4 ingredients of an innovative culture

Nurturing creativity for the long haul involves more than just a brainstorming session, says innovation consultant Peter Cook.

by Peter Cook
Last Updated: 08 Feb 2017

Brainstorming tools and other approaches to harnessing creativity are effective for what I call ‘project based innovation’, where a climate of creativity and innovation is needed for a temporary period or a team facing a particular challenge.  Where there is need for a sustainable culture of innovation and creativity at work, these tools are often necessary but insufficient.

Four elements are required to support innovation and creativity as part of your company culture.

1. Curiosity

The systematic habit of asking great questions, testing boundaries around problems and opportunities and exploring both the big picture and the detail. Artists and scientists often have this quality in great supply. Business people less so.  

Great leaders encourage people to be ‘question marks’ more than ‘full stops’. Leaders encourage people who ask difficult questions and explore. Companies like Roche encourage intrapreneurship as part of their strategy for corporate curiosity.

2. Love

Using a nurturing approach to leadership and management, participative approaches to generate ideas, and making connections between other people’s ideas to build/develop innovations. Love is a word used by companies like Innocent Drinks, Metro Bank and Virgin to describe their culture. Metro Bank is exceptional at listening to their customers.

This has informed their strategy in simplifying banking and even allowing you to bring your dog to the branch, whereas the trend is to extend the distance between customers and banks. If love is too emotive a word to use in your enterprise, try care instead.

3. Forgiveness

This includes tolerance for ambiguity, the encouragement of mental play and the ability to build on ideas rather than knock them down. A graphic example of this occurred when Virgin Atlantic decided to do a promotion based on the Austin Powers movie ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ with billboards featuring ‘Virgin Shaglantic’. Richard Branson points out that Virgin’s brand executives were not consulted, on the basis that they would have almost certainly said no to this. Instead, forgiveness was asked instead of permission.

The question of failure is a vexed question for managers and certainly no one wants people to make repetitive mistakes. Yet most innovations are preceded by mistakes or outright failures from which valuable learning takes place. I myself sponsored a record-breaking rock tour in the style of the spoof rockumentary film ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, losing a small fortune into the bargain. I lived to tell the tale.

4. A sense of direction

None of the other three qualities matter unless managers have a role in focusing people’s creativity and helping execute that creativity so that there is ROI (Return On Innovation). The skills of direction-setting, iteration and managing the process of innovation are most important here. These are often the qualities most absent from companies and people that are merely creative, as opposed to innovative.

Creativity is the thinking of novel ideas, whereas innovation is the successful execution of a novel idea. In my case with the rock tour, the missing ingredient was the ability to execute people’s creativity. This cost me my heart, soul and bank balance in a comedy of errors to rival Wayne’s World. In the words of Tom Peters, execution is everything.

Peter Cook is the founder of Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics and author of ‘Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise’. He covers the topic of innovative cultures in more detail in this video:

Image credit: Justin Dolske/Flickr


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