By Janice Francisco, CEO, Principal Innovation Consultant, Facilitator and Coach, BridgePoint Effect
Given that innovation is a leading indicator of an organization’s ability to sustain success, it’s understandable why so many organizations are focused on how to develop a culture of innovation and identify “building a culture of innovation” as a key organizational strategy. Unfortunately, in most cases, the effort stops there; leaders aren’t taking the steps necessary to make a culture of innovation a reality.
To bridge this divide, I’ll share my experience and insights from working with organizations that are focused on building cultures of innovation. If you’ve been tasked with helping your organization understand how to develop a culture of innovation, this should shed some light on what’s involved and will help you get started.
Let’s start by first defining culture and innovation.
What is Culture?
Culture is “the way we do things around here.” It drives our behaviour, how we innovate, how we service customers and how we engage stakeholders. Culture is complex, and is formed through:
- The vision we aspire to and the noble cause we understand we’re contributing to in making it happen
- the values we hold and how we put them into action
- the practices we follow
- the people we engage in realizing our vision and acting on our values
- the narratives we tell about who we are, what we do and how we do it – our success, failures, lessons learned and priorities
- the places we operate, be it geographical, the address of our offices, the aesthetic or architectural design of where we work, heck, even the amount of clutter we experience in our workplaces – all of it has an influence on our culture.
Finally, culture comes from the top. The CEO and executive team are responsible for an organization’s culture, and for good reason. Culture is a major lever when it comes to success or failure during times of change, and it’s recognized as a competitive advantage. In today’s VUCA world, a culture of innovation is all the more important.
How Do You Define Innovation?
Innovation is contextual, which means that while you may understand the importance of innovation, you need to define what it means to your organization. Asking for innovation, in general, won’t get you there; being specific and forming a vision of what innovation means as you go about your daily work will.
For over fifteen years, BridgePoint Effect has helped organizations become better innovators. At the beginning of every client engagement, we ask, “How do you define innovation? In our experience, most organizations haven’t developed their own definition.
Without a definition of what innovation means to your organization, it’s difficult to drive a culture of innovation. Here are two definitions of innovation to get you started.
First, let’s consider the essence of innovation – we innovate to create value and change. So, in forming a definition of innovation, it’s good to start with the value you want to create and understand that in creating it, some things will need to change.
Next, here’s the definition developed through the research of the Conference Board of Canada.
The process through which economic and social value is extracted from knowledge through the generation, development, and implementation of ideas to produce new or improved strategies, capabilities, products, services, or processes.
I love this definition because it shows that innovation is about more than having ideas; it is a process of driving value to produce new and improved things in your organization and for stakeholders and your clients.
What Is a Culture of Innovation?
At BridgePoint Effect we define a culture of innovation as follows:
An environment that provides the psychological safety and protocols to support the deliberate creativity and creative thinking needed to innovate: to generate, develop and implement ideas, extract economic and social value from knowledge, and generate new or improved products, services or processes.
How to Develop a Culture of Innovation
Now, back to our original question: how do you develop a culture of innovation?
Over time and with deliberate action.
First, it’s important to understand that an organization is a system. At its core are individuals, who comprise teams, who then comprise the organization.
If you impact the individual, you’ll impact the teams, who will then impact the organization. You have to have an impact on the parts before you impact the whole.
The reverse is also true. Vision, strategy and direction set at the organizational level will impact teams and individuals.
Thus, developing a culture of innovation begins with setting the intention at the organizational level.
Intention is what you aim or plan to do. In innovation, it’s about bringing clarity to the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of innovation within your organizational context. It’s about the leadership of an organization setting a direction so people know where you’re going and can contribute by taking action and making decisions to get you there. Intention will keep the leadership, teams and individuals focused, just as a compass helps a navigator to keep the ship on course. It helps everyone find the strength and inspiration to make the required changes and achieve the desired culture of innovation.
I’ve found starting with a few questions helps to set intention:
- Where are we?
- What do we want to create?
- What’s the opportunity?
- What’s the outcome we’re driving towards?
If you’d like some additional help on how to set intention, check out our blog on How to Develop an Innovation Strategy.
Once the intention is set and communicated, an organization must then focus on individuals and teams, because it’s at that level where real change is created.
At the individual and team level, we suggest using four levers to change the existing culture:
It’s people who innovate. And it’s their creativity that powers innovation. Therefore, an organization that wants a culture of innovation must first invest in the creativity of their people. Without creative thinking, there is no chance for innovation.
When asked, most people don’t think they are creative. They think creativity is what artists do. It’s not. It’s about the attitudes you have, the beliefs you hold and the ways you think. Research shows everyone is creative and regardless of your level of expertise, creativity is teachable and improves with practice.
Just because you tell people to innovate doesn’t mean they will; in addition to learning how to exercise their creativity to benefit the organization, they need to learn a process for engaging in innovation productively. And that process must deliberately integrate creative thinking.
Learning a process for innovation happens at the individual and team level.
While there are many innovation processes you can use, there’s one that we’ve found to be very helpful in organizations focused on building cultures of innovation. It’s called the FourSight Creative Thinking System™. FourSight is based on the creative problem-solving process, which, through sixty years of research, is proven to significantly enhance creative behaviour in people who learn how to apply it because it helps to establish the conditions for creative thinking to flourish.
Our clients like FourSight because:
- Of the ease with which it can be accepted, adopted and implemented as a process for innovation – it makes innovation structural and language-based and is intuitive because it mirrors a universal process for problem-solving we all naturally engage in when faced with a challenge.
- An assessment helps you understand what kind of creative thinker you are. This is important because when faced with a challenge, we all have thinking preferences for engaging in innovation – it helps you bring your best thinking to work.
- Collaborative tools help you navigate the innovation process with your team and overcome your thinking preferences so you can drive better results.
- It plays well with other models – you can use it in any business practice, across any domain and as a complement to any other innovation process you may have already adopted, such as design thinking, agile, sprints, six sigma and lean.
Setting the conditions for creativity to flourish—an environment that supports creativity—goes beyond having an innovation process. In a culture of innovation, you must take measures to ensure that creativity is welcomed, can be expressed, and is accepted with respect.
In the 1980s, Swedish researcher Goran Ekvall was curious about what it took to achieve such an environment and wanted to find out what organizational conditions hampered or stimulated creativity and innovation. He found ten dimensions that impact the environment, represented in the diagram below.
Nine of these dimensions are easily perceived as having a positive impact, and one, Conflict, might strike you as having a negative impact. Conflict arises when there are personal and emotional tensions in the environment. Innovation is an emotional process, and it’s a team sport. So, when you’re focused on creating new and improved stuff, it’s only natural that these tensions could arise. How you deal with them is what makes the difference between having a positive impact on the environment or a negative one. Positive impact comes from learning how to act with psychological insight, compassion and maturity: being able to control your emotions and manage yourself and others through the emotional highs and lows of the innovation process.
The outcome of innovation is a product of our thinking – a new or improved strategy, capability, (marketable) product, service or process. How do you know though, that what you’ve created is truly innovative?
In a culture of innovation, it’s helpful for teams to agree upon criteria or standards that can be used to measure the product of their efforts.
One way to measure the degree of innovation in a product is through the Creative Product Semantic Scale (CPSS) developed by Dr. Susan Bessemer. The CPSS helps to assess innovative products through the lenses of novelty, resolution and style.
Novelty is the extent of newness in a product in terms of new processes, techniques, and concepts, as well as the degree to which it is original and surprising. Originality is described as having qualities that are unexpected and unanticipated; surprising is described as having qualities that are unusual or infrequently seen.
Resolution is the degree to which the product fits or meets the needs of a problematic (or challenging) situation, and is logical, useful, valuable and understandable. Here logical means that the product follows acceptable and understood rules for the discipline within which it is developed. Useful means that the product has clear and practical applications. Valuable means that it fills a financial, physical, social, or psychological need. And finally, understandable means that the product is user-friendly.
Style is the degree to which the product combines unlike elements into a refined, developed, coherent, whole statement or unit that is organic, well-crafted and elegant. Here organic speaks to harmoniousness, wholeness, and completeness. Well-crafted means that the product has been worked and reworked to its highest possible level, and elegant means that the solution is expressed in a refined and understated way.
These three dimensions take evaluating whether or not a product is innovative to a more objective level. Objectivity makes it possible for teams to engage in constructive dialogue that serves to drive improvements throughout the innovation process.
Reflection and Course Correction
Innovation is a process of doing and assessing learning. Building a culture of innovation is no different. Even though we start off with the best of intentions, when we're innovating, we're not sure where our actions will take us. It's important to step back, reflect on what's happened and look at that relative to what we intended. Monitoring progress and asking – “what? – so what? – and, now what?” is critical.
There’s a simple way to do this and with a little practice, it becomes a habit and sought-after ritual. It’s done using a thinking tool called The Learning Cycle. Some of our clients have chosen to call it the “learning circle” because it’s conducted with teammates in a roundtable format and integrates creative thinking principles. Honesty of experience is encouraged and all ideas are welcome so everyone is free to share what they want without fear of reprisal. It’s a liberating way to examine progress and make sound decisions on what to do next.
The Learning Cycle asks four questions, each dealt with in sequence.
- What’s working well?
- What should we do differently?
- What have we learned or relearned?
- What learnings should we apply as we move forward?
You can do it in as little as fifteen minutes, capturing insights and quickly identifying next steps derived from key learnings. If the situation is more complex, or if your team has completed some particularly challenging or revelatory work, give the process more time.
A Culture of Innovation Gives You a Competitive Advantage
Innovation is a leading indicator of an organization’s ability to sustain success. While many organizations identify a culture of innovation as a key organizational strategy, few have taken the steps necessary to achieve it at scale. A culture of innovation is a competitive advantage.
To sum up, a culture of innovation is an environment that provides the psychological safety and protocols to support the deliberate creativity and creative thinking needed to innovate: to generate, develop and implement ideas, extract economic and social value from knowledge, and generate new or improved products, services or processes.
Developing a culture of innovation is a process that takes time and deliberate action at the organizational, team and individual levels. Set intention at the organizational level and take deliberate action at a team level focusing on these four key levers: people, process, product and environment. Make sure you and your teams engage in regular intervals of reflection to assess progress and the need for course correction.
Over time, you will get you there.
About BridgePoint Effect
BridgePoint Effect helps organizations thrive through change and innovate to create new value. We serve courageous leaders who want to inspire and equip their teams to change, innovate, collaborate and think better together.
Book a complimentary 30-minute consultation with Janice Francisco to discuss how to create a culture of innovation in your organization.
This article was written with inspiration from:
https://hbr.org/2013/05/six-components-of-culture retrieved 2018-08-23
https://alicarnold.wordpress.com/cpss/ retrieved 2017-10-15
Ekvall, G. (1996). Organizational climate for creativity and innovation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5(1), 105-123.
O’Quin, K., & Besemer, S. P. (2006). Using the creative product semantic scale as a metric for results-oriented business. Creativity and Innovation Management, 15, 34-43.
FourSight LLC. (2006). The Learning Cycle. Based on Gaw, B. (1979) and Kolb, D.A. and Fry, R. (1975).
 Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous