Status Quo Culture Versus Innovation Culture

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
Predictability Unpredictability
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

Innovation is the opposite of playing it safe, that’s why leading for innovation is different from maintaining the status quo in a few ways: leadership and priorities.

Leading for innovation means creating the conditions for others to be great. And leading companies are known as ambidextrous; optimizing the core business while also exploring the future.

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.