Article: Innovation needs to be a culture, not just a practice


Innovation needs to be a culture, not just a practice

This article explores missed opportunities, the importance of fostering innovation, and key strategies for creating a culture of innovation, with real-world examples of success.
Innovation needs to be a culture, not just a practice

The first digital still camera was developed by Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson in 1975. Unfortunately, it was not pursued further, and it would take an additional 15 years for a Digital Camera to hit the stores and it won’t come out of Kodak, the name we associate photography with! What is more interesting is that Kodak had a practice of patenting stuff. It just did not have a culture of moving from patents to products especially when it looked unrelated to core business.

In today’s rapidly evolving business climate for businesses to survive, they must create an environment of innovation that is conducive, inventive, and creative rather than viewing it as an isolated practice. 

Google observed two types of ideas: those endorsed by leaders and those regularly put into action by teams. They found that ideas which naturally developed and were executed had higher levels of success.

Therefore, organisations need to encourage connections with co-workers across departments and inspire their employees to come up with innovative ideas as a matter of routine. How do we do that? 

We can do that by following various practices that successful organisations follow. Here are certain principles that have helped large enterprises foster a mindset and culture of innovation:

Have good leadership

Leaders bear the responsibility of cultivating a creative workplace culture that welcomes input from employees regardless of their titles or industry experience. They should actively support ordinary individuals striving to accomplish extraordinary feats. 

Build flat innovation paths

It is important to build open organisational structures that let teams avoid obstacles and hierarchies that frequently stifle creativity. An inventive culture places a strong emphasis on being flat and agile. Employees are more able to freely communicate their thoughts when they have direct access to decision-makers. The well-known sportswear company Nike is one example of this. All levels of staff members are welcome to work together on cutting-edge concepts and technologies at the company's "Innovation Kitchen." This open mindset has produced ground-breaking goods like the Nike Flyknit, which transformed the athletic footwear market.

Respect unreasonable thinking

Most businesses have started encouraging the participation of employees across sectors in brainstorming sessions to think outside the box because they respect unusual thinking and believe there are no negative ideas. But in some circumstances, one should be ready to also support the genuinely absurd. Innovation requires a space where creativity can thrive.

For instance, 3M, a global brand operating in the fields of industry, worker safety, healthcare, and consumer goods, adopted the "15% Rule" to motivate staff to dedicate 15% of their time to exploring creative concepts unrelated to their ongoing tasks. The power of putting judgement aside and promoting an environment of experimentation is demonstrated by the fact that this philosophy produced ground-breaking products such as Post-it Notes and Scotchgard.

Another aspect to consider here is that creativity requires chaos at the discovery phase but will require structure to be put in place to eventually arrive at product market fit.

Encourage DEI and collaboration

Research highlights that suppressing one's identity stifles creativity. This should prompt organisations to reconsider the misconception that inclusivity equates to homogeneity; true inclusivity thrives on embracing differences.

As organisations expand and become more complex, collaboration on innovative ideas becomes increasingly challenging. Thus, investing in collaboration infrastructure becomes imperative. Google, for instance, strategically positions cafeteria tables to encourage serendipitous encounters and stimulate creative exchanges among employees.

Turn setbacks into stepping stones 

Indian Space Research Organization recently launched Chandrayaan-3, marking their second lunar landing attempt. While their initial effort came close but fell short, it's crucial to recognize that true innovation thrives when organisations embrace failure as a catalyst for growth.

Google, a pioneer in this philosophy, encourages its employees to undertake challenging tasks, even if failure is a possibility. The "Google Graveyard" houses abandoned projects, but it's not about what's left behind; it's about the enduring spirit of innovation that fuels Google's ongoing success.

Exclusive examples of  innovation

Japan, known for its hierarchical structure, places significant importance on involving workers in organisational decision-making. This approach has yielded remarkable inventions such as the bullet train, QR code, and the Smart Eye Camera, revolutionising smartphone applications, including eye testing.

The film "Flamin' Hot," directed by Eva Longoria, is currently captivating audiences in theatres. It narrates the inspiring journey of a factory worker, Richard P. Montanez, who ascends to the C-suite. His remarkable rise is made possible by PepsiCo's unwavering commitment to recognizing and nurturing innovation, regardless of its origin.

Perhaps it is justifiable to conclude that good companies become great by allowing room for innovation through a culture of tolerance and acceptance and a bias for action. That’s something to chew on as we watch Flamin Hot!

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Topics: Culture, Leadership, #Work Culture, #Innovation

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