Building an Innovation Culture

Leaders are urgently aware of the need to do “something about the innovation culture”, to change the pace of innovation to replace decaying products, services and business models and to raise performance and generate new value. But just what is an "innovation culture" and what form should action take?

Organisations are currently underperforming in terms of their real, potential innovation capacity. This is due to at least 4 dominant, interconnected issues: low levels of workforce engagement, micromanagement, a tendency to only adopt ideas that fit the current business model and a focus on doing things right, rather than trying to do the right thing.

A culture is a behavioural system that either helps or gets in the way as the market changes and customer expectations shift. A culture can either enable or block innovative behaviours.

The issue is how to create new innovation capacity, to unlock potentially innovative behaviours within our culture at a time when people are just too busy in the current business reality to think about innovation, and at a time when workforces have developed powerful defensive routines to block change, and innovation training and methods have limited impact on the way people think.

Just as dependence upon decaying business models are reducing innovation potential, a similar adherence or misplaced loyalty to "push" change models which cultures have learnt how to "game" means it is necessary to move from “push” (outside-in) to “pull” (inside-out) change strategies for innovation by focusing on the real point of leverage for building an innovation culture: the behaviour of the individual within the workforce.

Just like Wellington before Waterloo, when asked about the likelihood of victory, he drew the questioner's attention to a British soldier loitering in a public park in Brussels and said that it all depended upon "that article" (the individual soldier). We need to go back to engaging individuals and helping them to manage their own behavioural ecology in terms of whether it is productive and meaningful or locked into cycles of zombie negativity that reinforce themselves.

The way leaders behave legitimises behaviours that constitute the culture of an organisation. It’s rare that leaders are called to account for the messages they send through their everyday behaviours.  Research suggests that destructive, negative behaviour between leaders and workers has five times more impact than positive, constructive behaviours.  A key to building a culture that supports innovation is to reduce destructive behaviours in the form of leaders’ personal current “Behavioural Waste” in order to model positive, constructive behaviours that unlock capacity to support innovation by removing systemic forms of waste that are locked into current, legacy ways of working.


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