KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 — Some time ago, the late Steve Jobs was quoted as saying, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
That statement has never been more meaningful than it is today. At a time when even the most fundamental elements of business success are being questioned, reassessed and redefined, one thing becomes crystal clear — innovation is no longer a “nice to have,” it's a “must have.”
Innovation has become the number one priority for a vast majority of companies and research in this area shows that nearly half of a company’s five-year revenue projection will come from sources that currently don’t exist. As such, businesses need innovative solutions to meet the expected demand, as well as ensuring a positive customer experience.
But innovation can be complicated, and may seem difficult to create and nourish at times. Many companies think that innovation will happen if they have the right kind of people but sadly this isn’t entirely the case.
Creating an innovative culture isn’t about getting the right people sitting on beanbags with flip charts, white boards and pens and paper. Firstly, it comes down to understanding what an innovative culture actually is.
There has been a lot of research in this area, much of which has concluded that innovation culture has many different key elements to it and that the companies encouraging these elements are more likely to deliver innovation.
Let’s have a look at some of these crucial elements:
Heard the somewhat new statement? “It is no more innovate or perish, it’s now collaborate or perish.” No single organisation can hold all the cards in developing new innovation.
Not a single company in the world owns more than 1 per cent of global hi-tech knowledge. Collaboration with outside groups such as complementary businesses, universities, government agencies, and think tanks often brings new perspectives and ideas to the innovation process.
In a company, collaborating across teams leads to a greater diversity, which leads to more varied and potentially better ideas. Often you don’t have to be an expert in something to think of how it could be done better or differently.
In contrast, if you’re less constrained by what might be practical or feasible, and with some development those impractical ideas can become entirely possible.
As customer’s expectation keeps on changing and technology keeps on getting more complex, it is likely that a company will need to engage with a number of different experts when developing a new product or service.
Companies might not have these experts in-house, and why should they?
Companies can bring them in when they need to, engage in open innovation and avoid the “not invented here” mentality. Companies can look at their own customers, suppliers and other organisations as potential collaborators.
Collaboration is a spectrum and it can be difficult to engage in projects with a diverse set of collaborators from within and outside an organisation. For this, companies can start small.
They can hold informal sessions for different teams to talk to one another. Research has shown that simply knowing people from different parts of an organisation leads to more creativity and innovation. Diversity of personalities, skills and abilities are key to creating a culture of innovation.
They take risks
Organisations with innovation cultures take risks that are measurable and hence manageable with good mitigation plans. Fear of the unknown is one of the main reasons why companies don’t embrace innovation.
It is not possible to create something new without an element of risk. Employees need to understand that their organisation accepts this inherent risk, and the organisation may find it more manageable to consider the different types of risks that the company has, and which are more easily averted than others.
Many of the greatest innovations’ leapfrogs come from unintended results and, oftentimes, are created by accident. Breakthroughs such as the discovery of penicillin and microwaves were the result of such accidents.
They go flat
A flat organisational structure, lacking in bureaucratic hierarchy promotes innovation culture within an organisation. A flat management structure doesn’t have the long approval processes and disjointed lines of communication that impede innovation.
Organisations that can’t go flat in management can achieve the same results by empowering workers to act independently.
They openly listen
Members of an organisation’s internal and external community often have tremendous insights and ideas that lead to new innovations. Ideas don’t always come from experts. Sometimes the greatest innovations come from novices and backroom tinkers. Open-minded organisations often convert off-the-wall ideas into marketable products.
They pat on the back
Managers in innovative companies recognise and reward their employees who engage in innovation or have a new idea. Part of creating a culture of innovation is to give people positive feedback when they behave in the desired way.
Managers who say that they haven’t got time to look at new ways of doing things are the biggest impeders of innovation.
They build trusting teams and give people control
Generally speaking, people are happier when they have a degree of control over the work they do and how they do it. Employees with more control over their work are more innovative, more satisfied and perform better.
Building trust amongst employees is also crucial. Innovation starts with an idea or many ideas, and usually needs many people to refine and develop it. This is where the team’s culture is crucial, and whether its members feel comfortable sharing ideas with each other.
They have some formal processes
Innovation benefits from some structure, structures that don’t impede innovation. As counter-productive as that might sound, it makes sense when you consider that it can be a long, complex process involving many people. However, organisations need to be mindful not to constrain thinking when ideas are being generated.
What does it really mean?
An innovative culture begins with the organisational attitude of accepting that the world really has changed. It’s about cultivating a mindset to learn to see the world in new ways.