Our Culture Governs the Greatness of Innovation Efforts

by Paul Hobcraft

Our Culture Governs the Greatness of Innovation EffortsManaging a fluid, rapidly changing culture that promotes innovation is complex. So often it is left to chance, left to individual experiment and interpretation, far too ad hoc in its design and progress. Culture needs a very conscious designing into organizations.

We certainly need to find better ways to encourage and obtain a higher commit to our approaches into building ‘culture’ and all it covers into our thinking; if we want to really have innovation deliver on its potential. Unless the values, norms and beliefs are not clearly thought-through and then consistently reinforced daily we constrain much for our innovation activities to not thrive as well as they can do. When we look to work across a consistent flow of initiatives to change, to explore, to learn from, any movement can simply wither and die from this lack of ‘total’ dedication to managing the culture and its environment well.

The question we need to ask of our management is this: “if you are wanting innovation then we all need to work through the determinants that encourage innovation together.” It is a strategic imperative, often ignored, that the art of communicating the aspects that contribute to “our culture and environment make up” be well thought through. If people are to be highly valued throughout the organization, then they need to be totally involved and encouraged to make their voices heard in building this culture. Then there is a greater likelihood that they will support and make innovation happen within their environment.

A certain commitment and a lack of patience

Building a culture for innovation greatness takes a lot of time, experimentation and honesty in learning and reflection. Sadly, management lack both patience and sustaining interest and fail in their commitment to seeing it fully through. How often do you see them getting completely side-tracked and move onto the next thing forgetting the importance of creating the right environment and culture within it?

I feel management is sometimes like grazing nomadic animals looking constantly for fresher grass, impatient for the green shoots that are appearing from their sporadic grazing. They have no patience for lasting cultivation.

Leaders have to set the style they want from an innovating culture

Leaders are in the best position to create the environment that determines the culture and from this comes innovations end result, the outcome they desire. Too little time is spent by leaders on thinking deeply about what type of environment they want, what type of culture they need, often it is left to chance, to others to evolve not by design but by chance and personal interpretation. How wrong.

Leaders who want innovation need to offer a positive, supportive environment where the attitudes, perspectives and beliefs are well articulated and communicated. Asking people to change is not a one-off event, it is a constant, daily ‘grind’ but if you provide the right environment and enablers that innovation requires, you can get a positive reaction and you then raise the cultural expectations. These raised expectations eventually translate into making the change needed for creating a culture for innovation. Organization culture is either a barrier or the real enabler to innovation, for it to come to life and thrive.

Offering the sum total

Culture reflects the sum total of a way of life. It provides the patterns, the values, the traits and behaviours shared within an organization that can make or break innovation. It clarifies what is possible, tolerates and allows for experimentation, for trials, for learning to take place. It creates an environment where trust can grow and confidence is channeled more and more into innovation experimentation, engagement and exploration.

Culture has the most profound influence on innovation’s success, it can’t be left to chance, it needs carefully designing and nourishing and this can only come from the top allowing it to grow in well thought-through and designed ways. This climate being built often cannot be touched yet the actions can be felt in multiple ways to promote that environment where innovation flourishes.

Fostering the right climate is critical

The fostering of the environment, the building of the culture to pursue innovation means different things to different people. Changing the environment has a great chance of changing people’s behaviour. A systematic planting of  ‘new seeds’ will eventually ‘yield’ an innovation result that ‘feeds’ off of this new culture that can multiply and replicate. Yet it does take this concerted and dedicated time and effort to constantly explore, adapt and amend as it is actually a ‘living culture’ that needs constantly feeding and nurturing.

It means providing the space to stimulate; a place to promote fresh thinking so the generating of new ideas is managed in a place that fosters interaction and collaboration. An innovation environment is made up of creating the positive atmosphere to encourage and nurture, to reflect and learn from failures that will inevitably happen.

You need to provide the connection points to link and communicate. To offer a place where it is the ‘norm’ to challenge, to explore multiple sources of ideas, to provide a process and guiding set of procedures to capture and translate different thinking. You need to build a place where multiple interactions and connections occur so as to make innovation real and effective by providing the right environment and conditions to explore and extract.

Connecting culture to innovation makes it highly touchable.

Culture runs through everything we do when we engage. We can ‘feel’ culture yet we can’t touch ‘it’ yet it always touches us in so many ways. Innovation on the other hand we can touch, we can see, we can strongly relate too, it becomes tangible when it moves from an idea into the realm of reality as ‘new’ to the world. When you combine culture and innovation in the right ways it becomes a very powerful force that transforms and prevails, it mobilizes and can galvanize us to great things.

It is when culture offers us a more creative environment, one that gives us a greater security than one based on living in fear and insecurity we grow in confidence, we open up our minds to increasing possibilities, we want to learn and experience and these matter to innovations ultimate success.

Innovation takes on a powerful identity from its cultural roots.

These cultural roots can transform attitudes into actions, these provide the source of raw energy that ensures a consistent delivery of the essential nutrients that feed the powerful, strong ‘innovation tree’ The stronger we nurture that tree then the eventual outcomes we all are looking for, in what we do – greatness in our innovation efforts – can be seen and valued, seen by others to admire, because the foundations are both well founded and strong from these cultural roots.

image credit: nike.com; youtube/findyourgreatnesscampaign/nike

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  1. Culture is an important subject. It is a delicate subject because it is one of the intangible assets in the “soft side of enterprise”.

    Firstly, talking about “the culture” is restrictive. How about the “unwritten rules” or the unofficial culture? how about the industry culture? how about the culture of the area in which the enterprise is active?

    Secondly, the corporate culture is NOT a stand-alone. It is one of the 5 of the core of the management system where it interacts systemically with the strategy fundamentals, with the systems of the management, with the structures of the organization, and with the shared knowledge.

    Thirdly, in our turbulent times, wisdom rather than formulas shows what parts of the corporate culture can and should evolve and what parts require stability amidst change. Corporations that are active in unrelated fields and in different parts of the world need to pay attention to this.

    For more on this, let me refer you to my new book “The Innovative Enterprise-How to transform a traditional organization in an innovative networking enterprise” Create Space 2013.

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