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Overcoming the ‘innovation for the sake of innovation’ culture

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The pressure to be future-focused has become so intense of late, businesses are creating innovation-led roles and teams focused purely on the art of thinking ‘differently’. This is a great concept but is it enough to unpack and prepare for the future? In isolation, no. Innovation has to have guide rails for it to prove effective. It is also an outcome of your culture.

The constant battle to try and predict where society will land is brewing an ‘innovation for the sake of innovation’ outlook. That is, we’re increasingly seeing businesses breed ideas to stay ahead of the curve, but with little follow through. Has ideation become such a necessity it’s graduated to a box ticking exercise, not a growth strategy?

Add in the perpetual proof of concept process and you’ve got an environment doing exactly what it set out not to do; ignoring issues, while great ideas sit in limbo, too costly or difficult to execute, but too important to forget. 

While disruptive thinking is on the up, what’s the point of innovating if you aren’t agile enough to execute? Why are seemingly simple hurdles, like team mobilisation, so impactful?

It starts from within

Innovation stems from your cultural fluidity. That is, a business’ ability to adapt to, build and implement change internally. Why? Jack Welch said it best, “if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

Businesses need to be able to pivot their focus at speed as ideas bloom. They need to be geared for growth and this starts with addressing the confronting on the inside; the roadblocks, both basic and complicated, that stop projects from progressing.

One such hurdle is the creative silo approach mentioned above. Creativity shouldn’t be guided by a product set or business strategy. It needs the freedom to explore even the wildest of concepts. Curiosity also can’t be limited to a certain set of people, regardless of how inventive or clever they are. Collective intelligence is where the great ideas start. 

This is because when it comes to innovation, the people within a business are more important than the product it sells or the experts who lead it. They are the ones with their finger on the ‘industry pulse’ everyday. They live and breathe your customers’ needs, as well as the services that make your business tick. They are the insight. We think about it at Denver as having market-led design capacity. 

Create environments that allow exploration

It’s one thing to listen, it’s another to action. There needs to be tangible strategies that enable good thinking to go beyond the drawing board. 

I believe this conscious culture starts with peer-to-peer accountability. Teams should feel empowered to make decisions but also have the ability to keep each other in check, bottom up and top down. This includes breaking down traditional structures such as legacy equalling authority, hierarchy and culture killing bureaucracy.

Other tactics that help build an effective innovation culture include: 

  • Having a combination of doers and thinkers, as well as newbies and regulars. In the case of small business, it’s people with the right mindset. They need to be hungry, capable and gutsy; entrepreneurial in attitude.
  • Asking for help. Start by admitting you don’t know everything. Research the behaviours you want to embrace and seek guidance on how to create inclusive teams through professionals who specialise in transforming cultures. Take the change seriously, so that others do too.
  • Listen and involve. Team buy in early on is everything. They need to feel ownership over what you’re putting forward. Get everyone together and ask real questions. As noted above, listening is where you find the space to change for the better.
  • Stand for something. We live in a world where values and ethics aren’t just nice words, they mean something. Invest in a culture that not only listens to and empowers its people, but has a clear moral compass. Then make that compass clear. 

Measure success from value earned

Lastly, we need to stop the need for perfection. Ideas will never meet all elements of a proof of concept exploration. And if they do, well, you’re not asking all the questions you need to. Success comes when failure is an acceptable outcome in the process. 

It might sit uncomfortably given contemporary musings about the rate of change, but innovation should be measured by the number of ideas that have unlocked competitive advantage. You have to be agile to create and deliver. After all, isn’t that the point? 

Josh Marshall is the CEO of Denver Technology, one of Australia’s original specialist resources technology consultancies. In addition to helping clients embrace digital innovation, he is passionate about creating conscious cultures where people are empowered and teams thrive. 

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