The illusive ‘Culture of Innovation’ has been talked about a lot and is seen by some as a kind of holy grail and a panacea. The quest is also an adventure some see only suitable for Indiana Jones. Fraught with danger, roadblocks at every turn, enemies at every ‘stage-gate’ and invisible traps around every corner. However, building a culture where innovation thrives isn’t rocket science! The big problem with innovation is that it has for far too long been overcomplicated, shrouded in myth and legend, a black art only a select few have perfected. The reality is anything but that, so here’s a really quick starter for ten.
If you take a look at Clayton Christensen’s stuff around the ‘Innovators DNA’ there are some easy clues to pick up about why innovation doesn’t embed in organisations and hence how to go about addressing the issue. If you don’t know them, here are the four traits identified as the approaches successful innovators follow:
Asking probing questions that impose or remove constraints.
Interacting with people from different backgrounds who provide access to new ways of thinking.
Watching the world around them for surprising stimuli.
Consciously complicating their lives by trying new things or going to new places.
Most organisations have people who follow these behaviours but innovation cannot be down to individuals or teams of people to do off their own back without an environment that supports them. People will only act differently for a short term because they’re passionate, maverick or entrepreneurial and then they’ll either stop or leave.
So, as leaders, how many of us can say that we have built our organisations around these types of behaviours? Not many of us right, yet we wonder why we cant capitalize on latent innovation potential when we have organisations that fundamentally aren’t built to innovate and even worse block innovation at every turn.
An organisation itself must act like nature and provide the right ecosystem for people to be able to flourish, be creative, act differently, take risk etc. If we want people to behave in a certain way, i.e. Question, Network, Observe and Experiment then our organisations must behave in the same way otherwise there is a misalignment in behavior. As leaders we must build that alignment, only then will we be on the right road to the illusive Culture of Innovation’ and all that it has to offer.