Building a Culture of Innovation

How can an organization build a sustainable culture of Innovation?

Can creativity really be taught?

Is creativity & innovation just about throwing up a lot of ideas?

How can a creativity & innovation workshop help the participants on a daily basis?

 These are four key questions that we often get to discuss with leaders mulling a learning initiative targeted at encouraging creativity and innovation in their organizations.

From our experience of conducting many such interventions of what we call The Innovation Challenge, while there are never 5-easy-steps-to-success, especially while working on such organizational challenges, there are a few things that help make this journey a wee bit easier. Here are a few humble suggestions:

1) Any such initiative HAS TO start at the Top
Setting an agenda for driving an Innovation agenda – cannot and should not be done by the L&D (Learning and Development) team. Else, there is a danger that such an initiative quickly waters down to becoming a “nice-to-do” thing. Don’t get me wrong here – I am not questioning the effectiveness of the L&D teams. But this is not just another “learning intervention” – encouraging a culture of Innovation means giving people the license to ask a lot of “Why’s”. Without top management buy-in, this can soon seem disruptive to a business!

A few commitments needed before such an initiative is actually launched are:

  • Senior management buy-in and commitment on “why do we need to do this?”
  • A shared vision of “this is how success will look like”
  • A commitment to stay the course
  • An Executive sponsor for the initiative

creativity and innovation

2)  Address issues that deter a conducive team environment (for Innovation) to germinate
Before a farmer plants seeds on the ground, he makes sure that the soil is ready for receiving them. Similarly, talking about trying to build “a culture of Innovation” is all good, but a lot of ground work needs to go into preparing the stage for it. A few things that can kill Innovation even before it gets off the ground, and hence areas that organizations would do well to look into are:

  • Team dynamics (Silos, Politics, Trust, Complacency, Past success)
  • Busy-ness – inordinately high focus on the here & now
  • Team leadership issues (Micromanagement, directive styles, I-know-best syndrome)
  • Viewing fun & playfulness at work as a distraction
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3) Arrive at a working, tangible  definition of what “creativity” and “innovation” mean
What is Innovation really in “our” context? Is it the same as “brain storming”? Is it something that we need to do – or is it only for the R&D folks? Do we have time to handle all the “ideas” that come up?

A lot of teams preparing to undertake this journey, in our experience – have a hazy idea of what exactly the term means to the frontline employee on a daily basis. And yet, if this is not clarified – the “why” in people’s head as they participate in the intervention remains unanswered, which in turn brings down the motivation or drive to make such an initiative succeed.

A few messages that help people find meaning, is when Innovation is projected:

  • As something not reserved for the elitist few or only the R&D or Marketing teams
  • As a “problem-solving technique” marked by flexibility in thinking. Something that helps people look at day-to-day issues through different lens.
  • As not just throwing up ideas but taking it through to a logical conclusion
  • As something more often done collaboratively rather than individually

4) Put systems in place that keep the conversations alive & ongoing
When it comes to lasting organizational initiatives, nothing unfortunately comes easy. Hence, getting an external consultant (like us J) to help put a structure and kick-off the initiative is only the first easy step. Creating a culture however is a much longer endeavor. Critical to this is the question – “What are you doing to keep the buzz and conversations around Innovation going?”

A few tried and tested tools that organizations have found useful are:

  • Reward & recognition programs
  • Nominating Idea champions across all divisions
  • Keeping Innovation dashboards updated

As many Gurus in the organizational space now tell us, being “Innovative” is no longer a choice. It is an imperative. What is your organization doing to unleash this imperative?

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