How to Create a Culture of Innovation

Create an Innovation Culture

 

How do organizations revolutionize their products and services?

Is it possible to create a culture of innovation?

Is organizational culture linked to innovation and competitive advantage?

 

Soren Kaplan, Ph.D. answers these and other questions in his new book,Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation. After reading his book, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his research in the area of innovation, disruption, and corporate culture. Soren has been recognized as a Thinkers50 Global Thought Leader. He’s a keynote speaker, a consultant, and an author. You may have read his previous book, Leapfrogging.

 

“Competitive advantage is temporary.” -Soren Kaplan

 

What is Missing from Culture Discussions

Organizational culture has been the rage in discussions for quite some time. What have many of these discussions missed?

People have been talking about organizational culture for years. But few discussions on the topic have explicitly linked culture directly to innovation.  Even fewer focus on the integrated set of things that leaders can do that directly create a culture of innovation in a truly systematic way.

It’s one thing to create rewards for example. It’s another to look at how rewards, metrics, processes, and storytelling can all be used together to change culture for the better. The problem is that most leaders do things that both support and contradict a culture of innovation all at the same time, like telling people they want innovation but then not giving people time to innovate.

To many executives, culture has become a complex and mysterious topic.  Business and leaders have lost sight of the fact that organizational culture is actually pretty simple.  Here’s how it works:  Employees have experiences in organizations that are influenced by leaders’ conscious and unconscious decisions and behaviors. Experiences shape assumptions about what is both desirable and undesirable behavior.  Assumptions, in turn, influence and reinforce behavior.  It’s an ongoing cycle. That cycle can be either virtuous or vicious and can lead to innovation or stagnation.

 

Why Culture is a Sustainable Advantage

Share a little about your thinking of culture as a sustainable competitive advantage.

The Invisible AdvantageThe first reality in today’s disruptive world is that competitive advantage is temporary. Products, services, and even business models become commodities over time. If organizations do not continually invent and reinvent their competitive advantage, they risk being disrupted into obsolescence.  Given all the disruption out there, this fact is the no-brainer.

As a result of the commoditization of just about everything, culture becomes the only sustainable competitive advantage. Culture represents the norms and values that drive behavior.  When it’s focused on and reinforces innovation, it becomes the invisible secret sauce that drives employee engagement, business growth, and continuous reinvention.

The bottom line is that the soft stuff is the hardest stuff for competitors to copy.  The goal is to create an “invisible competitive advantage,” something I call your “Invisible Advantage.”

 

“The only defensible competitive advantage is your culture.” -Soren Kaplan

 

In what ways can culture stifle innovation?

Use the 3 Elements of a Good Story to Lead With Power

The Power of Story

When I was growing up, I spent many weekends camping with my Boy Scout Troop in pursuit of my Eagle Scout badge. One thing I remember about those trips was the campfires and the stories we told. From the scary to the hilarious, those stories created an environment as we entertained each other. No devices, no distractions, just stories.

We may live in a different time, but the power of story remains an important part of memory, of persuasion, and of leadership.

A few months ago, we spotlighted Procter & Gamble executive Paul Smith, who is now a speaker and trainer on storytelling techniques. His latest book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale is a powerful reminder of the power of story.

After our written interview, I met with him in person to continue our conversation.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

 

We discuss the 3 elements of a great story:

How to Win the Innovation Race

Change A Culture to Change the Game 

 

Why do some companies win at innovation while others fail?

How important is innovation to your growth?

 

From individual entrepreneurs to large global organizations, it seems everyone is chasing innovation. And it’s no wonder: Economists estimate that 80% of business growth comes from innovation.

So how do you develop an innovation culture powerful enough to consistently produce?

Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to Change a Culture to Change the Game. They are the Directors of Tirian International Consultancy and help create innovative cultures for a range of businesses.

I recently spoke with them about global innovation.

 

The top 25% of innovative companies grow 2x as fast.

 

The Pace of Change

How is the accelerating pace of technological innovation impacting strategy and innovation?

Andrew Grant: Most people would be aware of how the pace of technological innovation has been accelerating, but conducting the research for our book The Innovation Race has really highlighted this issue and made us think about the potential impact of this manic race. We have discovered that the pace of change is now so rapid that we are in an unprecedented position. It’s like there’s an automatic speed-up setting on the treadmill that can’t be changed, and if we’re not careful the pace will just become too much to handle. Since the rate of technological innovation in particular has become exponential, a whole new leadership strategy and approach will be required. Small incremental innovations will not be enough to keep up. It will also be necessary to look ahead and anticipate the next new trends. By constantly looking for breakthrough new ideas and being ready to implement them faster, it can be possible to stay ahead of the curve. Agile new systems and structures will need to be built that can respond rapidly and effectively.

What is sustainable innovative action?

Gaia Grant: There’s no point innovating for the quick sale and short-term success. Innovation also needs to be able to be sustained over the long term. And, at a deeper level, it should be socially and environmentally responsible for the good of all people and the planet. Sustainable innovative action requires a balance of focusing on both short-term survival and long-term strategy: On the one hand the organization needs to be flexible enough to adapt to new needs and trends, but it also needs to be stable enough to be able to ride out the stormy times with a firm foundation. This will be both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity for success.

 

Authentic Connections Foster Innovation

How is empathy related to innovation?

andrew and gaia grantGaia Grant: Many people will innovate from their own perspective. That is, they will decide what they think the end user wants or what will sell the best and innovate based on this viewpoint. But being able to see from another person’s perspective is essential for innovation that connects with real needs, innovation that can make a difference in people’s lives and in the world – or purpose-driven innovation – and this requires empathy. To really embody empathy, you need to be able to see what someone else sees and, more than that, to be able to feel what someone else feels. This ensures the innovation process is human-centric and user-focused rather than innovator-centric. What’s essential to remember here is that the empathy process should not be a shallow marketing tactic but rather an authentic connection that enables the innovator to address real issues and meet real needs.

 

“Purposeful proximity in clever collaborative spaces can create hothouses for innovation.”

 

How to Create a Culture of Innovation

How do corporate leaders foster and encourage a sustainable innovation culture?

Andrew Grant: Most people assume that innovation is all about openness and freedom, but this is only part of the equation. Sustainable innovation needs to focus on balancing both openness and freedom – as well as the antithesis of these. That is, while there certainly needs to be openness and freedom, there will also need to be some focus and discipline to effectively guide the innovation process. Maintaining this delicate balancing act is at the crux of a sustainable innovation culture. The strategic leader will constantly be adjusting the balance to fit the market changes along with the organization’s current needs and future goals. It needs to be an ongoing constant strategic action, not a set-and-forget approach. It’s situational leadership.

 

4 Paradoxical Challenges to Innovation