Innovation culture

What is an innovation culture?

Reading time: about 7 min

To maintain viability against the competition and relevance in the minds of consumers, today’s businesses increasingly rely on their ability to innovate—regardless of size or industry.

However, true innovation can’t be forced. More than mere updates or improvements to existing products or services, innovation requires people to consistently view their world in interesting, imaginative, and often unorthodox ways. And this involves an innovation culture.

Of course, the presence of an innovation culture doesn’t happen overnight.

How can companies foster the generation of new ideas instinctively? Before setting out to create an environment where employees feel empowered to defy the status quo or compelled to look past obvious solutions, it helps for us to first appreciate what an innovation culture is.

What is an innovation culture?

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Being innovative on a consistent basis requires an environment where unconventional thinking is not only encouraged but applied. A culture of innovation also allows great ideas to come from anyone, regardless of role or tenure.

Providing everyone with accessibility to innovation is one of the most important aspects of an innovation culture. For an innovation culture to thrive, all team members must feel comfortable with giving suggestions for improvements, offering critiques, and being champions for change.

In an innovation culture, status quos are meant to be challenged. Routines are routinely broken. Unique perspectives are nurtured through people who come from different backgrounds or life experiences. To encourage innovation, a company must expect to think outside the box.

The transformation to an innovative organization takes time, but it’s worthwhile.

Why is creating an innovation culture important?

With a thriving innovation culture, a business gains the catalyst it needs for continuous growth and progress, even in the face of a sudden crisis or other difficult situation.

While a culture of innovation itself isn’t the sole domain for innovation, having an innovation culture better equips employees to succeed when resourcefulness and creativity are needed. It also gives people a reason to rally behind a company and trust in its leadership.

Most importantly, people tend to perform at their best within an innovation culture because they genuinely believe that everyone else around them is trying to do the same.

Here are some of the other reasons why it’s important to create an innovation culture:

New ideas emerge

In a culture of innovation, businesses use a multifaceted approach for inspiring more employee creativity.  

Without fear of judgment or criticism, teams can approach problem-solving or thought generation with freedom and spontaneity. Through a lens of innovative values, past mistakes and failed opportunities become starting points to enact bold solutions.

By allowing brainstorming sessions the freedom to be nonlinear and free flowing, ideas are quickly created and collected, while simultaneously sparking more ideas for the organization in the process.

Employees feel more invested

In an innovative organization, it’s not surprising for employees to feel a greater sense of dedication to their team members as well as to their employers. The reason is simple enough: if an organization places importance around its culture of innovation, then so will its workforce.

When a company embraces an innovation culture, it’s natural for them to treat people more like genuine partners whose opinions are valued. Whether it’s a cost increase or a market loss, team members are more inclined to overcome obstacles and bounce back when they feel invested.

Being invested also means team members become involved in activities that affect day-to-day decisions or long-term growth, which helps give them a higher purpose.

Creates learning opportunities

Living in fear of failure or giving up too soon can often undermine innovation at a company.

To encourage innovation, businesses must strive to give more of their employees the latitude to take calculated risks in the pursuit of greatness. Once team members realize it’s actually okay to fail, they begin to quickly learn from their mistakes and find ways to adapt and overcome.    

The process of creating something never imagined before or just coming up with new methods to tackle old problems is always fraught with trial and error. This is why being immersed in an innovation culture practically guarantees everyone steady exposure to learning experiences. 

Characteristics of an innovation culture

At this point, you may find yourself contemplating how to create a culture of innovation within your own organization and wondering about how much time and effort it will actually involve.

The good news is, characteristics of an innovation culture may already exist in your business. To better encourage innovation throughout your company, look for these six defining traits of an innovation culture and find opportunities to nurture them.

Curiosity

A culture of innovation benefits from curiosity. From being inquisitive and asking questions to embracing experimentation and pursuing better answers, curiosity inspires greater thinking. It’s why so many startups and leading tech companies hire people for attitude rather than skill alone.  

It’s why corporations like Google and Facebook recruit employees with liberal arts backgrounds to complement teams comprised of STEM degree holders. With a curious mindset, employees not only advance within their roles but can quickly learn new skills. 

Trust

Trust is also a critical part of an innovation culture. Without transparency or honesty in the work environment, people find it hard to be frank about their thoughts and ideas. Without trust, employees fear their ideas will be taken or later credited to someone else.

Collaboration requires trust. In a culture of innovation, people feel more at ease with accepting blame, admitting weaknesses, and making apologies. In turn, businesses reward employees for doing so.

Trust also involves giving team members the flexibility to bypass processes or formal approvals when necessary. To better encourage innovation, employees should be trusted to work outside their formal roles or take on different responsibilities in order to further explore every possibility.  

Integrity

When it comes to innovation, integrity is fundamental. It’s what helps embolden team members to say and do what’s right, even while encountering resistance in their organization.

Acting with integrity requires a certain level of courage and honesty. It means doing what’s best for the business, recognizing employees for their contributions, and holding others accountable regardless of their role in the company. Innovation can’t exist when people don’t value integrity.

The quest for innovation will always involve making mistakes, taking risks, and challenging the status quo. Without the freedom to take those actions, a culture of innovation cannot take hold. 

Respect

Respect among team members is important in any workplace. Appreciating each other’s talents and abilities goes far toward creating an atmosphere conducive to innovation.

With a culture of innovation, employees enjoy the ability to speak their minds freely without fear. Ideas are shared fairly and received respectfully. People know they’ll get the chance to be heard. Respect also means that candor, criticism, or disagreement are also welcome in the workplace.

Ideas can only evolve and improve once people get the opportunity to explain and defend them. In many ways, being able to provide or receive honest critiques is the ultimate show of respect.

Humility

Many businesses routinely overestimate their strengths or capabilities and underestimate their blind spots. With a sense of humility, organizations gain situational awareness.

In the absence of excess pride and arrogance, team members are more likely to own up to their mistakes and learn from them. Humility also lowers the resistance to change and increases the willingness to accept fresh perspectives. Is your team humble enough to encourage innovation?

By encouraging openness to new ideas, a willingness to learn from others, and a readiness to appreciate the strengths of another, humility can help foster a climate that promotes innovation. 

Determination

When working to innovate a product or service, everyone runs into obstacles. But determination is what helps teams move past setbacks and stay focused on the future.

Call it perseverance, stubbornness, or old-fashioned hard work, but determination is what turns great ideas into actionable solutions. Even if resources and timing are limited, determination is what allows organizations to work with what’s available to them and make innovations happen.  

When a team is determined, failure isn’t the end but simply a detour. Determination also helps companies establish criteria from the start for deciding whether to keep, modify, or kill an idea.

Most every company stands to benefit from a culture of innovation. It’s how new ideas emerge, employees become invested, and learning opportunities are created. By encouraging the traits found in an innovation culture, the transformation to innovative organization becomes easier.

Innovation culture

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