Creating a Culture of Innovation

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Creating a culture of innovation is not a mysterious process whereby creativity and practicality magically merge. Nor is it something that can be created via organization charts or suggestion boxes.

Creating a culture of innovation requires thought, effort, a high tolerance for change and risk, and the ability to combine traditional organizational arrangements with fluidity and non-traditional imperatives.

There are two key elements that make an innovatively-driven culture work:

  • Good ideas come from anywhere, not just from a “product development” group.
  • Everyone has a vested interest in the success of an idea; and everyone is rewarded for their contribution to the idea’s success.

Let me give you one example of how this might work. (Certainly, this is not the only approach; I can think of several off the top of my head.) But:

Joe (whose job is in tech support, or customer service, or wherever) is excited. He’s got his meeting with the Executive Product Development Committee, the group that vets new ideas from all over the company. He thinks his presentation is nailed. His company encourages a person with an idea to be its advocate, and Joe has spent weeks of his own time gathering the data to support his belief in this new product idea.

Two weeks later, and Wow! The Executive Committee, after some discussion and numbers crunching, agrees with him. So now the company will create a “Joe’s Idea Product Development Group,” with members from all the relevant areas of expertise. And Joe, as the idea’s advocate, is assigned to the group – full time for, perhaps, the first 4-6 months and then part-time after that. (In real life, of course, this depends on the product being developed.)

After a time, Joe’s Idea Product Group has the product designed, developed, and ready to go to market. The Group disbands, and Sales and Marketing (which have been part of the Group) take over.

At this point, Joe’s company does something very clever. It rewards everyone involved in the project, financially and with company-wide recognition. Everyone. Not just Joe and Joe’s Idea Group, but those people in the functional areas who had to pick up the slack when Joe and his Group were not available to do their regular jobs. And the executives who managed the areas that were short-staffed receive recognition as well.

Now, obviously, not all products that are brought to market are a success. Some are only marginally profitable, and some fail. Some, however, are not merely innovative at the margins. Some can become breakthrough products.

This is true for any product development process. But look at what this type of approach can give a company, beyond potential market share and revenue:

  • The vested interest in the success of the product is spread widely throughout the company, far beyond just management and the people directly involved in it.
  • Joe and all the people in his development group have expanded their knowledge base beyond their previous functional expertise, making them more well-rounded, more valuable, and (hopefully) more productive employees.
  • People in functions usually booked as expenses on the balance sheet have the opportunity to drive revenue, and be recognized and rewarded for it..
  • Cross-functional collaboration becomes a commonplace.
  • Employees throughout the enterprise – no matter where they fit in the organization chart – are motivated to be innovative and creative to the benefit of the company.

And that is a corporate culture of innovation.


This is the third in a series:  Part 1:  Does Success Kill Innovation?

Part 2:  What is a Culture of Innovation?

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