Creating a Culture of Innovation
by Chris Hodgson
I frequently get asked the question:
“How can my company deliver more innovative solutions?”
My answer is actually quite simple...
To innovate effectively you need to
create the right environment
for innovation to occur
Creating an environment for innovation involves 3 steps:
- Recognize that innovative ideas come from everywhere
- Encourage innovative ideas to flourish
- Create a mechanism to test and validate your ideas
STEP 1: Recognize that innovative ideas come from everywhere
The first mistake that most businesses make is to name someone in the organization to ‘lead innovation’. This sounds completely rational and is aligned with how companies operate – if you want to get something done then give someone the responsibility to deliver it. “I’d like to introduce our new Head of Innovation!”. Unfortunately, this is the fastest way to kill off 95% of the innovative ideas within your business.
As soon as an Innovation Team or Department is created, then everyone else in the company feels that they have been given approval to stop innovating. After all, why would they innovate when it’s someone else’s job? The reality is, those that are best able to identify new ideas - whether it’s new solutions, new products or new customers - are those that are working most closely with existing ones. Ideas are just as likely to be generated in the call centre, sales team, or warehouse, as they are in head office.
Creating the environment to innovate means
creating a culture of innovation and
NOT a department of innovation
Creating innovative ideas is mainly a game of numbers - the more people you have spending time thinking of new ideas, then the more good ideas will surface to the top. As a result, the fastest way to identify innovative ideas is to ensure that every single person in your company views innovation as their responsibility. I say that it’s ‘mainly’ a game of numbers because there are people who are more likely to be able to identify ideas. Sometimes these people have been identified as having a ‘growth mindset’. In reality, they are problem solvers.
Increase the chance of discovering great ideas
by finding and recruiting problem solvers
throughout your organization
STEP 2: Encourage innovative ideas to flourish
In order to be able to truly benefit from ideas that are generated everywhere within your organization you need to have the right culture so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. The traditional ‘employee suggestion box’ seems a bit quaint and dated in today’s world. The intention is correct - but the process is no longer appropriate.
In order to really bubble up innovative ideas then every meeting, discussion and interaction should be one where people feel comfortable voicing their opinions and ideas. After all, a company is nothing more than the individuals within it - and specifically how they work together as a team to solve problems, make decisions and come up with new ideas.
Google spent years studying teams and concluded that the ones that the most successful team were built on a foundation of psychological safety - where each person can ask questions and make suggestions without any risk of negative repercussions.
Help innovative ideas to flourish by
building psychological safety into
your corporate culture
Step 3: Create a mechanism to test and validate your ideas
Most companies are so busy delivering their core offering that they don’t have the capacity to test new things. In addition, even if they had the resources to test, doing so within the business often leads to failure because those running the business have different objectives to those who want to reinvent it.
In order to successfully test and validate ideas it’s important to create a small team and give them the resources and environment to test, and fail. Be sure not to penalize them for failure. Be patient with this team and ensure they have clear measurements of success.
We can all learn a thing or two from Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to Amazon shareholders:
- To invent you have to experiment. Failure and invention are inseparable twins (2015)
- If you know it’s going to work, then it isn’t an experiment (2015)
- Experiments can start small (2013)
- The downside of a small failed experiment is low, but the potential upside can be very high (2013)
Ideas are worthless without the ability to
validate them and make them a reality
For many businesses, creating the right environment for innovation is a change journey. As we all know, change is never easy. However, as someone recently reminded me, if you think change is hard, you should try irrelevance. One of the most obvious actions a company can take to avoid irrelevance is to create the right environment for innovation.