5 “Next” Practices for a Culture of Innovation

brain imageHave you heard? Innovation is the key to future success!

Right…as it’s stated in approximately 275,000,000 sources – safe to say it’s obvious.

What is far less obvious? How.

While creativity is most certainly an intimate part of any innovative outcome, it does not always require a gifted artist’s skill. What it does ultimately require is leadership. And, more often than not, the result of innovation will define the leader.

Feeling a little pressure?

You need to get comfortable with the pressure, for in the words of Brene Brown, “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” To mitigate the cost of failure in all its likelihood, it’s wise for a leader to create both a culture of innovation to ensure a steady stream of creative ideas and a guidable, if not completely predictable, innovation process. While Simon Sinek may be correct in saying, “There is nothing efficient about innovation.” it need not involve chaos theory to predict a potential outcome.

A culture of innovation requires more a particular mind-space than a cool, novel workspace. Hold-off on hiring the interior design wizard to create some provocative office plan. What people really need is to believe there really are no bad ideas, per se, just ineffective applications and outcomes. The physical environment in which people work has a half-life; the quality of a team’s mind-space gives life.

From a leader’s position it is critical to cultivate specific behaviors if they want to create a culture of innovation. Behaviors, for the most part, are driven by beliefs. While people must truly believe there really are no “bad” ideas, this belief must be supported in very clear and meaningful ways.

5 Next Practices to Create a Culture of Innovation

1. Encourage wild and unconventional ideas.
The wild and unconventional are ingredients in the innovation recipe. Unconventional is obvious, in that the result is always a break with convention. “Wild” ideas, particularly, are the basis for disparate connections, and it is through these connections that genius will germinate. Not sure this actually works? Pierre Omidyar launched eBay from the impetus of his fiancée’s challenge finding Pez dispensers.

2. Defer judgment.
Ban the phrase, “That’ll never work”, and anything like it. Substitute with, “What if we…”, “I like this piece…”, “Give me another example of…”. The earlier in the process people pass judgment, the more likely they are to stifle ideas, or at least the sharing of them. The more people embrace each other’s contributions and ask questions, the greater the commitment to each other and the culture.

3. Cross-pollinate.
The extent to which you are able to include people with very different expertise, experience and interests will influence the quality of the innovation process. It will also serve to break down assumptions, stereotypes and silos, while creating understanding, loyalty and regard for each other. No one has a monopoly on ideas; no department (marketing) has sole responsibility for creating and using them.

4. Stay focused.
It’s tempting to discard an idea in the development phase for the sake of another that appears more interesting and exciting. The shiny object syndrome – keep in mind it’s not just for leaders. Some of us are more susceptible to this behavior than others. When a leader’s focus is distracted or fragmented it is likely they will take people with them and derail the process. To the extent this is your situation, prepare to share and eventually hand-off ideas to others better suited to the innovation stage at hand. Maintain a role of igniter, not distractor.

5. Promote continuous intellectual stimulation.
Past successes do not guarantee future results – no fine print here. Feed your people and yourself. Sponsor and participate in activities and events with your team, encourage and support charitable initiatives as an organization, create a constantly changing schedule of “fun” and learning.
Variety is not only the spice of life; it’s the ingredient that adds essential flavor to the innovation recipe. Be mindful though, like a spice, not enough will make the experience boring and bland; too much can overwhelm the dish.

Make creativity and innovation parts of your team’s DNA, and you will ensure your organization’s survival and growth well into the future.

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