We have a problem in many organizations, which is managers and business owners believing they have the best ideas and are the only source of innovation for the company. On the surface, it seems to make sense that the people at the top would drive innovation. After all, many of these people rose through the ranks by being top performers in their area. However, allowing owners and managers to be the sole source of innovation can handicap the business in 9,000 more ways than it helps.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

Dancing with Innovation

There’s a scene in the movie Dirty Dancing where Neil (the resort owner’s grandson) comes up to Johnny (the dance instructor) and proposes a change in the dance Johnny has planned for the resort’s end-of-the-year bash.

Now, Johnny is the one with years of experience in dance — certainly more than Neil — and Johnny has lots of ideas on what dances would be good for the party. Johnny lives, eats and breathes dance. His joy in life is dance, which is clear when you watch him move. You can see something deep inside his soul leap with joy when he dances. Johnny’s an innovator, and has a wealth of ideas on how to really make the end-of-year party something amazing. Something guests will love and talk about long after they leave.

But Neil (simply by virtue of being the owner’s grandson) shuts him down and says it’s time to dance the Pachanga instead of the Mambo. When Johnny is less than thrilled with the idea Neil threatens to fire him, so of course Johnny capitulates.

Do you see the problem here? Instead of listening to Johnny — the person on the front lines of dance — Neil figures he’s the arbiter of all things awesome when it comes to what the guests at the resort will love, including dance. He fails to listen to his expert on dance, even though dance is an integral part of his big event.

Neil doesn’t listen to the best innovator he has simply because he’s in a position of authority and thinks he knows better.


As managers you do this when you get involved in not only helping set the goal but in telling employees how to accomplish each step on the path to get to that goal.

Maybe you do this because you’ve had an employee fail before and thus you don’t want to give them any freedom. You live in fear of that failure all the time and block out almost any innovation in your organization that doesn’t come from you.

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Maybe you’ve been successful in your career and always been a top performer. Now that you’re managing a team you may be uncomfortable with the idea that you’re not still the star performer on the team, and consequently you don’t listen to the team. You’ve now handicapped your team by assuming you’re the only one who can be awesome.

Maybe you’ve run your business yourself for years and built it from the ground up. It’s your baby and of course you’re super careful about who can take care of your baby. You don’t give any of your employees any real authority. They need to check with you on everything and you feel trapped in your business. It would never run without you. But that’s your own fault for not trusting employees, even after you’ve had a failure.

Don’t set yourself up as the arbiter of everything good. Let innovation rise. Listen to new ideas. Coach those around you to be better than they are currently. Empower them to be their best selves.

Doing this is going to help your organization be healthier, happier, and yield exponentially better results.

Most of you know how Dirty Dancing ends. After getting fired, Johnny comes back at the end-of-year party and takes Baby (a resort guest who’s fallen for Johnny) out of the corner to be his dance partner. Johnny then dances as he wants to dance. The two dance with passion and joy, and while the guests are initially subdued (probably put to sleep by the original song going on) they quickly end up tossing their chairs to the side and embracing the joy. They even dance in the aisles.

If Neil had only let Johnny be in charge to start with…

photo credit: nukamari cc