‘For every problem, the Victorians have a building’. For every idea that we need to carry forward, we invent an initiative, a platform, a vehicle. Nothing wrong with this. But, the initiative let’s us off the hook many times.
Let’s say that, after lots of discussions on innovation, the team members need to commit themselves to exploring new ways of doing things, versus carrying on doing them as it has always been done. This is so far a personal commitment: to think, to explore, to read, to evaluate, to imagine, to do something. But ‘the initiative’ kicks in: let’s have an Innovation Week, when an Innovation Committee will judge the most innovative ideas, open to all. And if it’s successful, we will repeat it two or three times a year. I am off the hook. The initiative will do the thinking, we’ll see what others say and do. My personal commitment, good as it may have been, surely cannot compete with the power of the initiative (brand it Global Initiative and it will sound more powerful, and, the more powerful, the more off the hook the individual and the individual commitment). It is a paradoxical effect that many people will hate to recognise. My God, we are so good at initiatives!
The initiative (event, committee, new team, new review process, a monthly review, task force, a new project, bringing in new consultants) may be the right thing to do, but may also be a distraction and a form of simple deferral of action in which the collective takes over the individual.
The reasons why so many internal initiatives fail are two fold: (1) There are simply too many of them competing for air time; (2) They defer decisions, postpone reality, pretend that they are useful, but then everybody gets exhausted with a ritual that has forgotten its original meaning.
Before creating a new initiative, and, I repeat, they may be necessary and a good thing, we need to think what the initiative may do for the individual commitment and the personal behaviour. Will the initiative switch off the individual thinking? Or perhaps on?
Devolving the individual accountability to a collective task may be something that happens in a subtle manner. The key is a bit of critical thinking and the non-automatic falling in love with ‘the new thing that will solve the problem’.
PS. There should be a sort of Cluttering Tax in the organization, anyway. For any new initiative, get rid of two.