Culture / Ideas / January 14, 2013

Innovation Doesn’t Do Privelege

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Innovation, by its very nature, means change. Ideally, it means improvement across the board – a better normal. With my generation, millennials, gaining prominence in the workplaces of America innovation is in full swing. Work culture is changing, expectations are being adjusted, goals are being realigned. But I have noticed a tendency, especially in more established companies and industries, which creates a significant obstacle in the advancement of innovation and progress: a mindset of privilege.

“Privilege” is a word which gets used quite often to assign value to something or some circumstance. In the business world privilege is something to be earned, to be gained through longevity (longsuffering?) or exceptional performance. It is, essentially, a reward. The problem is which things and circumstances are included in the “privilege” category.

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What has happened is that certain realities essential to innovation have been deemed as “privileges.” Working off-site, technological improvement, casual dress, less defined work hours, and even influence or authority have all been grouped together as privileges. And maybe this was once a functional, reasonable way to do business. However, in this age of global, societal, and technological advances being driven in large part by a multitude of young employees and workers those “privileges” are no longer viable. No, what once was privilege needs to become the new normal, a better normal.

Innovation demands it. The rules are changing. No longer are time and place the framework of the job. No longer does spending 8 hours in an office for 5 consecutive days constitute a solid or successful work week. What matters are results – budgetary, developmental, creative, and relational. In some case, such as service jobs or retail, certain hours in a place of business are necessary. But for a growing number of jobs that framework is no longer useful.

What once was deemed privilege needs to be seen as resourcing. Allowing workers to work from home or a coffee shop isn’t a privilege; it’s allowing them to work from a more conducive environment for success. Providing employees top notch equipment isn’t a gift; it’s providing the necessary tools to maximize productivity. Giving employees more decision making freedom isn’t a treat; it’s responsibility and a catalyst for passion and excitement.  

Of course with all this comes greater accountability. No longer can an employee’s long hours or attendance be plus on their review. They will be held accountable for their results. No longer can there be mere clock-punchers. Instead there ought to be decision making, flexible, hard-working, results-oriented employees who do what it takes to get the job done with the best resources in the most conducive location. And none of those things is a “privilege.” They are all innovation doing what innovation should.

1 Comment

Jan 15, 2013

I’d argue that even if it is normative in a given environment or company, working conditions such as these are still a ‘privilege’ of certain types or classes of workers. After all, the guy working FOR the coffee shop has to be there so the guys working AT the coffee shop can enjoy those flexible working conditions.

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