Does your business have a culture in which innovation thrives? Are people challenging the status quo and being encouraged by leaders to take risks in pursuit of innovation? Or is the opposite true, whereby people don’t take time to listen to new ideas and suggestions?
Building a culture of innovation is hard work. However, the scientific research into how to create a culture where innovation thrives is both plentiful and precise. Following are five of the most impactful drivers of an innovation culture.
1. Ensure people feel challenged by their work
Feeling a strong sense of challenge in one’s work is a critical driver of innovation. Challenge refers to people working on tasks that are complex and interesting — yet at the same time not overly taxing or unduly overwhelming.
It is important that you don’t simply think about how to give people (including yourself!) the biggest possible challenge. Instead you should ensure that the level of challenge you set is one that is achievable. On the flip side, don’t set tasks that people can complete with their eyes closed.
2. Stop seeing failure as a dirty word
Within many organisations, failure is seen as an unacceptable outcome. Failure is generally thought of as a dirty word. When it does happen, it gets swept under the carpet. But being able to acknowledge and learn from failure is a huge part of building a culture where risk-taking is tolerated and where innovation can thrive.
Leaders need to think about ways they can signal that risk-taking is an acceptable part of business. Talking openly about failures and what can be learnt from them with their team should be done regularly.
3. Experimentation before implementation
When thinking about how your company approaches innovation, ensure that experimentation is a mandatory step. Rather than just going straight from idea to implementation, you should first run experiments. This involves setting hypotheses as to why you believe an idea will add value to the customer and creating a minimum viable product (MVP) – the most basic version of the idea that will still allow for learnings. You can then set up an experiment to test your hypotheses using the MVP and based on the results, iterate or change course accordingly. Experimentation is a very effective way to help reduce the risk of new innovations.
4. Autonomy – loosening the reigns
Many researchers have found that creativity is dramatically enhanced when people are given the freedom to decide how they do their jobs. When people feel as if they have a choice in how things can be done they are significantly more likely to engage in trial and error and, through this, find more effective ways of doing things. Just be sure to set clear goals, as the autonomy effect is strongest when people are clear on what you want them to achieve.
5. Debate – and welcoming all views
One of the factors that has been identified as critical for creating a culture where innovation thrives is ensuring that different points of view are encouraged and that ideas are regularly debated. Lead by example and encourage others to debate and discuss ideas that you bring to the table – actively encouraging different view points will strengthen your innovations significantly.
In addition, avoid the temptation to recruit people who are just like you – doing so will only discourage debate and encourage homogeneity of thinking.
By starting to keep an eye out for innovation blockers and having an awareness of what is potentially killing innovation in your organisation, you will be able to identify what steps you can take to ensure that innovation thrives within your company.
About the author
Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, the innovation consultancy that assesses and compiles the AFR Most Innovative Companies list. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives. She previously wrote Customers aren’t the only beneficiaries of Australia’s most innovative companies, The secrets of a successful innovation strategy and Continuous deployment – a critical ingredient for innovation.