Creating a Culture of Innovation

Many companies aspire to innovate, but few of them do it well. There are many reasons why, but chief amongst them is the absence of an effective culture of innovation. Creating such a culture isn't easy and can involve many changes to the DNA of the firm.

Leadership is clearly a major factor. Innovation is associated with change which often means diverting resources to different activities. It also means creating a culture that is open to new ideas and one that doesn't punish failure. Holding leaders accountable for innovation can also be an important factor and may involve putting metrics in place to assess leadership performance.

Metrics can fall into two types; financial such as the percentage of revenues that come from new products and behavioral such as increasing collaboration across different groups; gathering customer input on new ideas and reaching outside the firm for new ways to move the business forward.

Collaboration is critical for a culture of innovation. However creative individuals are, networks generate cycles of innovation. One idea spawns others and so on.

People are important too. Some people are natural innovators while others are less so. Creating networks of innovators across different silos is a great way to generate ideas and ensure they permeate the enterprise. This may cut across the company's normal hierarchical structure. But it may also save the company from bureaucracy.

The innovation network should not be layered and should be as open as possible. It may stretch beyond the firm to leverage outside expertise. Different skills may be required to make the network work - research skills, analysis, project management, financial skills to assess returns and production skills to convert thought into action.

The network should inspire trust amongst its member and a risk free atmosphere to share innovation. This can be really tough because it often means challenging the status quo which can appear negative, self-serving or even political. There is also the fear of failure - a new idea floundering in the market - but we have to accept that only a small number of ideas may be truly successful.

Ultimately innovators are mavericks. They will always be attracted to cultures that celebrate their talents and where they feel most comfortable.

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