What is a Culture of Innovation?
A culture of innovation is a culture of controlled chaos.
We generally define “innovation” by its results: new products or services that can be brought to market. But the process by which successful innovation occurs is a delicate balancing of individual and group, of stray thoughts and methodical planning.
A culture of innovation tolerates people with large egos while demanding a respect for others’ egos. Ideas generally come from a single individual, not from a committee. Bringing them to market, however, is almost never an individual effort. Bringing ideas to market requires the marshalling of diverse and disparate organizational elements: finance, IT, marketing, often HR, and that most valuable of corporate resources – executive vision.
A culture of innovation, then, is almost an oxymoron in traditional corporate terms. It tolerates, indeed, it encourages, deviant thinking (or “out of the box” thinking in corporate-speak). It assumes that not all the next generation ideas will come from an appropriately labeled box on the organization chart. It encourages cross-functional collaboration. And it understands the value of creative failures since not all ideas are good ideas, and not all good ideas are successful in the marketplace. It recognizes that failures can lead to the next great success. (Thomas Edison’s famous light bulb quote: “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is a step forward…”)
But this creative chaos has to exist within a more conventional organizational context for the enterprise as a whole to succeed. The traditional organizational elements are essential to making the innovation a practical success, a success in the marketplace. It is not particularly useful to create a series of innovative products and services as a company goes broke. (Okay, it is useful for the company that takes you over.)
But creative chaos and organizational stability are two very different – usually clashing – world views. While both are necessary for an organization to prosper and to continue to successfully innovate and thrive in the marketplace, there is a tension between them.
It is how that tension is managed that divides the incrementally innovative from the revolutionary creative (and often astoundingly successful) enterprise. It is the tolerance, indeed the appreciation, and the ability to balance that tension that marks the on-going, ever-growing successful corporate culture of innovation.