If there is one thing which Sir David Attenborough, Professor Brian Cox and other natural world presenters have taught us; it is that there is a lot more to the world than first meets the eye. Take the sea for example. A blue-green expanse of solitude ruffled by a gentle breeze has been transformed in our understanding into a vast soup of hydrogen and oxygen and trace elements, which not only supports a complex ecosystem but also acts as a regulator for temperature and weather patterns around the globe.
On a day-to-day basis we don’t stop to consider how complex the sea, or indeed anything else, is. If we did we wouldn’t get anything done. But whether we talk about the sea, a television set or an organisation; whilst we may not stop to analyse its every working part, we certainly notice when something goes wrong or conversely when something goes particularly well. And when it does, it is usually down to the culture of the organisation, that vast soup of “how we do things” which has been built up from every interaction with the organisation and which acts as a regulator for the product, price, service, reputation and perceived innovativeness of the organisation.
No matter how strong the vision, no matter in which direction the CEO and leadership team want to take the organisation; without integrating it into the culture the vision is just meaningless froth, whipped up briefly in a storm and then vanishing without trace. In our previous articles, part 1, “The first step towards innovation” and part 2, “Leading the way towards innovation” we looked at the importance of creating an innovation strategy and the ways in which the CEO and leadership teams need to take that strategy to the organisation. In this article we are looking at the importance of setting the innovation vision at the heart of the business culture.
As we do so let’s take a few moments to reflect on why innovation is so important. In an increasingly homogenous world, the main driver towards competitive advantage is in ‘how’ an organisation does things, not in ‘what’ it produces. This means that putting innovation at the heart of an organisation is not just a fluffy nice thing to do but a business imperative. So telling people to be innovative or creating an innovation team or department is not enough. The organisation needs to live, breathe and act innovation. In effect the entire organisational ecosystem needs to be altered so that innovation underpins every decision, every action and every interaction.
Because the change towards an innovation culture is so fundamental, it should be looked at in a holistic way. The change may not happen overnight, in fact we would be surprised if it did, but the journey towards creating an innovation ecosystem is one, which creates its own rewards along the way as employees start to embrace a new way of thinking. And whilst the drive to embed an innovation culture should come from the top, the importance of middle management and “leaders without a title” cannot be overemphasised, as they are the gatekeepers of the way in which employees engage with the new model.
Innovation culture, thinking differently, every move geared towards what we do being that bit different may not be an easy road for employees to travel at first. Out go rigid inflexible rules and in comes empowerment; out go silos and in comes collaboration and working together for the benefit of the whole. But the more that employees can become engaged in innovation, the more easily they will embrace it. First faltering steps will become a dance as possibilities are explored and successes marked until eventually the innovation model becomes so embedded in the culture that to step outside it would be unthinkable.
Without the sea we would be nothing; an arid barren planet left to circle the sun whilst alien craft probe our dust for traces of what might have been. With the sea we are alive on a world, which bursts with life teaming with energy in a complex ecosystem. Earth or Mars, innovation culture or no innovation culture; there’s really no choice is there.
To learn how Cris and his team can help you drive innovation inside your organisation get in touch.