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Here are five pointers to help you build a company culture of innovation and to spark innovative insights throughout its ranks. These principles, which I use onsite with my consulting clients, expand on work I’ve shared here previously that now strikes me as timely as we head into a new year.
1. Lead with a clear purpose. This might not seem, on its face, to be an innovation principle, but it’s actually one of the most essential. As soon as employees understand where you want the company to be heading and what their role is in getting there, you’ll find that innovative leaps, large and small, will organically rise to the fore. You’ll also need to build structures and processes to harvest this output, but to generate the output in the first place, it helps greatly if employees have a shared understanding of and excitement about your organization’s vision.
2. Expand your employees’ vision of what innovation is and where it is needed. Because of how the business and popular press cover innovation, your employees likely think of it as only occurring in areas that directly touch customers or the public (self-driving cars, customer-facing AI, and the like). But innovation is needed in three distinct areas, and once employees understand this, you’re far more likely to receive their contributions:
- Product (what you sell).
- Process (how you make what you sell).
- Business model (how your company is conceptualized and organized).
Tomas Gorny who helms Nextiva, a communications and customer platform company based in Scottsdale, has distilled this principle down to three words: “opportunity is everywhere.” He elaborates: “Ideas come from anywhere. But these ideas may get discarded, or disregarded–rather than shared and built on–by even the smartest most innovative employees, until you get across to your team that opportunity can be found everywhere as well.”
3. Honor thy mistakes.This principle was famously set down by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt on one of their Oblique Strategies cards as “Honor thy error as a hidden intention.” Apologies to Eno and Schmidt, but I doubt that most errors indicate a hidden intention (though a Freudian analyst would think so). Nonetheless, some of the best innovations come from serendipitous accidents rather than linear progression, and it’s essential to encourage your team to embrace these accidental discoveries and apparent mis-steps rather than to disregard them because they were unintended.
4. Embrace negativity (sort of). Yes, you want to employ positive people, particularly in customer-facing roles. But encouraging an attitude of “everything is fine the way it is and we should all be content (and so should our customers)” is guaranteed to squelch innovation. Ultimately, such an attitude risks leaving your company as a sitting duck for more innovative competitors to set their sights on, competitors who recognize that your way of doing business is less perfect that your Pollyanna attitude assumes.
5. Tamp down on any “gotcha” elements in your culture.If, within your company culture, supporting the status quo is safer than suggesting improvements, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Innovative experimentation requires a willingness to look silly in the short run, and to risk failure in the longer run as well. If neither of these are okay in your company’s culture, then innovation is unlikely to thrive. Gorny: “You need to approach your duties as a company leader with the right attitude–realizing, in particular, that making large bets and looking for radical innovation are always risky propositions. So it’s important to make these less risky on a personal level within your culture–by supporting the people who go out on a limb to bring you new ideas.”
Additional innovation and culture-of-innovation resources for readers:
• To see how a market-leading organization goes about encouraging and sustaining innovation, you may like my article on the approach USAA takes.
• You may also enjoy a document I’ve put together that’s designed to spark innovation in your organization. 25 Essential Innovation Prompts,” let me know and I’ll send it your way.
January 12, 2019 at 07:07PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs