One of the most challenging aspects of transforming an organisations culture into one of innovation is overcoming entrenched beliefs. Like it or not, we are generally creatures of habit and anything which challenges the status quo is looked on with suspicion. We use process and order as crutches for stability in an ever changing world and chant the ‘it has to be that way because it has always been that way’ mantra as a defence mechanism whenever our viewpoint is threatened.
There is nothing new or radical about this view of humanity. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the philosopher imagines a scenario in which prisoners have been chained in a cave since birth. Facing the wall, their only connection with reality is in the shadows of objects carried in front of a fire behind them and from this they have constructed an entire world view. Freed from the chains, Plato imagines how a prisoner would firstly turn back to the familiar, then how he would be mocked by the remaining prisoners as he struggled to adjust his view of reality before finally he was able to embrace the world.
Plato used this tale as a way of illustrating ‘the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world’ but nowadays we could equally use it to illustrate the pathway, which those seeking to embed an innovation culture may have to follow. Turning your head away from the entrenched routine…being tempted back to the familiar…working to adjust viewpoints and processes…facing up to the scepticism of others; all barriers to progress which have to be overcome before the organisation moves into the innovation light.
At this stage, I’d like to explode an innovation myth. I hear time and time again that innovation is fine for small organisations, for start-ups and for those which operate in the field of high-end technology. And yes that is true, but it is equally true that innovation is also there for large organisations, for multi-national, world striding organisations in every field of business, for governmental organisations and for one-man bands. Innovation culture is not confined to any one entity and to think otherwise is to be betrayed by yet another entrenched belief.
To illustrate this, let us look at the innovation journey taken by CEMEX, a global building and cement company. In common with others in the building industry, CEMEX was affected by the global recession but rather than becoming further entrenched in cost savings and process, it took the opportunity to transform its culture. On its website the CEMEX approach is to be “constantly evolving in order to become more flexible in our operations, more creative in our commercial offerings, more sustainable in our use of resources, more innovative in conducting our global business, and more efficient in our capital allocation.”
Speaking to managementexchange.com earlier this year, CEMEX’s head of innovation, Gilberto Garcia, shared one of the reasons behind the CEMEX success story; the desire to move away from entrenched beliefs and action via the inception of a company-wide collaborative platform called SHIFT. More than simply a social network, SHIFT has transformed the organisation into one in which everyone in the company is actively engaged in conversation, debate and invention around key strategic issues. The result is improved employee engagement, rapid development of new products, rapid deployment and a reduction in research and testing costs.
Illustrating further the way in which CEMEX has embraced innovation, it has recently embarked on storytelling workshops for its employees. Recognising that stories are a powerful way of communicating, CEMEX is has turned to the power of stories as a way of further boosting its already award winning health and safety campaigns. Not only does this illustrate the way in which innovation can help businesses to look afresh at challenges it also illustrates the notion that innovation leads to a continuous desire to do more, be more, create more.
Innovation action point…
Having a culture of innovation is not the preserve of any one organisational type, field or size. Overcoming entrenched beliefs and practices can be a challenge but the rewards are there for those who persevere. By challenging management practices and moving to a cross-company collaborative way of working any organisation can become agile, responsive, innovative and more profitable.
Everyone says they want or need to drive innovation but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few and you’ve got a question, ask Cris on email@example.com or visit www.crisbeswick.com for more information.