How to create a culture of innovation

CRASH COURSE: Be inclusive, promise support and get your customers involved.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 16 May 2017

How many times since you arrived have you been told: 'That's not how we do things here'? This place needs shaking up, it needs... a culture of innovation.

You mean ideas? Ideas are just the starting point. 'Innovation is an outcome, it's the end result - not an activity in itself,' says Cris Beswick, author, speaker and strategic adviser on innovation. And it's not just about new products and services. 'Innovation is about solving problems and finding new approaches, in any facet of an organisation whether that be the business model, logistics or recruitment.'

Be inclusive. 'It's hard to predict who or where or when innovation will come from,' says Matt Kingdon, co-founder of innovation consultancy ?WhatIf!. 'Innovation can take any form and come from anybody in the organisation - the lawyer, the actuary or the health & safety officer.' Make sure everyone knows that.

Change the culture. 'Encourage people to explore alternatives,' says Kingdon. 'Make sure the need for change is understood, try to inject a sense of excitement and get people to ask themselves whether your products and services are good enough.'

Promise support. 'Let people know they won't be marked down for trying things out, that if they put their hand up they'll be taken seriously, and that you'll put resources behind good ideas,' says Kingdon. Establish a process for harvesting ideas, prototyping and implementation.

Motivate. Find out what will drive people to contribute. 'Money doesn't cut it - it encourages behaviour that is counter to innovation as it tends to nurture competitiveness,' says Bettina von Stamm, of the Innovation Leadership Forum. 'Recognition will take you much further; in one leading company the boss invited the people who came up with the best ideas to his home and cooked dinner for them.'

Read more: 7 ways your company is getting innovation wrong

Give it context. Tell your people what you are looking for. 'Rather than just asking for ideas, pose problems and challenges that are in line with the business strategy,' says Beswick. 'That way you'll get answers that could lead to valuable innovation.'

Cast your net. 'Analogies from different industries are an important source of innovation,' says Beswick. Great Ormond Street learned important lessons about transferring babies to incubators from working with Formula One pit-stop teams. Look at what start-ups in your industry are doing.

Co-create. 'Bring your customers into the process at an early stage - they will tell you what works and what doesn't work,' says Beswick.

Lead the way. 'Leadership is critical to innovation, leaders don't need to be creative people, but they need to understand the conditions where innovation can happen,' says von Stamm.

Do say

'Everyone has the freedom and the ability to contribute to innovation in this organisation.'

Don't say

'We've never bothered with innovation before, why should we start now?'


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