6 building blocks for an Innovation Culture

Zuloaga ImatgeArtículos, Blog English, Jay RaoLeave a Comment

“The elements that make up a truly innovative company are many: a focused innovation strategy, a winning overall business strategy, deep customer insight, great talent, and the right set of capabilities to achieve successful execution. More important than any of the individual elements, however, is the role played by corporate culture — the organization’s self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing — in tying them all together.” (The Global Innovation 1000, Why Culture is Key, Issue 65, Winter 2011)

Unfortunately, enterprise culture is a slippery concept. Scholars define it as the bundle of attitudes, experiences, values, norms, assumptions and beliefs embraced by managers and employees; these, in turn, guide behavior. Regrettably, these elements of the definition of culture are equally slippery, with the result that any executive who wants to create a culture of innovation will have no way to measurethe current culture; and without measurement, he or she will find it difficult, if not impossible, to identify a clear point at which to intervene and create positive change.

Recognizing this problem, in my recent book in Spanish “Innovación 2.0” I offer a model for capturing an innovative culture. I scoured the fields of organizational dynamics, leadership, behavioral science, corporate entrepreneurship and innovation to find theoretical frameworks and models that described organizational culture and culture of innovation. Specifically, I looked for instruments and assessment tools that were actionable; a primary need for all executives hoping to bring about change. In doing so, I found extensive research and models from academia, consulting firms and enterprises themselves, spanning over 30 years.

In the mentioned book I propose a culture of innovation model with the following six building blocks:

Values —What do we stand for in terms of innovation? We are not talking about the CEOs here; CEOs come and go. What will we fight for? What does the firm fundamentally believe to be true? What are our addictions? They could range from openness, sharing, teamwork, risk-taking, adore mavericks, and rewarding failure. Values are also a firm’s moral compass. Finally, Values are not what we speak—in our speeches and annual reports, but Values are how a firm spends its money and how and where the executives spend their time. We can see examples of this at companies like J&J, Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, IDEO.

Resources —How we support our innovation efforts? Who are the champions of innovation? Who are the experts of innovation that can help the firm navigate the journey? Who is the talent: creators, inventors, scientists, ideators and transformers? Do we provide the talent the Time, Space and Money? Time is needed to learn, experiment and pursue wild things. Space is a place to work and play with the ideas and opportunities and Money is needed to dabble in opportunities—spend a little to learn a lot. E.g., GE, IBM, P&G, 3M.

Processes —How do we get innovations done? Creating a funnel to routinely capture ideas; routinely sift ideas from opportunities; and routinely separate the weak from strong opportunities. When opportunities are found, start several small experiments, prototype rapidly, fail fast and finally, move to scale-up quickly when a golden jewel is found. E.g., P&G, IBM, Toyota, IDEO.

Behaviors — How do we think, approach and act in order to foster innovation? Everyone’s—executives and employees. Innovation Behaviors include being opportunistic, flexible, adaptive, collaborative, resilient, taking courageous decisions under uncertainty and dealing with ambiguity. One can learn, practice and coach these behaviors and best of all – no budget needed and no permission required. E.g., IDEO, Google, 3M, Wal-Mart.

Success —How do we measure our innovation output? What does success mean inside our firm? How is success measured—process and outcome? How are we rewarded? Do we tolerate mistakes? Is learning, experimentation, failure and feedback rewarded? Measures of success determine our behaviors and processes. When we feel successful, our environment, values, processes and behaviors get reinforced. E.g., Southwest Airlines, P&G, Google, GE.

Climate —What is it like to work in this firm? Is the company climate favorable to innovation? It is vibrant, and one that cultivates passion, stimulates and challenges people to take chances, fosters learning and reflection and doesn’t squash independent thinking. E.g., Google, 3M, Southwest, J&J.

Repeated success leads to further reinforcement of the building blocks and over time all these blocks get ossified and that is CULTURE! Hence, Climate and Success are outcomes/outputs. Values, Behaviors, Resources and Processes are inputs. Values, Behaviors and Climate are more right-brain oriented and Resources, Processes and Success metrics are more left-brain oriented. Most firms tend to do well on the left-brain stuff that is more tangible and easy to buy and implement. Universally most firms struggle on the “soft” right-brain stuff.

This book concludes by giving the reader how to take some concrete steps to embark on “The Journey”: Think Big, Start Small, Start Several, Scale Slowly or focus on the “soft” side first.

Enjoy the Journey!


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