Culture of Innovation

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I wanted to revisit an article that I first read a few years ago to see if my perspective had changed.  “You can’t impose a culture of innovation“, was Jeffrey Phillips perspective on whether or not an organization can be innovative.  I want to explore a different perspective than I did last time  I wanted to focus on this:

Most corporate cultures are built for efficiency, not innovation.  So when people blithely talk about “building a culture of innovation” they forget the old saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.  Rome was built over centuries, one brick at a time, and was constantly in flux.

I’ve discussed before cultural momentum and how in order to make changes you need to turn the monstrosity known as the organization cultural.  And it’s hard.  Very hard.  An organizations culture is somewhat resistant to change, public sector more so than private sector due to the lack of competition.

There’s two things that we are actually looking at:

  • Innovation
  • Acceptance of Innovation

An organization can be extremely innovate, but will the culture accept the innovation.  Some organizations are rife with ideas, but when it comes time to implement them there is little to no acceptance of the ideas.  Or vice versa, the culture may be accepting of innovation but the ideas just aren’t there.  (This normally happens in an industry that is over saturated with competitors or the market is just moving beyond.  How many 8-track manufacturers are still around?)

An organizational culture doesn’t like change.  Most people don’t like change.  They take the same route to work.  Buy the same coffee.  Talk to the same people.  Some might call it a rut, but to most people it is “comfortable”.  Change is not comfortable.  Change is taking that comofrt, tossing it out the window and then jumping after it.  Change means risk and regardless of what you might want to hear, most organizations are risk adverse, with, once again, public sector in many respects being more risk adverse than other organizations.

Jeffrey Philips believes that if you do the following you will be more successful at evolving into a culture of innovation.  (Remember Rome?)

  1. Focus on evaluation, compensation and rewards.
  2. Remove hazards and uncertainty.
  3. Define a method that people can use, learn and become experts in.
  4. Training.
  5. Identify your best innovators and recruit more of them, both new graduates and experienced hires.

Cultural change is something that hundreds of thousands of older organizations want to achieve.  The world is changing and the Internet is driving a good portion of that change, whether it be in the distribution of media, dissemination of information or new ways to look at pictures of cats.  The world is changing faster than organizations can change their culture and for many companies that change is catastrophic.  Failure to adapt, failure to be innovative has demolished some companies and they no longer exist.  Back in the ’70’s this was rare, almost unheard of.  The past ten years?  No company is too big to fail.

Innovation is a cultural journey that requires not just leadership and understand from the executive team, but from every level of the organization.

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