process. Millennials excel in finding new ideas and ways to collaborate, but individual effort is equally important to surviving change.
As a Leader
Be intentional about innovation. Maybe you’ll create interactive spaces where people and ideas collide. Maybe you’ll institute company-wide ITO (innovation time off). Maybe you'll add "contribute ideas that make our work better" to everybody's job description, including your own. You might want to schedule competitions for the best new ideas, and implement the winning innovations. Even better, maybe you'll give awards for the best new ideas that didn't work. That way you make it safe to create, and safe to fail. Whatever your approach, you lead during a time of disruption and change--a time when innovation is not optional, it’s essential. Innovation is part of the job.