What makes for an innovative working culture?

Big idea

A ‘culture of innovation’; an ambition that resonates with many leaders, particularly those undergoing transformational change within their organisation.

So, what are the perceived ingredients of an innovative culture and why is it such an important area for businesses to explore and nurture?

Chicken or Egg…

‘‘Culture is the net effect of shared behaviours, and therefore adopting innovative behaviours must come first. You change the culture by becoming more innovative — not the other way around.”

Rob Shelton, MD, PwC US

[/av_testimonials] On one side of the debate in a strategy & business article, Shelton describes a culture of innovation as ‘one that will encourage employees to take risks that lead to breakthrough products.’ Whilst it’s fair to say that a customer-focussed approach is key it’s important to not discount other areas of business that have the potential for innovative thinking and action. Wunker’s 2015 article emphasises the importance of mapping out these potential ‘innovation arenas’:

“By highlighting the different arenas in which employees can be involved with innovation, companies can help employees add value in areas where they have deep knowledge and a desire to get involved.”

Think big – actually small

It’s not just the big ideas that make a difference, more often than not the smallest of changes can have huge impact.

Deval’s Customer Think article sums it up nicely:

“It has often proved a better strategy to try and think of the optimising tweak rather than the game-changing ‘big idea’, even in companies which we see as the quintessential ‘big idea generators’.”

James Deval

Collaboration is King (or Queen) – ‘innovation is a team sport’

It may come as no surprise to hear that in all of this ‘culture business’ collaboration plays a key role in delivering innovation success. Those of you familiar with our work at Maier will know of our track record in establishing effective collaborative working practices across complex organisations (with great innovation, naturally). However, a recent study by Nielsen suggests that collaboration is but a pipe dream for many organisations due to ‘a striking lack of diversity among the people contributing ideas’.

The study showed that ‘teams of six or more people generated a substantially larger number of unique concept alternatives than teams with fewer people.’ Not exactly rocket science when it’s put that way but why aren’t we considering how you branch out with more boldness and risk taking to really capitalise on the diverse and rich talent across our businesses? No excuses really.

Changing mindsets – ‘the only places you see uncreative people are graveyards’

Mark Brown, Chief Executive of the Dolphin Index – an organisation which helps businesses create innovative workplaces – emphasises the importance of breaking down the misconception that only some people have the ability to be creative. In a recent article he suggests that by making creativity and innovation a core value and part of everyone’s job description, you’re one step closer to shifting a mindset and reinforcing how creativity can be applied to the operational as well as the ‘bigger picture’.

It’s all very well and good introducing a value, but how can you provide the tools to make it accessible? 

Wunder references Autodesk as a great example of an organisation who use innovation workshops to show employees how to ‘create business pitches that highlight the value of their ideas and demonstrate why Autodesk is uniquely positioned to implement the solutions’. A neat way of combining the rhetoric with a good dose of practical reality and application.

Freedom and responsibility – The Netflix Culture

The Netflix slide deck that surprised even its originators in going viral, with viewing rates over 15 million, is another fabulous example of how values link to culture, ambition and innovative day-to-day practices.

“Instead of a culture of blind process adherence we have a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility”.

With great freedom

Image Source: Peter Cauton – juangreatleap.com

We’ve been referencing it in many different ways recently to inspire and revolutionise Executive teams’ thinking and aspirations. We tend to not actually use all 124 slides – attention spans you know!!