Strategy & Execution

The Recipe for an Innovative Culture

By Scott Addis, CEO

Seth Godin, the internationally recognized best-selling author of Purple Cow and The Big Moo states that: “The only way to grow is to be remarkable. The only barrier to being remarkable is your ability to persuade your peers to make it happen. You will grow as soon as you decide to become remarkable – and do something about it.” In other words, be creative and innovative.

Establishing a culture of creativity and innovation is not easy. Think of innovation in terms of planting seeds for a vegetable garden or flower bed. The right combination of soil, water, sunshine, and air will determine how well the plants grow. For innovations to thrive, the conditions must be right.

The research of Beyond Insurance indicates that there are five essential ingredients to the recipe for innovation – leadership, acceptance of failure, openness, patience, and motivation.

Leadership

The innovative leader is a fearless visionary committed to backing bold ideas. He or she is keenly aware of the benefits of an environment where people feel comfortable and confident in voicing opinions about the firm’s business model. The innovative leader also understands the implications of rewarding creative thinkers.

The innovative leader encourages questioning, risk-taking, openness, and a healthy attitude toward failure. He or she encourages the staff to challenge the status quo through questions such as, Is there a better way? What if we...? What would be impacted if...? How would the customer react to...?

Many organizations – especially larger ones – have hierarchical structures that impede idea creation. The innovative leader recognizes this and responds accordingly. Innovation cannot flourish unless the barriers to creativity are removed in order to foster a culture of collaboration and the free flow of ideas.

Acceptance of Failure

Even the most beautiful garden has weeds. Innovative organizations must not only water and fertilize, but also kill off ideas that hold no potential for future growth. The acceptance of failure is a necessary step in the process of innovation. The willingness of a senior management team to be open and tolerant of failure encourages people to explore new ideas, take risks, and be upfront about problems.

It goes without saying that failure can impact the bottom line of an organization. It is for this reason that a “check and balance” system is required to spot potential problems so necessary alterations can be made. Open discussion and dialog is the best remedy to avoid costly failures. In innovative cultures, employees are encouraged to expose their ideas for early feedback and collaboration. If a creative idea does not appear to have merit, alternative strategies should be explored in a patient setting before the idea is put to rest.

Openness

FedEx has a corporate-wide initiative that it calls “purple promise” – each employee’s commitment to making the FedEx experience remarkable. This shared mission encourages everyone at FedEx – from employees sorting and delivering packages to those answering phones, maintaining planes, and developing new IT systems – to suggest ideas each and every day.

While innovative breakthroughs sometimes come from a single source, the vast majority of innovations draw on many contributors. Open-source innovation – the ability for a person to tap into the ingenuity of others – offers enormous potential for creative output.

Creativity flourishes in a vibrant culture that encourages people to imagine, think about possibilities, and have the freedom to innovate. Positive cultures have open channels of communication that encourage people to bring forward new ideas so they may be captured, vetted, and prioritized. These channels include, but are not limited to, casual brainstorming sessions, strategic planning sessions, suggestion boxes, and online tools.

Patience

The age-old adage “patience is a virtue” applies to the process of creative innovations. Patience is required if innovation is to thrive.

In The Big Moo, Seth Godin states “There isn’t a logical, proven, step by step formula you can follow. Instead, there’s a chaotic path through the woods, a path that includes side routes encompassing customer service, unconventional dedication, unparalleled leadership, and daring to dream.” In some cases, innovations take time because corporate infrastructure must be tweaked. History taught us that the automobile was a plaything until highway systems were built. The telephone system didn’t work until millions of miles of wires were strung. Innovative leaders demonstrate patience to let creative ideas ripen. “The Purple Cow is not a cheap short cut. It is, however, your best (perhaps only) strategy for growth,” states Godin.

Motivation

Creative ideas come in spades when people are motivated. An uninspired employee is not likely to wrap his or her arms around a problem. On the other hand, a motivated person can’t wait to find a solution to a challenging issue.

The keys to motivation include intellectual challenge, independence, and proper matching with a challenge. When an employee feels that work is meaningful, he or she will explore, design, and build. 3M used the practice of letting researchers spend a significant percentage of their time on projects of their own choosing. Google mastered a similar formula. 3M and Google noticed enhanced motivation when the employee was given ownership of a project that was appropriate and intellectually challenging.

The recipe to create an innovation culture – leadership, acceptance of failure, openness, patience, and motivation. This combination will create the one, two punch to knock out your competition.

Learn more about the author, Scott Addis.

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