Thursday, April 18, 2013

Five Organizational Characteristics for Cultivating a Culture of Innovation

Openness, playfulness, adaptability, flexibility, and agility are five key characteristics to cultivate innovation.

Innovating is difficult. Innovating in a controlled environment is more difficult. Dissatisfaction is perhaps the first requisite to develop innovation as a culture. The second is to consider innovation not as a management buzzword, but defined ideation process with important organizational characteristics that helps increase the number of choices for innovation management. Maintaining a culture of innovation in an ongoing and sustainable way requires....

1. Openness

Innovation comes from the combination of need and culture of open to new things.

Cultural change in an organization begins with the involvement of the top management and their commitment to change. Provide the resources needed for thinking/working on things beyond the current assignment.
  • There are some keys characteristics to building an open culture, these are particularly required during changing times to keep a workforce open to innovation include a compelling future vision and the presence of transformational leadership; high organizational justice (trust); a participatory management style and positive organizational communications. 
  • An Easy to Deploy Innovation Process: At the very beginning of innovation process, people need to know how to contribute when they have creative idea or open loop feedback, Make sure the rank and file know that their ideas will be listened to when they come up with them. Without an expectation of a chance to express them, why bother to come up with new ideas? Then culture is just like water, more easily permeating around, the guideline may still come from top 
  • A Well-Set Recognition System: Employees should be encouraged to think out of the box, go beyond their defined roles and demonstrate their intellectual capabilities to bring positive change. A recognition system and high visibility for all positive contributions will help in creating a culture of innovation. Innovation must be appreciated. Culture Index actually measures the ability of people to be innovative. Who can come up with the new ideas? Then, who can implement them? Who will embrace change, who will fight it? If you want an innovative culture, then fill your organization with people who are innovative and embrace change 

2. Playfulness 

Innovation comes from the environment in which thinking & experimenting is stimulated.

Make sure people have some time to do creative thinking. It's very hard to explore "what if?" thoughts if 110% of your time is spent firefighting. 

  • Select talent for creativity.
-Select for diversity of background, perspective and personality;
-Encourage appreciative inquiry;
-Facilitate coaching up, sideways and all around;
-Change Agent to abolish hierarchy;
-Thought Leaders to break barriers;
-Select for empowerment, select for curiosity, select for low ego;
-Love the clash of ideas, love listening, love being wrong, love learning 

  • Build up Innovation Communities: To continuously innovate within organizations, individuals and groups need to connect and communicate more openly, easily and effectively. From there, they need to work together efficiently on implementing ideas to deliver value. This generally happens through a combination of a community that shares a common interest, using a consistent process while maintaining momentum and urgency. Communities enable organizations to reach out to frontline employees, management, customers and business partners on topics of mutual interest. Communities based on mutual interest encourage close collaboration. These communities can be engaged in offering ideas, enhancing these ideas by combining and building upon one another to shape solutions and work together to implement resulting innovations. This collective action enhances the innovation experience and leads to higher diffusion rate. Innovation communities, then, become a transformational catalyst to diffuse new kinds of thinking throughout an organization. 

3.  Adaptability 

Innovation is the collective capability to adapt to changes. Adaptability is key.

For every organization which loses the atmosphere of innovation to the processes of bureaucratic fossilization, another one is born where an innovating culture still flourishes.

  • Policies, processes and commitment (resources, not words) from top management should establish and foster curiosity, cross-pollination of ideas and a close connection to the market for all parts of the organization. Innovative organizations naturally have closer connections between functions and all functions and levels are more intimately involved with the market and each other on a regular basis (flatter social and organizational structures).   
  • The process is a participation framework and an end-to-end route map that can be adapted to the community needs. The main challenge organizations face when attempting to innovate is a consistent process through which they can develop an idea. Communities help develop ideas. But they need repeatable processes to evaluate, test and deliver those ideas. Adaptive innovation processes can provide the community self-organizing methods to collectively deliver results. It can also provide a consistent way for companies to evaluate the promised value as well as addressing: how to reduce risk and eliminate low-value projects, quickly and effectively? And how to manage a portfolio of investment in innovation projects for best return?      
  • Be Resilient: Be willing to take risks, give new projects a fair shake, a reasonable chance to succeed before cutting them off. Innovation should be built into annual goals and compensation schemes. Budgets for innovation should be protected; it requires a corporate willingness to accept that failure is part of the process. Questions like “What new thing did you try that didn’t work, and what did we learn from it” should be part of the annual performance review. 

4. Flexibility 

 Healthy process for innovation goes between flexibility and hard process. 

Innovation requires more thinking, analyzing, and knowledge leverage creativity with less scripted behavior so if organizations can build communities and let them pursue their passion in line with the organizational goals; the net effect is flattening social and organizational structures to allow for collective idea development and action with more flexibility. 

  • "Cross-pollination" needed to come up with the best new ideas. Make sure the work environment encourages collaborative thinking. On the other hand, the current trend toward VERY open workspaces with tiny personal work areas may be counterproductive - you also need some peace and quiet to work in. A balance needs to be struck. 
  • Adaptability to create mutual interest communities, to identify common, yet flexible processes that introduce focus and create a sense of urgency. It's easy to say you're flexible or playful and have a lot of innovative desire but culturally within the walls of an organization, what does that mean? How does it translate?
    1)  Greater Flexibility
    2). Don't be afraid to fail, until you succeed.
    3). Develop closer relationships with Customers, and listen to and act on their feedback and ideas.
    4) Work closer with customers and partners to develop innovative ideas.
    5). Be prepared to look outside the organization for ideas: Open Innovation Paradigm, etc.
    6). A culture of Innovation should be developed from the top down.
    7). Be prepared to develop an understanding of innovation models. Develop the level of competence to allow you to apply these techniques in the workplace. 
  • Finally, the urgency is the need for speed in innovation. Urgency serves as a driving force to address a specific problem or turn an idea into results. With a sense of urgency, innovation will truly enforce communication, solve business problems and enable business growth.

5. Agility 

Innovation efforts work best when focused through fast, rapid cycles to shape and test solutions.

Agile is about doing things better, faster and cheaper. Innovation requires a corporate willingness to accept that failure is part of the process, but rapid recognition of failure can be a positive factor in increasing organizational tolerance.

  • Rapid innovation cycles help organizations select or discard concepts and when selected, convert ideas into innovative solutions quickly. This allows communities to maintain momentum and demonstrate results quickly, so they can build on continued successes. In addition, building innovation communities help create a diverse asset base and inventory. The agility to leverage this asset intelligence speeds up the innovation process. This changes innovation economics by reducing development time and costs.  
  • Test Agile Innovation Internally:
1) Challenge assumptions: Use a different lens and compare how your management, product managers, customers, competitors see your products.
2) Look carefully at how you frame the problem: The answer differs by how an issue is defined
3) Chunk up the issue: It is often difficult to think of something new. Try focusing on what can be done to improve or enhance a product or try a new channel.
4) Borrow: In large businesses especially, there may be other departments with different ideas in the way resources create and support a product. Borrow these ideas to create a new product or service.

  • Experiment Agile Innovation Externally
1) Look at what others are doing in your industry: great ideas can be gleaned by viewing similar businesses in your own state, country or the other side of the world.
2) Look at other industries locally and around the world who may serve a similar target market: Use these insights to create/ modify your product and lead the way in your industry.
3) Query your non-customers: Why isn’t everyone buying your product? Are there consumers who are not yet in the category but could be if a suitable product was available? The outcome could lead to a whole new market to play in.
4) Review to the past: Some things from the past are circular and keep coming back in. Your business could take advantage through re-introducing the past in a new way.
5) Engage with futurists: Futurists can often inform you of what is coming, Big Data can also tell what customers need and perhaps future trend of products and services.

Innovation is not serendipity,  it takes right culture, bright talent and adaptive process in a continuous journey.


Hi Pearl,
I like what you say about “innovation involves the collective capability to adapt to changes - adaptability is key.” The ability to continuously assess the situation is vital. Persistence, resilience, courage: these are all important characteristics. Also, cross-pollination is critical.

But I have to argue quite strenuously with several ideas.
• There is no need for flatter organizational structures. Innovation works in any environment.
• You need resiliency because there will be resistance, but not because you will fail. Innovations should always be successful. If they are not successful, it means you did not anticipate the problems you were going to meet and that is a basic fundamental of innovation projects.
• Also, a culture of innovation does NOT need to be developed from the top down. It’s good if it is, but certainly not necessary. We have helped one low-level individual change a whole company. It took 8 years to develop the change momentum, but the company now is much more competitive and successful due to his change-vision.
• And finally, I do not agree with the need for speed. If your company culture needs speed, then you are correct in saying that “fast, rapid cycles to shape and test solutions is important.” But if you have a different culture, innovation needs to match that. There are thousands of slow-moving, reliability-based companies that create breakthroughs every day. In fact, think about the greatest prison breaks throughout history. They were all inventive, usually slow to manifest, in a tough and resistant environment, against great odds and with many constraints.

The great thing about innovation is no matter what the environment, no matter how entrenched (fossilized) the situation, no matter how much resistance abounds or constraints limit you, no matter what the culture is, no matter WHAT... the innovation can produce results.

The important point in all of this is that innovation can be mapped to any culture. While it’s not a mistake to map the culture to innovation, that is only one way to succeed. Your ideas about your five points are correct for certain environments and situations, but not at all necessary for everyone. Any culture can embrace and accept innovation and they can do it on their own terms.

Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More