In the first part of this series, we laid out the importance of transitioning from an innovative leader to an innovative organization by changing the ethos and the mechanisms that drive innovation. In this article, we will dive deeper into the ethos of innovation and how you can build it into the DNA of your organization.
Create a culture of innovation
Innovation will never be birthed from a process. It must start with people.
And you’ll find that different people innovate in different ways depending on their leadership style.
- Visionaries innovate through big, bold, and often messy new ideas (think Steve Jobs)
- Operators innovate through clever ways to get things done (think MacGyver)
- Processors innovate through computation, iteration, and continuous improvement (think John Nash from a Beautiful Mind)
- Synergists innovate through people, promotion, and idea-sharing (think Jesus)
The trick to building a culture of innovation is to embrace all four modes of innovation equally, and you do that by building balanced VOPS teams and having values that elevate all four styles rather than favoring one or two.
For most mature organizations, this requires rebalancing toward Operators and Visionaries.
Mission and Vision
Additionally, you must address the sacred cow. The organization’s Mission and Vision are rightfully the last bastions of the innovative leader’s grip on innovation. What we tend to do as leaders is create and clarify our vision and drive everyone toward it. And that is precisely what you should do as long as you are there.
But what happens when you leave?
Before you leave, you need to start empowering a larger group to reimagine the Mission and Vision for the organization’s future. This is so when the time comes for you to step down or step away, they have built the muscle to preserve your vision and build on it and make it better.
Allocate resources to implement new (potentially bad) ideas
This issue goes way deeper than an innovation fund. That is a tool and potentially a great one, but it’s often something we do to look like we’re innovating. By itself, it simply doesn’t work. The proof is that the most common innovation strategy for mature companies is to buy and absorb smaller, more innovative companies. That may be a decent strategy, but it doesn’t make you an innovative organization.
Innovation funds don’t work because they do little to create the environment and aptitude for innovation. Instead, they attempt to address an ethos shortcoming with a mechanism. And that simply doesn’t work.
So how do we address the ethos problem underlying resource allocation?
There are two principal areas where this happens, and they will likely surprise you.
- Deployment. 3M famously instituted a deployment strategy for their employees called 15% time, where each employee was allowed to spend up to 15% of their time working on solving virtually any problem they wanted to. Sticky notes were one of those inventions developed when multiple individuals pooled their time and findings to innovate. Carving out time for innovation, exploration, and even sabbatical is essential.
- Training. It is so easy to overlook the role of training in creating an innovative organization. Most training programs mistake their primary objective for equipping employees to do more of what they’re already doing and do it better (with a side of sensitivity training to keep the organization from being sued). Training should be so much more dynamic. The primary result should be highly motivated employees with a strong sense of ownership of their role and the organization’s mission, and the drive and ability to innovate. Pixar University is an excellent example.
You can’t innovate simply by throwing money at innovation. You have to first create an ethos of innovation and then fuel it with cash.
These strategies will fuse an ethos of innovation into the very fabric of your organization. And while they are the most important steps, you can use a few more strategies to rapidly accelerate their impact on your organization’s ability to innovate like never before. In the final article in this series, we’ll discuss the primary mechanisms you need to harness and scale the ethos of innovation.
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