Things are tough in your current job. As an innovator you have a vision of how things could be done so much faster and better. However, your management is not open to change. Worse, while things are stagnant you are missing out on promotions. This way you will be stuck in your current position forever! Does this mean you should quit your job?
Being held back
I hear this a lot. Talented employees that are super frustrated, because they feel that they are being held back unnecessarily. They have a vision for a better future. And would love to get the chance to improve current processes, find new clients that currently are not being served, and go after opportunities that could make the difference between the firm just getting by or flourishing. Yet, their ideas are not being heard or acted upon – because their management is not open to change.
Googling, you will find that these are signals that you may need to quit your job. But should you?
There are advantages of holding on, especially when you are a visionary innovator.
What are your options, other than to quit your job?
As an innovator, you may think that the only path out of this situation is to quit. I hear you!
Trying to convince your management that change is the better option, has proven to be ineffective. Inertia is a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. What is the point in even trying any more?
You may look for a new job at a different firm. However, as you rightfully suspect, the grass always looks greener at the other side. In reality, at a new firm, it is even more difficult to get any change going – unless you are hired to do so – because you don’t know many people and they don’t know you.
The alternative is to start for yourself and accomplish the change that way.
Starting for yourself
While it may be tempting to quit your job and try to be successful on your own, I would suggest you think twice before you jump ship.
As an innovator, stuck in the role of an employee, it sounds great to be the CEO of a startup. It did to me. But I did not realize that CEO does not stand for Chief Executive Officer in a startup, but for Chief Everything Officer.
When launching your startup, there is no helpdesk to solve your computer problems, no marketing and sales assistance, no legal support to review a contract or address legal issues, or anyone to do the bookkeeping. It will all fall on your shoulders.
And that, while you have to create your brand, get your offering out there, make connections, and build your reputation from scratch. Starting for yourself takes time and is a lot of hard work. It can be done, but it is certainly not the fastest and most certain route to success. It can be rather lonely too.
So what is a better way to go about accomplishing your vision?
Start with the groundwork today
There is a better way than quitting your job and that will get you quicker to where you want to be than going at it alone.
If you have a vision for the future, then start with the groundwork that needs to happen to bring that vision to reality today.
“That is what I have been trying to do”, you may think. But have you? What you have been doing, is probably ask your boss for permission to act. That is not what I mean with the groundwork.
Doing the groundwork means that you make yourself the expert in the domain. You do so by reading all there is to read, signing up for (free) courses on the topic, going to (free) webinars and events to build your network.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to do this groundwork.
So instead of begging your manager and waiting for him or her to change, you start to take action. Because if you want a different outcome, you have to try a different approach.
Three things can happen if you do so. But let’s first discuss how to get started.
Find a workaround
You don’t ask for permission, but you go for it. Give it an honest try, and ask for forgiveness afterward.
You can do most of this work in your personal time if needed.
If possible, we suggest that you sign up for an innovation course to learn what it will take to innovate. Most of such programs will ask you to bring in an innovation project. Some even offer hands-on guidance to bring an idea to practice, like our T4 program.
You can either fund this training yourself or see if such training can be funded from your personal development budget. In our experience that is usually possible.
The advantage of signing up for such a course is that you do your groundwork in a structured way, avoid beginner mistakes, and don’t have to figure it out all yourself.
I have had several mentees follow this route. All of them were successful in outlining their vision and setting up an initial version of the solution. Not all were able to convince their managers to fund their projects beyond this initial proof. So what happened?
Outcome 1: A small detour
Those who did not get approval to proceed, nearly all left their companies. Some ventured out on their own. Others got jobs at competitor firms who were thrilled to offer them a job, because of their vision, the knowledge they gained, and their passion for the topic.
As such, these innovators left much better prepared. When they quit their jobs, they had experience and a use case under their belt. That made it much easier to build out their network and get started when they ventured out on their own.
Basically what this option means is that you use your current employer to test the opportunity. Which brings us to the next outcome.
Outcome 2: Learn it is not meant to be
Following the same trajectory as above and giving it an honest try, in this case, you learn that your vision is flawed.
While doing the groundwork, you may soon realize that the opportunity is more difficult to take advantage of than thought, smaller than expected, or technically not feasible, or….
Whatever the reason, by pursuing an idea beyond just daydreaming about it, you discovered that while it sounded good, it is far less promising than you thought.
From what I have seen, this outcome makes it easier to accept that change won’t happen and that your manager is not interested. As a result, my mentees that found themselves on this path were more likely to stay in their jobs and were happier to do so, because they had a better understanding of why things were the way they were.
What more, research has shown that these innovators are more likely to come up with new ideas thereafter (source).
However, not all will stay. I know a few mentees and innovators, who were so unsatisfied with the status quo and their inability to change it, that they quit their job to pursue something entirely different. And I mean something totally different, like a lawyer starting a bakery and another a talk show, a physician becoming a goldsmith, to name a few examples.
Option 3: Find gold!
While doing the groundwork, you find gold! Awesome!
You may not have been able to convince your manager of your grant vision before, but by doing the groundwork and talking about it, you probably have warmed up your managers to the opportunity.
This happens more often than you think!
Many of my mentees fall in this category. Their persistence and hard work paid off. It enabled them to more clearly express their vision and to come up with a plan with few risks and lots of upsides.
These mentees are now either leading their initiatives, have become managers of their departments, have been promoted to executive positions, and have been asked to roll out the new offering internationally.
By starting small, showing they were serious about the opportunity, doing the hard work first, they were able to lead the way and show management what they were capable of. Change happened as a result, not because these innovators were asking for it.
So, don’t quit your job yet!
Any of the outcomes described above leads to better results than quitting your job today. Staying in your current position and doing the groundwork nearly always gives you a better starting point to realize your vision, even when you are not successful in the organization you currently work for.
I am not saying that it is easy to innovate in an environment that is not that open to change. However, it may be comforting to know that even in the most innovative companies, changing the status quo and developing innovation projects is challenging. The difference between innovative and conservative companies is in their support for innovators in the early stages of the process. In innovative companies, you will find support inside the organization. In conservative companies, you will need to seek such support and obtain it from other sources.
Driving an innovation project and doing the groundwork takes time and effort. Innovation has never come from daydreamers. Innovators are doers.
So, stay at it!
P.S. As a manager, after reading this blog you may wonder, what is in this for me? Read in our next blog how you can make most of these exploratory missions of your talented and restless employees. If you don’t want to miss that blog – sign up for our newsletter! and you will receive our monthly newsletters with all our blogs in your inbox.