7 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation

7 Ways to Create a Culture of InnovationIn my last post, I covered some of the main reasons why innovation fails in companies. In this post I want to focus on how to implement a genuine and sustainable culture of innovation.

How companies can nurture innovation and motivate their talents to bring innovations forward?

Each company is destined to get the results it gets. What I mean by this is that poor organization, lack of solid and sustainable innovation culture lead to poor results, and more than before, to a company’s trouble or death. A perfect illustration is RIM, which brought the Blackberry to the world in 1999. At that time, BB was a revolutionary product. What happened is that the company lied on its laurels with its BB product, lacked of a clear strategy about where it wanted to take the product. However, according to data compiled by management software company Mindjet, the majority of businesses either don’t have effective innovation strategies or don’t effectively seek opportunities to innovate.

Smart business leaders shape the culture of their company to drive innovation. Success and constant positive results come from the implementation and execution of strategies, business models, structure, processes, technologies and incentive systems that encourage innovation.

1. Define your company’s mission around innovation.

Many companies don’t have a mission statement, but for those which do, often times statements use generic terms, such as “best product in the world”, “best customer service”… They do not inspire employees to innovate. A strong and inspiring vision should be framed around how the company works to change its customer’s world, for the better.

Coca Cola’s mission is to “refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism and happiness, create value and make a difference”.

You build an innovation capability by changing your culture, which requires a lot of hard work. You only see the results of this hard work over time.

2. Create the structure to allow employees to experiment new ideas with unstructured time.

Successful innovative companies give time to their employees to get away from their daily tasks, to work on personal or company projects not directly related to their work. Then tap into this creative process.Google is well known in the tech community for its “20% time,” which gives employees a day a week to follow their passions, but it’s hardly the first company to have done so. For decades, 3M Corp. has allotted 15% of its employees’ time to innovation, which led to the creation of the now-ubiquitous yellow sticky note, among other products. When innovation gets postponed for too long, companies languish — witness the reversal of RIM’s fortune and Microsoft‘s vilification in the mainstream media for its failure to innovate.

“Innovation programs remove the constraints that accompany traditional work, and offer a safe space for failure. That lets people try riskier things.”, says Dan Pink, author of the best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Seeing innovation as idea management is much more effective than seeing it as just commercialization. In the commercialization view, the only way to win is to have a great idea, protect the IP from it, and bring it to market. In the idea management view, you win by identifying and executing great ideas. They don’t have to be new products; the ideas can be for new ways of doing things, or for new business models. Those are all ideas.

The innovation process needs to manage ideas – not just create new products.

Reward employees with time to think, while providing them with the structure they need.

3. Recognize employees’s contribution to the innovation process.

Some companies offer monetized incentives. In mine opinion, it is hard to assign a $ value to innovation; this is good for sales teams. Some companies give annual innovation awards; it is a good initiative for a short term, but it creates more competition than it encourages collaboration and creates emulation.

My former employer set up a more robust recognition program (it was around good performance, not innovation, but it can be applied to innovation stimulation). It is a peer-based recognition program where employees could purchase a “fuzzy” for 50 cents (profits went to a pool for charity donations), and would give the fuzzy to a co-worker to recognize their achievements. “Fuzzies” circulated around the office and stimulated others to do the same.

4. Return to the past.

Debra Kaye, author of Red Thread Thinking, advises companies to return to the past. No new idea is completely original. Some concepts may not have materialized for various reasons, but it is always good to look at the past and understand why it did not work out. You avoid future mistakes, you can find ways to better the products (new technology, new process, new skill…). Start-up companies which by definition don’t have a past can look at what’s be done in the industry, what did not find success, and bounce off this to create something new.

5. Debra Kaye also stresses that companies should pay attention to culture, not trends.

Culture is mass ideology – a system of values and beliefs that runs so deep we don’t question it. There’s an American belief in personal invention and reinvention. You see that in social products like Snapchat and Instagram, which allow us to invent ourselves in the moment. They may seem like a trend. But they reflect a deep underlying value.

Trends are much more superficial. They are hard to get in and out of quickly enough to make money. Kraft came out with CarbWells in 2004, at the end of the low-carb craze. It was a disaster.

6. Continuous education (L&L, conferences, seminars…).

Self-development is the key to employee’s success. In the same system where company should create a structure for unstructured time, those same companies should create time for continuous education. Allow employees to seek new interests, learn and develop new skills.

7. Allow failure.

The essence of innovation is that it takes multiple experiments to successfully create new products, solutions, services.  Failure is part of the innovation process. When employees are not afraid of failure, they will feel empowered to take risks and be “crazy”.

What reasons do you see for innovation to succeed?  Share your stories.


Related: Check out Braden Kelley’s free on-demand video keynote on Innovation Culture


image credit: www.ipdigit.eu

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Stephan Vincent is Director of Cultural Transformation at Collidea, a strategic innovation firm in Carmel, IN.  He is also Founder and President of s.p.IN and Collide Summit Indiana, a first-of-its- kind un-conference unlike anything else. Stephan is a new contributor to IX, sharing insights from his own blog.

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