“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Ferdinand Foch, early 20th century French military theorist
We’ve already established this basic truth: Innovation does not happen by chance. Innovation is accomplished consistently and systematically, by listening to the voice of the customer and having a process for delivering solutions. Now comes the part that most companies don’t get: without creating a culture of innovation, your most valuable asset, creativity, is doomed to die out.
One of my clients asked me to help identify the best practices of leaders who were the most innovative in his organization. In many interviews and meetings, there was very little discussion about brainstorming, generating ideas, prototyping, and the like—the kind of things most of us think about when we consider institutionalizing innovation. Instead, I heard what many of us would call excellent practices for leadership. My one-sentence conclusion: Excellence in leading innovation has far less to do with the leader having innovative ideas; it has everything to do with how that leader creates a culture where innovation and creativity thrives in every corner. Okay, maybe I cheated by having a sentence with a semi-colon but you get the gist in short form. (Scott Edinger. Don’t Innovate. Create a Culture of Innovation. Forbes.com, 2012.)
Most companies with exponential growth will tell you that it’s the culture of innovation that lights their fires- creativity is given a chance to run wild, burning a path and leaving in its wake the ability to solve problems and create solutions, both big and small.
Here are a few benefits that these companies enjoy:
1. More active and enthusiastic employees
Employees who are engaged with management, and with the process of innovation, are in turn more active and enthusiastic. Instead of trudging through the daily grind, they’re excited- invested in not only their daily work, but in the final product- the company’s success.
A stagnant workplace is a breeding ground for complacency. As job satisfaction increases, so too does the happiness of your employees. And when it comes down to it, we all know that great employees are your most valuable assets.
- Attendance improves
Did you ever have a job that you disliked so much you started dreading the work week on Sunday morning? There are two possible reasons for that. Either you’re honestly in the wrong job or your company is not embracing innovation. When the right mix of people are working together in a culture of innovation, employees WANT to come to work. That’s right; it becomes something to look forward to, ripe with possibilities for personal and professional growth.
- Solutions will be targeted to real issues
“When a company’s culture is centered on a common innovation process, the discipline exists to fully investigate the dimensions of their problems, needs or goals. Consequently, their developed ideas, solutions and actions will be more appropriate and effective.” Tim Callison, Vice President of Business Development at Connects Marketing Group.
This also applies to a company’s continuous improvement objectives. Continuous improvement and innovation go hand-in-hand.
- A flood of creativity
Innovation breeds creativity breeds innovation. To arrive at a culture of innovation, your company has to have invested in creativity, and as you move forward, creativity will become second nature.
A great example of this is Google’s ‘Doodles.’ If you’re a regular user of Google, you’ve surely noticed that sometimes the famously plain homepage is creatively altered for occasions ranging from holidays to obscure culturally significant events. There are even official Google Doodlers. How cool would that be?
Here’s an excerpt from Brian Padden’s Google ‘Doodles’ Reflect Company’s Culture of Innovation
Doodler Jennifer Hom said the team creates more than 300 Doodles each year in many different languages, but stays away from topics that are political or controversial.
“We basically think of anything that is innovative, artistic and nerdy, something that is appropriate for Google,” said Hom.
She said Doodle ideas can come from just about anywhere. Many, like the suggestion for an interactive rendering of a “buckyball” – a form of carbon composed of 60 atoms that looks like a molecule – come from inside the company.
“I never heard of what this was, but there were like 10 to 12 people in Google who are obsessed with buckyballs,” said Hom.
Google’s culture of innovation, the relaxed environment, the mix of work and play helps the creative process.
Doodle Engineer Khris Hom, no relation to Jennifer, animates artists’ drawings. He said he first got involved with the team as part of a program to nurture innovation and growth.
“My involvement started out as a 20 percent project, which is a phenomenon at Google, where engineers get to spend one day a week or 20 percent of their time working on whatever they want. So I was building some little animation, and someone from the Doodle team saw them and said can you do that on the home page, and I’ve been having a blast here since,” he said.
These Google Doodlers say the irreverent humor of the artwork reflects that culture of innovation and the idea that Google should be a fun place to work or visit online.
- Employees are capable of solving problems at their level directly and in real time
It’s no secret that everyone wants control over their lives, and it is no different in the workplace. People want free reign to do their jobs without constantly having to answer to a micro-managing superior.
In the culture of innovation, it is essential that employees are given this freedom- in fact it is one of the fundamental building blocks of such a culture. As long as the goals and outcomes are clearly defined, employees should be allowed to work as they see fit. With this autonomy comes increased confidence and the ability to solve problems as they arise.
- Employees explore personal improvement and skills growth
As the culture of innovation sweeps through your organization, employees become more confident and engaged. This, in turn, leads to many seeking ways to grow personally and professionally.
I’m a huge football fan, so this point makes me think of the great show “Friday Night Lights.” Coach Taylor came in and turned that program around; he made the players feel like part of a family, working towards a goal together. As a result, the players worked harder, not only on the field, but in all areas of their lives. They wanted to be better men and contribute all that they had.
- More fun!
To put it simply, if you’ve implemented a culture of innovation and you’re not having fun at work- you’re doing it wrong. When you’ve embraced innovation and integrated it fully into your daily work, fun is a natural by product. Creativity is flowing, opinions shared and collaboration embraced, whether in a meeting room or over a game of darts in your innovation space.
The bottom line: The innovation culture of a company is a complex recipe of many different ingredients. But if you get it right, the outcome is delicious indeed.