Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Culture of Innovation

I read an outstanding blog post yesterday titled, "50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation." This is well worth the 10 minutes of your time to read. Pockets of innovation exist in every organization to one extent or another, but the real challenge, as I see it, is building a culture that supports systemic innovation.

The most compelling of these 50 for me are italicized below. As a self proclaimed "Fire-Ready-Aim" type, these will come as no surprise. Commentary in orange:

2. Wherever you can, whenever you can, always drive fear out of the workplace. Fear is "Public Enemy #1" of an innovative culture. Couldn't agree more...nothing instills a sense of paralysis more than fear in an organization. Fear needs to be rooted out at all costs.
3. Have more fun. If you're not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is off. Play, fun and a sense of exploration and discovery are key ingredients in the process of innovation. I think of the fun that these Google engineers had with a fresnel lens on the roof of their office building last year. One note: Sarcasm is the lowest, cheapest form of humor-don't confuse sarcasm for play and fun.
8. Help people broaden their perspective by creating diverse teams and rotating employees into new projects -- especially ones they are fascinated byLet's build structures and opportunities to get us out of our silos. And while we're at it, let's get rid of the silos (including the silos that are built into our electronic communications-EVERYONE in the organization needs to blog, reflect, and share). 
14. Embrace and celebrate failure. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies. The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don't isn't their rate of success -- it's the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.  Yes, yes, yes! We learn most from the process of making mistakes followed by a period of iteration. Celebrate the struggles!
15. Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them. Encourage risk taking and efforts to try new things. Don't do so in the annual review, but instead in simple little day to day gestures, compliments, and even comments on their reflective blog.
32. Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction. This is my personal favorite and speaks directly to my "Fire-ready-aim" mentality. To quote BJ Fogg, "Less talk, more action."
A key omission in this comprehensive list is fostering a community of learning and unlearning. If an organization is going to be effective in building systems that support innovation, then regular, ongoing, sustained learning needs to be cultivated. Alternately, the value of unlearning can't be highlighted enough. Just because we did something five years ago doesn't mean that same mode of operandi is relevant to a similar problem (or even the exact same problem).

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