11 Traits Of Every Great Innovation Culture [List]

Truly great innovations are sometimes viewed as lighting strikes: eureka moments of pure genius that can’t be planned or bottled. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

While it’s true that you can’t exactly slot “change the world” into a free hour in your diary, it’s definitely possible to create and maintain an environment that allows for creative breakthroughs. Such an innovation culture has been difficult to justify until recently, since the value of an activity like “free thinking” doesn’t translate cleanly to a financial bottom line.

Yet organization after organization are finding ways to build their own innovation culture that is not only justifiable, but might just be the biggest factor keeping a few of them afloat and moving forward. While every organization is different and must do things in a way that makes sense for their own circumstances, an examination of the very best innovation cultures reveals several traits that they all have in common.

How many of the following traits does your own organization possess?

Great #innovation cultures share these 11 traits - how many does your organization possess? Click To Tweet

Traits Of A Great Innovation Culture

Embraces the power of pairs

We recently dedicated an entire blog post to this topic and it bears repeating: research and powerful historical examples show us that the single most creative number of collaborators is two. Granted, it takes more than two people to fully produce any large-scale idea, but it is between two people that the most ambitious raw ideas are generated.

Yes, it took all four members of The Beatles to make their magic happen but most of their greatest hits were the product of the Lennon/McCartney writing duo. A powerful innovation culture will feature the power of pairs at some stage of their creative process.

Encourage focused failure

Don’t misread this item: we’re not saying that an innovation culture focuses on failure. Rather, we’ve seen that great innovation not only allows room for failure but expects failure as a result of dogged determination to get things right.

As we mentioned in our recent post on creating your own design thinking process, failure is a hallmark of an innovation culture. If you got it right the first time, you’re either missing a fatal flaw or you’re not thinking ambitiously enough. An innovation culture embraces failure because once you’ve stopped failing, you’ve arrived at something truly great.

Focused failure is one of 11 traits common among great #innovation cultures. Click To Tweet

Celebrate – don’t punish – ambitious thinking

A great innovation culture is one in which members of the organization feel free to share wild ideas because there is no fear of punishment. Naturally, not all ideas will be given a green light (nor should they) but a culture that dismisses ideas with caustic remarks not unlike “that will never fly” or “that’s not how we do things here” is a culture that will never move forward.

If you only green light one in twenty ideas, that’s still one more idea than you would have in a room where everybody is afraid to speak their mind.

Get every department involved

The idea of innovation being driven by research and development alone is beyond dated – ambitious ideas can come from anywhere (even accounting!). Google (maybe you’ve heard of them?) know a few things about innovation, and they get everybody involved in the game.

A powerful innovation culture will see departments mixing and mingling with each other and eventually this cross-pollination of thought will bear fruit that is not only original but also realistically plausible (It’s life in the fast lane when accounting have already signed off).

Have a structure for innovation

We hear what you’re saying: how can structure be given to a concept that relies on the absence of structure? It’s as simple as allowing allocated time for unstructured free thinking. In the hustle of everyday duties it’s easy to forego dedicating time to brainstorming as it tends to not look overtly productive (the extreme example, of course, being Don Draper and his “working naps”).

This is easily overcome in an innovation culture by establishing even a loose structure in which outcomes of free time can be measured and evaluated. When free thinking becomes an assigned task (without being onerous), members of the organization will dedicate time to it accordingly.

Great #innovation cultures have a structure in place that allows for #creative thinking. Click To Tweet

Establish metrics for measuring innovation

Further to the above point about structure, any great innovation culture will feature metrics and tools for measuring success with driving innovation. Of course, when it comes to something as open-ended as innovation, there will be as many different metrics as there are organizations employing them.

Success looks different for every company, meaning it will need unique methods of measurement. An innovation for a restaurant might be judged by different standards than an innovation at Google. Differing resources, goals, and values require differing yardsticks.

Convert big ideas into actionable steps

Ambitious ideas are fine, but they’re not useful to anybody if they never stop being mere ideas. The steps to success may not be clear at the outset (or, success may not even seem feasible) but all realized ideas begin in the same place: step one.

Step one might sometimes turn out to be a misstep (remember what we said about embracing failure…) but any motion forward is better than no motion at all. Step ten might be unclear at the outset but fortunately you still have nine other steps to take before you have to worry too much about it.

Consider the end user

This is another aspect of any great design thinking process: considering how the end user will actually use your creation.

Consider the inventions of Chindogu: they solve problems that are commonly encountered by everybody on the planet (such as a runny nose) but not in a way that anybody would ever practically engage with (such as a roll of toilet paper attached to a hat for easy access).

If nobody wants to use your product or if it’s not designed in a way that allows them to seamlessly integrate it into their lives, you’ll find that all of your ambition will ultimately fall flat.

Great #innovation cultures are focused on the end #UserExperience of their ideas. Click To Tweet

Have a Chief Innovation Officer

We’re being cheeky with the title (although some companies have somebody in this exact role) but a vital feature of any great innovation culture is the appointment of somebody to oversee that very culture. Without a champion to defend them, all of the above qualities will gradually be shifted to the backest of back burners before being forgotten entirely.

Having a cultural watchdog will protect elements of innovation such as ‘free thinking’ and allowing for room to fail, not to mention help with the recognition of the triumphs of creativity (or, in some cases, the audacity of glorious failures that might inspire future ideas).

Frequently survey the health of the culture

Putting somebody in charge of maintaining an innovation culture is great, but frequently giving that culture an organization-wide checkup is better still. You might already be employing tools such as employee engagement surveys but engagement, of course, is not the same as feelings of safety or ambition.

Engage in casual chats around the literal or figurative water cooler to identify any ill feelings about all of the above traits. The slipping of even one pillar of an innovative culture can cause the whole structure to collapse.

Inspire innovation

This particular trait might seem to fall into the “well, duh” category but it’s worth including as a reminder.

It’s true that any great innovation culture will feature all of these traits but this is perhaps the most vital one in the sense that building an innovation culture without any inspiration to drive it is not unlike setting up a board game and failing to invite anybody to play. All the rulebooks, boards, game cards, tokens and dice in the world are useless without active players.

Leading by example is, of course, absolutely vital but key to innovation inspiration is the concept of setting audacious enough goals that genuine innovation will be required to reach them. The goal of being different can be solved with a paint job; the goal of making people forget about your competitor entirely? That will require a few paradigm shifts.

An #innovation culture without any #inspiration is like a #BoardGame with no players. Click To Tweet

How do you stack up?

How many of the above traits can you identify in your own organization? The more of these traits that you integrate into your operations, the more likely you’ll be to generate truly original innovation. As stated above, the road to success begins with that vital first step so if you’re missing any of the above, you now know where to begin.

Of course, getting different departments onto the same page – particularly if any of your team work remotely – is easier said than done. That’s where Blrt comes in, enabling you to get everyone on the same page by allowing you to talk, point and draw over documents, images, and websites. Use it to take that all-important first step now:

About Blrt

Blrt helps you get your point across quickly by allowing you to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites. The resulting video-like recording is called a Blrt.

Your Blrts require much less bandwidth than video and can be shared with anyone on mobile or desktop. This makes Blrt ideal for both collaboration and the creation and sharing of dynamic content, as public Blrts can be embedded into any webpage.

Once recorded, Blrts are stored in the cloud and are exchanged with others in a conversation-like fashion. A record is kept of the exchange, and new parties and media can be added at any time.

Blrt shifts time and place, allowing users in a conversation to participate in their own time. In an era where activity-based working and distributed teams are commonplace, Blrt is revolutionising the way people interact to get things done.

Get everyone on the same page

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