Behind All Great Innovations Is an Innovative Culture

BrandPost By Jim Houghton
Aug 03, 2015

Investments in innovation can fall flat if organizations fail to first build a culture that breeds success.

depositphotos 4607310 s 2015

Simply throwing money at innovation does not always spell success. To enjoy the spoils of innovation, the right culture must also be in place.

A few organizations – like Amazon with its two-pizza team philosophy — are fueling an innovation-oriented culture. The premise here is that teams shouldn’t be larger than can be fed with two pizzas. This approach encourages an entrepreneurial spirit in which team members are constantly urged to reinvent the business model, especially if a transformation means creatively or more effectively addressing ever-evolving customer needs.

On the flipside, those organizations with the wrong kind of culture— such as those in which 20-person “governance” committees are tasked with reviewing every investment —don’t fare quite so well. In such environments, proposed innovations tend to languish, often losing relevance before the committee takes the time to review and implement them.

Really successful companies keep the entrepreneurial spirit deep in the trenches, where ideas become reality. In this respect, IBM has historically been a leader with its patent-centric incentive program. With this initiative, employees are financially rewarded for any idea that the company can successfully patent, and there’s a simple process to engage support for filing the application. The initiative is designed to encourage employees at all levels to think like entrepreneurs, constantly looking for opportunities.

Similar success blooms when executives roll up their sleeves and engage in innovation activities. At Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s willingness to actively participate and promote innovation is a prime example.

Innovation doesn’t exist just within the ranks of larger well-known organizations such as Amazon, IBM and Facebook. Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Variable Inc. is a great example of a firm that has embraced a productive entrepreneurial spirit to spark innovation, even leveraging Kickstarter to fund its ideas, such as pairing smartphones with sensors. Variable’s CEO regularly works one-on-one with team members, challenging and encouraging them to identify new applications and product enhancements. This creative environment is, in effect, enabling the company to ride the wave of the Internet of Things as it becomes a widespread reality.

Companies can help foster this culture by articulating innovation as a pillar of the corporate strategy. This inspires employees, partners and customers alike to question the status quo and bring new ideas to the table.

It’s important to note that although CIOs don’t necessarily need to own the innovation culture, they should play an important role in building, developing and nurturing that state of mind within the organization. After all, it’s hard to fathom any real innovation without any IT implication. Perhaps the CIO will participate in the review process or serve as an enabler with technical expertise capable of taking an idea from whiteboard to market. CIOs can also play a vital role when it comes time to celebrate failures, so that people can learn from whatever has occurred and use the experience to drive future successes.

Are you actively developing or nurturing a culture of innovation? If so, what tactics are working for your organization? If not, what’s holding you back?