Building a Culture of Innovation – Part 2: The Pillars of Innovation

This article will provide an answer to the question “How can I make my company culture more innovative?” There are certain behaviors which I have found to support innovative company cultures upon which if leaders build their company around, would enable them to build a better and stronger and enduring company.

The three pillar practices shared in this article will help you create a  conducive work environment for idea generation, enhanced productive behaviors, and greater imaginative thinking.

In part 1 of Building a Culture of Innovation, I defined innovation as a tweak that creates incremental value by providing a new or better solution to a problem. I also gave examples of some corporations that have used innovation successfully.

A question-friendly atmosphere
Innovation is often birthed by curiosity. Businesses that have been truly innovative create a work environment that promotes curiosity and the people are given room to challenge the status quo. Sadly, several leaders reward employees for knowing what they are expected to know, ‘the right answer’ instead of being encouraged to think original thoughts.

When an organisation has imbibed the culture of innovation, they tend to reward employees who are curious and ask more questions – especially “why” questions because these questions are signs of a willingness to understand. Leaders who are open to the “why” question tend to build an environment that is open to innovation.

The culture of innovative behaviors
Smart experimentation and intelligent failure, two innovative behaviors, both are common in an environment that’s conducive for innovation.

Smart experiments usually result from a combination of the best information available and curiosity while carefully managing risks and expectations. Something that puts the core business at unnecessary risk, or that’s poorly or hastily planned, isn’t a smart experiment.

As pointed out in the previous post, innovation is inherently risky. Because smart experiments usually fail and have to be revised severally to achieve success, leaders who punish every failure tend to suppress innovation while those who reward intelligent failures. Those for which downside risks are well-managed and that produce valuable learning, inspire far more innovation from their teams.

The practice of imagination
Because innovation requires associative thinking, linking ideas that result in non-obvious solutions to problems, imagination plays a great role in successful innovation. Imagination nurtures the ability to see nonlinear connections.

Airbnb, an online room letting service that’s reinventing the travel-lodging industry is a great example of nonlinear, associative thinking. The company was launched by two men in their 20s struggling to pay the rent for their flat. Their non-obvious idea was to rent out three airbeds in their living room to attendees of a conference and to serve breakfast. The company was voted Inc. Magazine’s 2014 Company of the Year for its success in not only building a disruptive business but also challenging entrenched interests and changed many people’s lives for the better.

Four steps for leaders to take
Being that innovation isn’t easy and requires time, experimentation, and patience; some of the steps a business leader can take in order to rightly position their team for innovation.

Always reward people for the right things: Being too strict with your employees discourage innovation. Make every member of your team understand that smart experimentation and intelligent failure would be rewarded.

Encourage open discussion: When you state clearly that you do not have all the answers and appreciate inputs and new ideas from all members of the team, it helps to promote open discussion and true exploration of a subject.

Promote diversity: Research has shown that diverse teams are more innovative and as a result, endeavour to build your team with people of different genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, religions, and ages. The high variation in perspectives will encourage unconventional thinking.

Encourage broad exposure: Take out time to encourage your people to gain exposure and sometimes take the initiative to expose them through attending conferences, broadening their networks, and increasing their knowledge.

About the author:

A founder of multiple startups Hader Ali is an innovation & business consultant.

Hader Ali Consultancy works with startups, SMEs, and large organisations. Specialising in business strategy, product/service development, sales & marketing.

To future-proof your business. Hader Ali Consultancy will work with your company to create an innovation portfolio by providing a framework for structured innovation. All while creating an ecosystem of ideas and a culture of innovation.

Follow me on LinkedIn & Twitter @HaderA1i or get in touch for a free consultation.

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