HOW TO IGNITE A CULTURE OF INNOVATION
I’ve worked with many organizations who have failed to realize a meaningful ROI from their efforts to create new products, brands or services. Most start with a “we must be disruptors" mandate from management. Staff memos, posters, beanbags, and presentations on ‘Becoming the Next Uber / Air BnB / iPhone’, often follow.
This is not innovation, it’s innovation theatre.
I recently hosted a series of workshops for one of my clients who approached me to help alleviate their struggles ‘to be more innovative’. I titled the engagement Sunny Side Down - a play on the realities that innovation is hatched at the top… and that my sessions occurred over breakfast. Here are some learnings:
CULTURE = PURPOSE = CULTURE
Innovation can only be seeded and scaled within a culture that nurtures it.
Culture is hinged on purpose. Without a concise purpose, an organization simply manages people and resources. Purpose mobilizes people and resources and is the very foundation of building a bright, sustainable culture of creation.
Purpose is the start-line, the driving force, the differentiator and the organic attractor for users and customers. The first step in igniting transformative thinking is diagnosing and potentially reframing this start-line.
Re-booting culture is one of the hardest things for an organization to do, yet it is often necessary to raise the creative bar. All employees should be engaged in the diagnosis and findings can reveal the following:
Permeability: the process of exploring the outside world for emerging trends, technologies, competitors and cultural shifts.
Risk Tolerance: openness to experiment with new concepts.
Ownership: empowerment to create change.
Collaboration: enablers for the cross-pollination of ideas and for different BU’s to work together.
Realization: from vision to reality.
Why do this? Because sprinkling disruptive dust onto a risk-averse, highly-controlled culture will never create the momentum required to sail away from safe harbors and into a world of magical new possibilities.
THE CEO GETS A PROMOTION... to Chief Emotional Orchestrator
There is a common sentiment that innovation can be delegated. Not so. The CEO must set the ‘emotional’ tone of the organization that fuels, protects and rewards the process. Innovative thinking requires high doses of curiosity, empathy, optimism and collaboration. The orchestrator(s) must balance these gateway traits alongside financial performance - requiring a management structure that is rich in both IQ and EQ.
(UN)STRUCTURE FOR INTRAPRENEURSHIP
Intrapreneurship has become the zeitgeist of modern work culture. Support and nurture the tribe of innovators, so they arrive at their standing-desks fully embodied and committed to defining the revenue streams of the next decade. This requires a lean structure when ownership is granted, risk is rewarded and patience is a virtue.
Many companies attempt to ‘formalize’ the process with a myriad of stakeholders, meetings and glossy presentations. This is counterintuitive to the principles of true innovation — small teams, agile processes, abstract thinking, rapid iterations, and an intense atmosphere of informality, risk and resourcefulness.
Unlearn the defaults. Talk less, do more.
TIME IS CURRENCY
Time is the ultimate currency for innovative thinking and if you don’t give it, you won't get it. To set a creative cultural barometer, consider ‘gifting’ intrapreneurs with dedicated time per week, or hosting innovation jamborees. I have often deployed the FedEx Day concept of Australian software company Atlassia: identify a passion project, assemble a team, and (like FedEx) deliver it within 24hrs.
A financial services C-suitor recently said, “I'm likely to just recruit a bunch of fin-tech entrepreneurs.” Hmmm. Successful entrepreneurs are often generalists and corporate misfits. They are hyper-inquisitive and naturally critical of the status quo. They thrive on rapid idea generation and have a strong orientation towards action now, now, now!
This psychological paradox could result in a costly psychological thriller. No SpaceX rocket science here, but the DNA of human capital must match company DNA, with a burning connection to purpose and seamless cultural fit.
DISRUPT SANS DISRUPTION
I often get asked, “how do we deal with the tension of innovating for the future without disrupting the existing engine?” One caution is ensuring your innovation function doesn’t become a stand-alone skunkworks or incubator. It is easy for it to become too isolated or utopian. By infusing it into culture, the power of innovation will scaled as a holistic organizational skill - hatched from the top and practiced and celebrated by all.
Great PEOPLE. Aligned to a rich PURPOSE. With focus on near-in and next decade's PROFIT.