Building a Culture and Climate of Innovation

October 29th, 2013 by Rob Berman Leave a reply »

'Haenam: Where nature meets history, culture' photo (c) 2010, USAG- Humphreys - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ Jatin Desai, the author of the book Innovation Engine – Driving Execution for Breakthrough Results shared with me thoughts on Building a Culture and Climate of Innovation.  Read my post about Jatin’s observations on Building Your Own Innovation Engine here.  You can read my review of the book here.

1.     How can a company build culture of innovation? (in other words, how can they foster innovation?)

Great question, but very tough to answer in a few sentences. In order to build appropriate culture, one must understand underlying elements that created the current culture. Typically, these elements are: leadership style, style of decision making, organizational structure (span of control for managers), regulatory environment, current customer base, current use of technology and automation, current depth of knowledge and expertise, and organizational orthodoxies (invisible rules). All of these elements have to be fine-tuned for innovation. In fact, there are 15 such elements and 45 factors all together that have to be adjusted to build a culture of innovation.

2.     What does a company need to do to build strong leaders for innovation?

Strong leaders for innovation requires four important elements:

  • Current leaders at the top must role model what other leaders below should do regarding innovation. Leaders cannot ‘demand innovation’ from others. They must demonstrate how to drive innovation through their own personal stories.
  • Leaders at the top must identify huge challenges that must be solved by their best people. This will create excitement for the best employees to volunteer for such difficult challenges.
  • Provide freedom to experiment and learn. Leaders must create a safe environment for internal entrepreneurs (intrapreneurs) to succeed.
  • Provide appropriate levels of resources for discovering new innovations. In the first few years, don’t ask P&L owners to innovate using their own current budget and then penalize them if they exceed it.

3.     How does a company teach innovation and coach others?

Once an organization has developed an innovation strategy and linked it to business strategy, they must build internal capability for innovation processes, tools, and methods.

One ideal step is to develop dedicated resources for innovation – at the corporate level or at the business unit level. Innovation must be treated as a program at the start. After a few years, once innovation as a competency is programmed into the business systems, it does not need to be managed as a program.

When starting an innovation program, we highly recommend developing innovation green belts and black belts. These ranks can be achieved through an internal certification process, or an innovation college, like the education program my firm, DeSai Group, (link) offers.  Promote green belts to black belts when these certified individuals help deliver new innovations to the market numerous times.

4.     How does a firm promote and build innovation teams, especially across silos?

The best way to accomplish the task is to create a daunting challenge that needs a solution. Bring the (cross-functional) team members together to work on the challenge.  Assign a professional innovation expert to design and facilitate the meetings. A good innovation expert will facilitate a focused outcome but will also teach team members what it takes to achieve extraordinary results. The team will have to achieve ‘break-down’ before they will achieve ‘breakthrough.

5.     How do you make innovation a daily habit for everyone at all levels in a company?

Anything can become a habit if practiced repeatedly. In order to make innovation a daily habit, one must come up with new ideas daily. We have identified 11 practical methods for anyone and everyone to help find new ideas everyday:

a)    Think when you are not thinking. For example, going on a run or a walk, cooking at home, cleaning the house, doing the yard work, etc.  Ask questions to stimulate curiosity and creativity.

Who? (Actor or Agent)

What? (Act)

When? (Time or Timing)

Where? (Scene or Source)

Why? (Purpose)

How? (Agency or Method)

b)    Listen to Classical music. Recent studies revealed a molecular basis for the “Mozart Effect”, but not any other music. Mozart, can relieve stress, improve communication and increase efficiency. Creativity scores soar when listening to Mozart.

c)     Read Periodicals you would not typically read – a scientific magazine, for example, if you are more interested in business; or books outside your typical genre. These activities generate “Diverse Thinking” which has proven to be a critical competency in the creative process.

d)    Attend a conference or a meeting outside your field. The knowledge eventually helps you to connect to other ‘dots’ in your life. Being ‘away’ from your daily routine is a sure bet to help find creative solutions to your existing challenges.

e)    Surround yourself with creative thinkers.  So, find some creative thinkers who are comfortable looking at things through a different lens, or are not afraid to challenge assumptions, or who naturally love to explore ‘newness’ in everything.  Find people who love to doodle, draw often, or who are exceptional storytellers.

f)     Immerse yourself in a ‘real’ problem. Ask the right questions, investigate possible outcomes. Write the current challenge; in an open-ended question format. Restate the question in as many different ways as you can.  At the end of the process you can experience much greater clarity of your ‘problem statement’ than before. Once the problem is clear and concise, then dive in.

g)    Keep an idea journal. An idea journal is accomplished when we take the time to commit our ideas to paper or electronic note pad. Throughout the course of any given day countless ideas come and go our way – even though many of them may appear to be unrealistic to us at the time. For most of us, we simply discard them as a passing thought. The problem with that approach is that what we previously believed to be unachievable can change drastically as our minds are expanded with each new success that comes our way.

h)    Take a course to learn a new language or some other skills outside your expertise.  These build confidence and provide the lead over others in the global multicultural working environment.

i)     Be curious and experiment. Leaders value people who display a never-ending curiosity for the many facets of the business. Similarly, successful employees such as intrapreneurs display a never-ending curiosity that emerges as “passion” in a meeting room filled with people. Be curious about everything with everyone, and in every part of your life.

j)      Articulate your idea, seek feedback from co-creatives or other people you trust. Real innovation ideas are those that solve an unmet need in the market. So, it is not about having a new idea or not, but it is about getting them out there first and fast. If you have an idea, quickly test it within your network, with customers or with people who are not current customers.

k)    Create a Greenhouse for your ideas. The four primary negative forces designed to kill your ideas immediately are: time, money, people around you and yourself. For each force identify how to reduce the negative influence on the fresh ideas that desperately need ‘Greenhousing.’  Greenhousing means keeping the ideas safe, then growing them naturally by being more curious, researching the elements and finding possibilities for impact.

The Takeaway

Your organization can build a culture and climate of innovation through a concerted effort to break down silos, teach innovation skills and coach intrapreneurs.

Over to you.  That is the interview. Please comment below.

  1. How does your organization build a culture and climate of innovation?
  2.  How does your organization identify employees to teach and learn about innovation?
  3. How do you find your break through ideas?

If you would like to contact me, you may do so by visiting my LinkedIn page, following me on Twitter,  or e-mailing me at rcberman2 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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