Here’s a proposition – a company will never succeed with innovation unless the culture is supportive. It’s best encapsulated in the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, attributed to Peter Drucker, the noted management guru. This is the last of four articles focused on creating a culture of innovation. Here are links to the first, second and third articles in the series. I propose that action is what changes culture, and there is a specific sequence to be followed.
- Decide what you want – what’s the output?
- How to do it – design the management system.
- Fill the pipeline – stimulate the input.
The final area to consider is the one that seems to be the subject of the vast majority of texts on innovation culture – INPUT. So many articles seem to equate creativity with innovation – “we need more ideas” or “let’s get ideas from anywhere in the company.” There seems to be a mistaken belief that focusing on the front end input will transform an organisation and create the culture of innovation.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”. Without understanding the customer or the consumer it is very difficult to understand what needs exist in the marketplace. It is also fundamentally important to understand the motivations, psychology, desires and habits of your consumer. Moving to the next stage, co-creation, brings even more opportunity. It is therefore essential to the development of the right innovation culture that consumer and customer closeness is given a high priority.
“Invention is the mother of necessity” is a nice switch of the original phrase, and captures the potential gained by developing an original technology that creates a new and novel business. Much of Apple’s growth in the last decade has come from products and ecosystems that created previously unimagined possibilities. A note of caution is needed. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “we know best”, giving yourself an excuse not to listen to customers. It’s all a question of balance. An original technology program, in the context of a 3 horizons based strategy, can create new opportunities and a strong contribution towards the creation of an innovation culture.
Patents and other intellectual property should of course, cover inventions. Patents can be extremely valuable, but only if they cover innovation that hits the marketplace, or protects other areas of business. It’s wrong to equate intellectual property directly with innovation.
The clichéd image of innovation is that of a light bulb coming on, usually an old-fashioned incandescent one, implying the “Eureka” moment of creativity. You’re right, I don’t like this image, but more of this another day. As Steven Johnson said in his excellent book, Where Good Ideas Come From, ideas coming from that Eureka moment are few and far between. If you don’t have time to read the book, then look at this short video. Whether from adjacent areas or slow hunches, people need the time and freedom to exchange and explore, and leaders should encourage it.
It’s tempting to believe that running an idea competition will lead to an increase in the quality and quantity of ideas and change the culture at the same time. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen. It’s a bit like trying to make major change to your lifestyle by going on a short-term diet. Any culture change must become a way of life, an automatic habit. That’s why idea generation and selection events must be instituted as a regular and frequent activity. Creativity can indeed be timetabled.
It’s also the reason why strategically aligned output and an innovation management system should be in place before doing further work on ideas. It can be very demotivating for people who generate great enthusiasm to conceive ideas, only for them to go into a black hole of immobility, because the organisation is not able to progress them.
The creativity part of your innovation culture is unlikely to change if the same people are around the same table trying to solve the same problems with the same approach. New approaches and techniques and needed with more diverse input. Diversity of thought, diversity of background and diversity of knowledge are all factors in creating superior and differentiated ideas. Once you’ve developed another effective way to develop your ideas, don’t repeat it to the point of exhaustion. Find another way, repeat it then find another.
There are many things a company can do to create a climate more conducive to good ideas. Teams can be co-located; office environments can be improved; time can be allocated to further develop individual team ideas as in the famous examples of Google and 3M. These are good initiatives and should be done, but all in the context of actions to create the right innovation climate.
Open Innovation is a way to use ideas and technologies from outside of your company to complement the innovation portfolio. It can be used at almost any stage of the innovation process but is used most frequently at the front end. The right innovation culture is an idea meritocracy that doesn’t really care where good ideas come from, and benefits strongly from the extra opportunities that open innovation can provide.
There are many other ways to stimulate the creation of new ideas. They provide the key input to an efficient innovation management system that produces great output. Get the sequence right, deliver the goods, and you’ll find you have somehow established a great culture of innovation to serve you well for the future. And once you have it, keep it dynamic and agile, ever-changing for a successful future.
image credit: polifilm.co.uk
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Kevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions, and also has experience in life sciences.