Q: Team Toolkit, I really want to bring innovation into my organization but I have NO co-conspirators and my organization is the opposite of flat, it’s practically a dictatorship! My attempts at introducing innovation have been failing and I’m really demoralized; when do I know it’s time to just give up and quit?

A: Oy, we feel your pain anonymous audience member and are sending you lots of extra aloha. This is a very difficult position to be in, and unfortunately, we’ve all been there too at various points in our careers.

One constructive way to move forward in this type of scenario is to find an abstract situation where our struggle is no longer at the center of the story. This creates space for different perspectives, and thus new insights, that can inspire the next right action.

While each situation is unique, here’s an analogy that may help you identify the next right move…

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Analogy time: Let’s become an acorn

Photo of an outstretched hand with an acorn

Photo credit: Caleb Lucas

Acorns are amazing. When properly planted, this tiny acorn can grow into a massive oak tree, with huge branches overhead and deep roots down below. This oak tree could live not just for hundreds, but tens of thousands, of years!

An acorn has so much potential, but in order for it to take root and thrive, there is a very critical set of requirements: The acorn must be planted in soil, watered, and receive sunlight.

Let’s imagine three scenarios of how this acorn could be planted:

    1. Nature. A squirrel finds the acorn during the fall, buries it deep in the ground, then has a squirrel moment and forgets where it is. This leaves the acorn to hibernate during the winter, and it begins naturally sprouting during spring alongside other new plants.
    1. Nursery. A nursery gardener finds the acorn during the fall, plants it into a large pot, then carefully waters and grows it into a small tree in their nursery’s greenhouse. This potted tree is then sold by the nursery, where it’s delivered to a different state and planted into a new landscape.
    1. Transplant. A home gardener finds the acorn during the fall, plants it into a large pot, then places it in the dark corner of their garage and forgets about it over winter. The potted acorn remains in the dark garage during the spring and summer.

Using these three scenarios, it’s clear that our acorn has the best chance of becoming a full oak tree in Scenario 1 and 2. Scenario 2 may be more risky since the small tree may not take root after being planted in the new landscape. However, we know that our acorns are set up for success in both scenarios because they at least received the dirt, water, and sunlight that they need to transform into a tree.

Unfortunately in Scenario 3, our acorn was not set up for success and did not receive 2 of the 3 critical requirements for transformation. Without water and sunlight, no matter how good the dirt is, this acorn will never become an oak tree.

Back to reality: Why did we become acorns and how does that help me?

This acorn represents your fresh ideas and innovative approaches that you are trying to introduce into your organization. There is no doubt that there is lots of potential here, but as we saw in the analogy, the environment determined the future of this acorn – whether it would receive what it critically needed to transform: dirt, water, and sunlight.

Similarly, your organizational environment will determine whether your fresh ideas and innovative approaches will receive what it critically needs to flourish: Fellow teammates and some initial funding or go-ahead. You’ve done all that you can do as an individual, and now it’s time to consider your organizational environment:

Is your organizational environment like Scenario 1 where you have the right conditions, but need to wait for the right time? Are your ideas hibernating during a winter period, and a future leader or champion will create the conditions of spring?

    • If yes, then patience and a mindset shift could be a great next move. Instead of thinking “Innovation is never going to happen here!”, try thinking “I’m waiting for a better time to introduce innovation.”
    • Check out our other ITK blog post on the importance of attitude for more tips!

Or is your organizational environment like Scenario 2 where the conditions for your ideas to truly thrive and take root may exist elsewhere? Is your organization not the “final” place for where your ideas can truly take off?

Or is your organizational environment like Scenario 3 where no matter what you do, you’re not going to get those critical elements for success? Is your organizational structure inherently inhibiting innovation?

    • If yes, then it may be time to consider an alternative path… and that will definitely require much more than one blog post.
    • In this case, reaching out to your trusted mentors for realistic advice unique to your scenario could be a great next move.

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Hopefully this acorn analogy helped you identify the next right action for your situation, and for those who have also experienced this, leave us a comment below for other tips or actions that have helped you!