How to create an innovation culture
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How can companies foster the generation of new ideas on a consistent basis?
For tech industry leaders like Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Samsung, serial innovation doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s a result of realizing the need for a fine-tuned innovation culture to identify emerging trends and business opportunities first. Then, developing those ideas at scale.
With a culture of innovation in place, businesses are equipped to produce breakthrough services and deliver on incremental improvements to existing products that consumers come to expect.
Where cultural innovation really succeeds is by capitalizing on the creativity of every employee.
What is an innovation culture?
As we’ve discussed before, an innovation culture can be described as a work environment where unconventional thinking and the democratization of ideas is welcomed, encouraged, and applied. Whether a CEO or summer intern, a culture of innovation looks to everyone to contribute.
Every team member in an innovative organization is considered capable (and often expected) to give suggestions for improvement, offer impromptu critiques, and act as champions for change.
Ideally, an innovative culture is composed of different people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Bringing employees together from different disciplines and departments to work as a team can prove helpful in challenging the status quo and breaking away from predictable ways of thinking.
How can companies foster the generation of new ideas?
In theory, harnessing the power of cultural innovation seems easy enough. You could simply go ahead and let everyone start churning out concepts one after another in stream-of-consciousness thought.
But it doesn’t happen like that. Giving people the freedom to innovate involves more thought.
For one, it helps to provide your team the right tools. An innovative organization often relies on open workspaces to promote creativity and foster collaboration. Breakout spaces with access to whiteboards, sticky notes, and markers encourage innovation and bold thinking.
Virtual whiteboards, such as Lucidspark, let team members capture thoughts to be shared in real time through brainstorming sessions, which act as launchpads for iteration.
You could try using a brainwriting template with your team to build off of each other’s ideas.
Of course, establishing this culture of innovation goes far beyond the work environment itself.
An innovative organization must pay attention to how its brainstorm meetings are conducted. Leaders should embolden employees and teams to think through their concepts. In these early stages, it doesn’t matter if every idea is good or not, it’s more about exhausting every possibility.
Tips for creating an innovation culture
For an innovation culture to take root, an organization needs proven methodologies and strategic approaches to inspire its people to embrace technology, spark their curiosity and passion for knowledge, and ease barriers in the creative process.
When learning how to create a culture of innovation, some lessons will feel intuitive. Other lessons will be less obvious. But in any case, it will prove useful to apply the following innovative values.
Break down silos
Rigid hierarchies tend to dampen creativity. Someone on the team might get inspired to pursue an idea outside of their field of expertise or role within the overall organizational structure. Once they begin to feel resistance or a lack of support from leadership, the path to innovation is lost.
People with a growth mindset—those who are quick to develop new abilities, value the pursuit of knowledge wherever it leads, and express initiative—should be given latitude, not have their creativity stifled.
For such individuals to boldly solve problems, chart new courses, and work on important issues, silos cannot exist within a culture of innovation. By hiring new employees (or identifying existing ones) who possess cross-functional backgrounds and demonstrate strong interpersonal skills, an innovative organization is better equipped to build rapport, gain confidence, and win allies.
Changing roles, wearing different hats, or taking on a variety of responsibilities is another benefit of breaking down silos within a corporation. It’s also what makes an innovation culture so resilient.
Encourage employees to ask questions
Another key aspect of creating a culture of innovation is to make the workplace a safe place for asking questions. Being inquisitive is something that should be normalized and rewarded within an innovative organization. Plus, every all-hands meeting should include time for a Q&A session.
Other ways to make a corporate environment more open and conducive to asking questions are:
- Offer weekly or monthly AMA (ask me anything) sessions hosted by company leaders
- Declare a no-repercussion policy to let employees feel safe about asking questions
- Withhold judgment and resist knee-jerk responses to difficult or in-depth questions
- Make a point to always follow up or give updates on questions from past meetings
- Incentivize asking question with contests or rewards
The more questioning becomes part of the work environment, the sooner it will become a habit among employees. To keep Q&A sessions informative, productive, and proactive, the questions being asked should be focused on achieving a desired outcome or tackling a genuine concern.
Encourage all employees to voice ideas
Within an innovative culture, it’s a given that every employee has the potential for creativity, and that potential can be developed over time with the right amount of encouragement.
The ability for team members to voice their ideas is something valued in a culture of innovation, because an innovative organization understands the reciprocal nature of the work relationship. It’s more than employees putting in their time or companies only offering pay for hours worked. People want to feel valued and supported by their employers, free to express opinions or ideas.
Who better to identify outdated processes or areas needing improvement than the employees on the frontlines? People in an innovative organization feel empowered to voice their ideas and make basic changes to help improve quality, productivity, or perhaps their own job satisfaction.
The reason employees hesitate to speak up and share their thoughts isn’t out of fear, but rather they don’t have trust in management to listen and take the necessary steps for change.
By that logic, don’t just sit on the ideas that employees share. Whenever possible, keep your people in the loop. If their idea results in an innovation, give them credit for the suggestion.
Keep open communication
So far, your people are breaking down silos, they’re asking questions, and feeling comfortable with voicing their ideas. But if you’re really planning to keep everyone on the same page while building your flourishing culture of innovation, the lines of communication must be kept open.
Open communication requires systems that promote collaboration and the steady exchange of ideas. This can mean daily standup meetings, weekly gatherings, group emails, or a dedicated Slack channel that allows everyone to contribute to the conversation.
After all, innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And an innovative organization will thrive if its employees keep the conversation going and don’t hold back on information.
Keeping communication open isn’t something that technology alone can solve. More often, it comes down to strong and fulfilling work relationships. The resulting psychological safety and trust between team members who enjoy working together is critical to a culture of innovation.
Within a culture of innovation, there’s a paradoxical truth to how employee objectives are set. For one, each goal should be clear enough to keep team members aligned. Two, the process should be loose enough for team members to exercise autonomy in how a goal is reached.
It’s in the autonomy to set (and achieve) one’s objectives that innovation routinely happens.
To help employees set their objectives, leaders are expected to clarify the overarching goals of the organization. Whether it's reducing costs for an existing product to coordinating the launch of a new service, each employee should know how their efforts contribute to achieving the goal.
Reward failure and success
Spend enough time in any innovative organization and one thing is certain: not every idea is a winner. But a culture of innovation acknowledges inherent value in every failure.
If you want your team to embrace the innovation culture mindset, demonstrate the importance of every contribution being made to the group effort, even if things don’t work out as planned. A culture of innovation is a system created to support the company’s goals along with its people.
Be consistent in rewarding and recognizing innovative behaviors, including risk-taking efforts by team members where the results aren’t necessarily positive, effective, or profitable. By choosing only to reward success, the message everyone receives is to play it safe and don’t push boundaries.
In the event of failure, highlight all the behind-the-scenes work and valuable lessons learned by the team. To reward failure is to incentivize and motivate employees to attempt something new without the fear of punishment for trying. By removing the stigma of failure, bold ideas emerge.
In the eyes of an innovative organization, failure is just one step closer to the next breakthrough. In this manner, rewarding failure should be seen as making investments toward future success
Knowing how to create a culture of innovation is only the beginning. What’s most important is to apply that knowledge and allow your business to redefine itself as an innovative organization.
Lucidspark is a virtual whiteboard that helps you and your team collaborate to bring the best ideas to light. It comes packed with all of the sticky notes, freehand drawing tools, and infinite canvas space you need to capture that next big idea. And it’s built for collaboration. Think of it like a sandbox where your team can bounce ideas around and innovate together in real time.
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