Nurturing innovation in the workplace
Private matters, September 2012
Creating and nurturing a culture to promote innovation
Innovation – It’s the new buzz word; everybody’s talking about how to be innovative, the need to be innovative for survival, the latest and greatest innovations, the most innovative companies. The interesting thing is this is not a new concept; companies have been innovating for a long time and in fact some of the most innovative companies were set up in times of great economic crisis; for example; EA, GE, Texas Instruments, Adobe, Disney.
There are a huge number of companies who are seen as leading the way in innovation, all familiar names that trip of the tongue; Google, apple, 3M, Microsoft, IBM, HP but there are also the stalwarts that were innovating before the word was even in our language; Ford and Shell stand out as two prime examples. Shell was doing “Scenario Testing” in the 80’s, hence they were ready for the oil crisis and according to Jeremy Gutsche (CEO of Trend hunters) Ford’s motto was “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The key theme being that you can have all the powerpoint slides in the world and the best strategic plans but if you have not created the right culture that nurtures and rewards innovation you are dead as a company, a view held very strongly by Martin de Beer of Cisco.
In times of crisis consumers still consume, they simply choose differently how, what, why and where they consume; they have different drivers so innovation is crucial to survival and creating a culture of innovation within a company is KEY, so how do we do that?
Leadership and Vision are vital ingredients in the mix, everything comes from the top; companies must recruit visionaries who can lead and empower people in order to create a culture that thrives and grows. They have to create an environment that encourages and thrives on Diversity; Ursula Burns, President of Xerox says diversity is crucial to innovation as without it companies stagnate with no new ideas coming in through different points of view and perspective.
Companies that succeed and are innovative demonstrate an Appetite for Risk which is evident in their willingness to Embrace Failure. Companies than take risks “Fail Early and Cheap” they have structured repeatable processes with rigors and controls that allow them to embrace failure. Shell is a company that for decades has been innovating and failing, 3M regards failure as a normal part of their process towards success. Jeremy Gutsche talks about the “Hill of Opportunity”; companies get so good at making incremental improvements to the thing that they do best that they miss other hills of opportunity because the risk of failure is much greater and the cost much higher and it becomes easy to stay in the comfort of what one does best. Jeremy likes to refer to Smith Corona as an example of a company that was innovative for 100 years but then never took the step off the hill that they were on to find new hills.
Very important within the company is to develop a culture of Openness and Collaboration, creating an environment that promotes Team not Hierarchy; Tom Kelley of IDEO says that Team is crucial to innovation, as everyone has to have an equal voice in the creative process. Transparency in all things and a lack of political agenda leads to greater openness and willingness on the part of people to engage freely in an innovative process and feel energised by it.
Employing people who feel a strong sense of inner self and who are willing and able to challenge the status quo and who will resist the pull of the core rather than people who tow the line and give mediocre performance is a vital part of creating this culture of innovation. Encouraging people to spend time on innovation and “free thinking” and of course Rewarding these people for their efforts. Google is well known for its policy on wanting people to spend 10% of their time doing something they love to encourage people to follow their interests and be happier at work whilst also being more creative.
At the core of every successful company that innovates, reinvents and renews itself is a Deep and Intimate understanding of the Customer. The customer is everything, knowing what the customer really wants, offering it to them before they even realised they wanted it, creating demand where none existed previously, therein lies true innovation.
Ford said “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” – Get your culture right.
For more information please contact;
Senior Manager, Management Consulting
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