How to Build an Innovation Culture

Two things business leaders know: change is the only constant, and novel problems require novel solutions. The modern IT world is one built upon the successes of its predecessors—each new advancement comes on the back of innovation. Without innovation, organizations become stagnant. And stagnation is the death spiral to becoming obsolete.

In a world that moves as fast as the tech industry, standing still is like signing your death warrant. Succeeding in the modern business world requires organizations to not only keep up but set the tempo for the industry while making competitors fight to match them.

What is Innovation Culture?

Put simply, innovation culture is a business environment that promotes the generation of new ideas and methods. Innovation culture is about creating an atmosphere that:

  • Encourages Ingenuity
  • Empowers Creativity
  • Understands the Value of Taking Risks

Encouraging Ingenuity

Encouraging ingenuity from your team will help you tap into a nearly limitless resource of new ideas. Ingenuity is any combination of being clever, inventive, or unique. In the workplace, ingenuity shows up when you ask questions like:

  • Why do we do this process in this way?
  • Would a process be better if we changed it?
Encouraging Ingenuity

But you can only utilize this resource to its fullest potential by establishing your organization as one that values input from all sources. Do you encourage people to ask these types of questions? How do you respond when they do?

Ingenuity is the foundation of creating a culture of innovation because you never know from where the next great idea may come. The concept here is that the more people feel inspired to innovate, the greater the chance of finding that idea becomes.

Empowering Creativity

Empowering Creativity

Encouraging ingenuity is all about creating an environment where ideas are valued and everyone feels like their opinions are heard.

Empowering creativity is about taking the next step beyond ideation: moving forward with concrete plans for how those ideas can be put into action.

Innovation culture is about more than just posing what-if questions. It’s about taking those nascent ideas and forming them into actionable plans with realistic goals and timelines. It’s about:

  • Building upon the ideas each person presents.
  • Considering what the implementation of those concepts would look like.

Taking Risks

For an innovation culture to be truly successful, the organization must be willing to take new ideas and run with them. Not every idea will make it to this round, but some must. Of these, some will fail, and one or two might win.

Prototyping and testing new ideas is one of the best ways to get a practical handle on the viability of the new approach.

Taking Risks

Taking risks and giving people room to fail is the only way to ensure that the people within your organization aren’t afraid of coming up with new ideas and putting them into action. Failure is an invaluable tool for learning, and this type of learning process should not be ignored by organizations looking to maximize their potential.

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How to Build an Innovation Culture

We talked about how successful innovation cultures encourage ingenuity, empower creativity, and take risks. But creating an innovation culture requires more than lip service. Much like DevOps is more than a way of structuring teams, creating an innovation culture requires organizations to change the way they think and the policies they maintain.

It’s not enough to send out a memo and install a few suggestion boxes. Fostering an innovation culture requires the participation of everyone within the organization. Innovation can come from anywhere, and the only way to create an atmosphere where that can happen is by making everyone feel truly heard.

The key to enacting any changes is communication. Transparency and the breaking down of traditional hierarchies will empower everyone within your organization to take an active role in forging the future of the company. Questions to ask yourself and your organization:

  • Are you supporting innovation through research & development?
  • How does digital transformation incorporate innovation?
  • Do you explicitly call out innovation efforts, perhaps through an innovation lab or innovation outpost?
  • Do any roles focus on innovation, such as the Chief Transformation Officer?

Creating an innovation culture cannot be achieved by simply establishing someone as an “Innovation Guru” or by forming an “Innovation Team.” Ideas should flow freely throughout your organization and everyone should feel like a valued member of the team with a personal stake in the success of the organization.

People need to be provided with a structure that supports the formulation of ideas while still having the freedom necessary to put them into action. Challenging the status quo requires risks to be taken and everyone within your organization should feel encouraged to test their new ideas. Failure should be anticipated but not punished as change rarely comes easily. This, however, doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions.

Accountability and personal responsibility are key factors for inspiring people to invest themselves in the future of the organization. If people have no sense of ownership over their work, they will be far less likely to meaningfully invest in their roles.