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5 Ways Your Company Culture is Stifling Innovation

Business Innovation

Climate is the tenor of the workplace ecosystem. An openly innovative climate cultivates engagement and enthusiasm, challenges people to take risks, fosters learning, and encourages independent thinking. Open innovation is a term promoted by Henry Chesbrough, which simply put means “innovating with partners by sharing risk and sharing reward.” If your company isn’t providing that climate for innovation, then it is stifling innovation.

You might be thinking, “Who cares about innovation in my company? — I’ve got work to do!” I was once like you; let someone else handle the innovation, because I needed to worry about me. Then I realized that if I didn’t take part in the collaboration, and offer up ideas, my once-successful company would look a lot like so many others (Blackberry comes to mind) that are either no longer with us, or on their way out.

Here are 5 cultural innovation killers that need to be recognized and overcome.

1. Assumption-Based Decisions

Remember the saying, ‘Don’t assume, if you assume…’? Well, you know the rest.

Assuming is something we do all the time, though not always to our detriment. For example, if you leave your car in the garage, it’s safe to assume that it will be there in the morning. Your assumption saves you lots of time searching for it down the street, or in someone else’s garage. Other assumptions, however, don’t work out so simply, despite the evidence for their veracity.

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The solution: Question widely-held assumptions and remove these assumptions — begin with a clean slate, and listen to each new innovative idea.

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Alan Alda

2. A ‘No-Fail’ Zone in Effect

Edward Deming is well known for his fourteen points for improving management. One important point concerns his focus on driving out fear. Fear is unfounded.

When management reacts negatively to a new idea or a failed attempt it creates a fear of failure that limits open innovation. A failure to fail results in completely predictable, in-the-box thinking, and continued ‘more of same’ rationale. Imagine what could happen if you suddenly made it safer for people to accept the possibility of failure — a workplace where there’s no penalty or death sentence for getting it wrong now and then.

The solution: Tolerate risk and failure. People are more creative and innovative when they can be themselves and are free to share their honest ideas. Leadership must encourage innovation, including accepting risk, and viewing failure as a learning opportunity. Allow enough time for innovative ideas to develop, and encourage champions.

3. Innovation is Out of Reach

Innovation doesn’t require us to understand the future — it requires us to understand our customers’ needs. Though Steve Jobs was famous for disregarding customer needs in favor of creating new products that ultimately created unrealized customer demand, we can’t all be Steve Jobs. For most of us, defining more effective or more efficient ways of meeting known or clearly emerging customer demands lies at the heart of sustained, always-on innovation. If you can conceive of a better way to do even just one small aspect of your job or improve your business, and have the drive to do something about it, you are playing a crucial role in business innovation.

The solution: Put systems, and software in place to make innovation easily accessible for everyone. Make innovation a part of every aspect of your business to create lasting, repeatable business results.

4. Innovation Is Optional

Your employees must believe that innovation is a must-have, not just nice to have. Not a flavor of the month. This particularly disruptive cultural trait causes companies to fall behind, fall out of favor, and fall apart in the face of increasing competition.

The solution: Allocate personal time for individuals to spend on innovation; require all employees to access the ‘collective brain’, and reward those that do.

5. You Believe Innovation Can’t Be Measured

Wrong. Innovation management software can measure results, helping to drive new business value. Enabling technology helps companies improve agility, productivity, and time-to-market by improving decision-making, visibility, and efficiency across the company.

The solution: Put systems and software in place to provide transparency and efficiency for your path to innovation.

The success of innovation can be captured at three levels: external, enterprise and personal. In particular, external recognition shows how well a company is regarded as being innovative by its customers and competitors, and whether innovation has paid off financially. In broader terms, success will reinforce the enterprise’s values, behaviors, and culture, which in turn drive many subsequent actions and decisions: who will be rewarded, and which projects get a green light.

There has never been a better time to overcome corporate culture roadblocks to innovation and foster change internally and externally. The fact is, you either innovate, or you stagnate — which will you chose?

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