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Innovation – Innovation Culture

Background
In the previous articles I looked at the processes for generating and implementing ideas and the factors that influence these processes.  I came to the conclusion that organisational culture is still the biggest influencer of these processes.  I have touched on the culture topic many times, but this time I want to do it in two steps, firstly looking at what an innovation culture is and then making it more practical by listing pragmatic things that an organisation can do to start changing the culture to an innovative one.
How to create an innovation culture
Let’s begin with Stephen Covey’s “start with the end in mind”, meaning let me first paint a picture of how does an innovation culture look, or how will you recognize it?  I like the explanation of Langdon Morris, co-founder of InnovationLabs, one of the world’s leading innovation consultancies: “Such a culture can be recognized as an organisation that is known externally in the marketplace as a genuine innovator, and equally that it is known internally among the people in the organisation as a dynamic, innovation-friendly place to be.
Organisations that have attained this culture produce innovations of all types – breakthroughs, useful incremental changes, and even radically new ways of doing business, and they do so with regularity. And actually, the concept of regularity is a good test to see if a company really has an innovation culture. How frequently are interesting new ideas, concepts, products, or services produced? If new stuff seems to be coming out all the time, in different ways, and if the internal discussion in the organisation is focused largely on innovation, then it’s likely that an innovation culture exists there.”
Think about this definition for a while in the Namibian context, which organisations come to mind…?  I obviously do not want to play any favourites here, but just think where your organisation ranks in this explanation of an innovation culture?
It is no secret that organisational culture is a big ship that turns slowly, but the sooner a business starts the journey of changing the culture, the sooner the results will be seen.  Here follows a list of things that I found very helpful in terms of starting to foster a culture of innovation in your organisation:  1. Wherever you can, whenever you can, always drive fear out of the workplace.  Fear is “Public Enemy #1” of an innovative culture.  2. Have more fun. If you’re not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is wrong.   3. Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions.  After asking different questions, ask them in a different way. 4. Ensure a high level of personal freedom and trust.   Provide more time for people to pursue new ideas and innovations.  5. Encourage everyone to communicate. Provide user-friendly systems to make this happen.  6. Learn to tolerate ambiguity and cope with soft data. It is impossible to get all the facts about anything. “Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts,” said Einstein.   7. Embrace and celebrate failure. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies.  The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don’t isn’t their rate of success, it’s the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline. 8. Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.
Next Time
I have looked at generating ideas, implementing ideas and the influence of organisational culture on these processes.  An issue that has come under my attention lately, and I think that many organisations struggle with, is how do you prioritise scarce resources between “business as usual” and innovation projects.  This is currently a hot topic in management journals and it is referred to as portfolio analysis and planning, the topic for next time.  I conclude with a quote I saw in a Dilbert comic strip and I must admit I found it quite amusing: “Large corporations welcome innovation and individualism in the same way the dinosaurs welcomed large meteors”.

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