What does a culture of innovation look like? Last week I gave a talk at an event on the foundations of a culture of innovation. Instead of telling you what a culture of innovation looks like (they’re all different but share habits), I focus on what all organizations do to impede it.
A great way to think about innovation culture is to invert the common question “what do we have to do to innovate?”; to “what are we doing to impede it?”.
You don’t innovate by adding more activities to what you already do. You innovate by eliminating those activities that impede it. Yes, organizations get in their own way just like people do. Innovation has many enemies that act as inhibitors to innovation; the biggest enemy being your existing culture. Simply pointing out these enemies isn’t enough, you have to create mechanisms to combat them. And most of the challenges are related to what management rewards and punishes, which drives people’s behavior.
Below is a table, taken from a PDF on creating an innovation culture, that compares a status quo culture versus an innovation culture:
|Status Quo Culture||Innovation Culture|
|Seek stability||Seek novelty|
|Focus on core competence||Focus on edge competence|
|High success rate||High failure rate|
|Reinforce organizational hierarchy||Reinforce organizational networks|
|Fear the hierarchy||Focus on creative tension|
|Avoid surprises||Embrace surprises|
|Focus on inside knowledge||Combine inside and outside knowledge|
|Easy to live with||Hard to live with|
|Corporate politics||Moving the cheese|
|Efficiency through standarization||Efficiency through innovation|
|Extend the status quo||Abandon the status quo|
|Avoid change||Embrace change|
|Measure stability||Measure innovation|
|Look for data to confirm existing management models||Look for data to contradict existing management models|
|Look for certainty||Embrace ambiguity|
Innovation is a code word for leadership
Leading companies with an innovation culture put purpose and people first. Their culture is characterized by a drive to always be learning and getting better, operating with a learn-it-all attitude; not a know-it-all attitude. Seeking out new challenges, driven by a burning desire to deliver a better future.
Also published on Medium.