What happened the last time anyone took a risk on your organization? Is that person now a "former employee" of your company? According to a recent survey by the Princeton-based consulting firm BlessingWhite breaking with corporate norms can be a way to open up new career opportunities (get fired) in some organizations.
BlessingWhite's survey of nearly 700 U.S. employees found that only 26 percent are encouraged to take risks while 41 percent said they are never asked to do it. Only 40 percent of the respondents said it is even safe to speak openly where they work.
The results of this survey remind me of Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer's comment in his book, The Human Equation, "Many organizations want change, but nobody wants to do anything differently" (page 41).
Companies that want people to introduce creative ideas and innovative solutions must accept the risks inherent in any creative process. Genuine creativity (not just an old idea dressed in a new suit) can only take place in a culture that accepts--even encourages-- risk taking and doesn't punish people when a solution doesn't always turn out as planned.
Corporate leaders will give a nod to Einstein's belief that, "To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imagination and marks the real advances in science." But step carefully if you're the person (even as CEO) asking the hard questions, pushing new possibilities, or trying to get long-term stakeholders to look at an old problem from a new angle.
Every creative initiative carries with it a degree of risk. But in a rapidly-changing, competitive environment the greater risk is doing nothing.