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Sparking an Innovation Culture

One of the problems with fostering innovation in a company is that managers get too tied up in creating processes when innovation is really about adopting the correct philosophy.


Ian Anderson, Creative Director


Corporate culture can be compared to that of a family unit, with managers behaving like parents toward their staff. Yet this kind of overtly directive culture inhibits staff and stifles innovation. Employees are mostly told what to do. They’re told to be innovative. And even when senior managers say ‘It’s OK to fail’ and challenge the status quo, the inspired employee may find his or her ideas and efforts are too readily quashed.

Contrary to popular opinion, ‘big ideas’ are rare in corporate life. They mostly happen in places designed to stimulate new thinking, such as research laboratories. Big ideas rarely just happen either, they will develop over time and as a result of iterative phases among networks of like-minded thinkers e.g. Watson and Crick’s work on DNA and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Even Darwin synthesized the thinking of the great biologist and anthropologist Alfred Russel Wallace before making the final leap that became the Theory of Evolution.

All over the world, millions of small and local innovations happen every day – people finding a better way to do something – to solve a problem, to achieve a new goal, to learn something, or to improve a process or product. These small innovations have a cumulative effect that drives our desire and ability to innovate.

nfpSynergy survey found that 70% of chief executives thought their organization was innovative, but only 20% of staff agreed. Despite this disconnect, these same employees can (and do) show enthusiasm and innovation in their family lives and their non-work activities. They just need a reason to believe, a clear mandate to act, and a support network to make it happen.

Coming up with ideas may take time and may even seem at odds with productivity and efficiency, but for creativity to flourish, employees need to see your corporate philosophy in action. They need to feel reassured that it really is OK to question existing practices, to try new ideas (however unusual), and to get it wrong without fear of retribution. It’s not a competition. It is a group mindset.

Some will be uncomfortable with this mindset. It is a ‘soft management’ issue – difficult to justify to bosses and difficult to demonstrate benefits. If you are skeptical of innovation, ask yourself “What are the costs of not innovating, while change happens around us”.

All motivated employees want to excel in their work, and these valued employees have an innate desire to succeed. Providing motivated, successful employees with the belief that their thoughts and ideas are valued and will be listed to, helps to drive innovation. The skill and potential for creative thinking from your staff are probably already there and of a pretty good standard. It just needs to be nurtured and intelligently managed.
Don’t think about innovation as an initiative but look at it as being a unique and inherent feature of your business. It takes time to foster an open-minded culture of innovation so be realistic with expectations, nurture them, and give them time to grow.

Even companies like Apple didn’t invent breakthrough discoveries. They took existing products and put them together in novel ways, to drive interest and redefine consumer needs.

It is in this approach that the secret lies! Get your staff to look around and see how they can use existing ideas, processes, and inventions and refine them; or bring existing ‘things’ together in new ways to create ‘something new’. Not only is that possible and feasible for employees to see and understand, but it becomes easier to manage as well. The end result is a practical, clear innovative philosophy that any business can use to thrive and live by!



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