How to Build Innovative Culture by Killing Mediocrity Pt. 2: The 12 Pillars of Innovation

January 21, 2014

Following up on the first post introducing the concept of overcoming mediocrity by fostering innovation, Brian Solis comes back this week to give us the 12 pillars of innovation to help you instill innovative culture.

To fight for resilience and transformation falls upon those who believe that the path to success is not charted by any one single route or any one person.

The Pillars of Innovation

Articulate Vision and Inspire:

Organizations cannot move in a new direction unless that vision is conceived, articulated and motivating. People, customers and employees, they need something to believe in…something to follow. That starts with communicating where we want to go and why it’s important and different.

Form an Innovation Management Team:

True leadership is a rare trait.  Often top executives need to band together to create alignment and build the infrastructure necessary to support a culture of innovation. This team is responsible for establishing the charter and working with the key department heads necessary to research, prioritize, plan, test and learn, and establish best practices. More importantly, its responsible for integrating insights and new programs and processes throughout the organization.

Promote Reverse Mentoring:

There’s a disconnect today between older generations and the Millennials pervading the workforce. Older managers feel that younger generations have unrealistic expectations and they haven’t paid the same dues they did to earn success. At the same time, younger generations live life differently and can’t understand why others just don’t take the time to better understand their “day in the life.” Innovative companies such as GE promote reverse-mentoring to foster understanding, create mutual empathy and promote collaboration between disparate generations of team members.

Optimize Decision-Making:

Decision-making is the chokehold of corporate creativity.

Evaluate how to optimize decisions and also introduce paths for ideas to earn consideration, development and expansion.

This may start with the innovation management team, but ultimately, decision-making around ideas and creativity will benefit the entire enterprise and thus requires top-down implementation. Empowerment is key here. Additionally, a RACI chart is renewed or created to account for new scenarios and the people, systems, and rights to make things happen.

Invest in People and Processes:

People are a core asset to your organization. At the same time, without the right training, processes, systems, or management, people can also become the hindrance. Everyday businesses practices, how employees are trained and reviewed, and also the time they spend on day-to-day projects versus thinking about or pursuing new ideas are the keystone to a stronger creative and collaborative foundation. We are all students now and learning is how we stay competitive.

Employ Technology as an Enabler:

With the rise of social, mobile, real-time, cloud and every new technology trend, organizations are often faced with a confusing and overwhelming set of options to consider for implementation. Some though get caught in the technology trap by fooling themselves that they would become irrelevant without the adoption of everything in some way. This is only partly true. Technology is often the right thing to “do” but the “why” it’s introduced is often the missing ingredient to success. Technology alone though isn’t the answer. Technology is merely a means to facilitate connections, provide direction, learn, collaborate, and remind people why they (and you) matter… their way. It’s tempered with empathy, purpose and aspiration, to do things better than how we did them yesterday. Technology must be an enabler of the greater vision, purpose and bottom line business objectives.

Incentivize Ideas and Reward Risk:

Encourage courage is something that most risk-averse organizations chastise or discourage. Ideas are precious and the ecosystem where they are introduced can be fragile. Make it fun or lucrative to introduce them and also spotlight them as part of everyday business practices. The most innovative businesses take ideation further by instilling it in everyday job responsibilities and performance management (up and down). Everyone is expected to contribute and managers are expected to cultivate and consider ideas. At the same time, innovative companies find a way to reward risk. This is key in organizations where corporate “whack-a-mole” prevents people from thinking outside of the box for fear of punishment or ridicule.

Teach Creative Thinking Up/Down:

Creative thinking is something that isn’t relegated to just the chosen few. Everyone has the means within them to uncover a problem and solve it or see opportunities when others cannot or will not. Workshops, offsites, events, they must inspire employees, executives and leaders alike. I refer to this approach as the dilemma’s innovator. It’s a combination of design thinking and problem solving that allows for people to not only address quandaries but also create or surface something new. This must be taught as the process for evaluating empathy and context is different than the traditional critical thinking approach many organizations promote today. Most importantly, time is needed to help people think differently. Whether its 5 hours, 10, or 20 hours a month, give employees time to learn something new or develop a concept outside of their day-to-day duties.

Reward Contribution:

HR needs a seat in the Innovation Management Team. Contributions must be rewarded. Risk takers deserve recognition. You’re asking people to do something beyond, in most cases, the reason why they’re where they are today. Reward employees for their contributions and also spotlight those that contribute every step of the way. Share insights and best practices. Reward systems and responsibilities will need updating to accommodate new processes and barometers for success.

Foster Collaboration:

Enterprise social networks, social media, collaboration tools, these are all designed to help people better work together. In many cases, businesses remove traditional barriers that separate work groups allowing for people who don’t normally see or talk to one another have the chance to co-mingle. Google will often say that its MicroKitchens in every building allow for sparks of ingenuity that wouldn’t have happened if two or more people weren’t getting a snack at the same time. Give them reason to do so and expand engagement beyond traditional work groups. Bring people together who share common passions and interests and give them the space and the time to work together.

Fail Forward:

Ideas are more common than the successes they’re intended to enliven. Without a surplus of meritorious candidates, the vine of ideas will inevitably whither. I understand that “failing” is a difficult belief to personify. After all, failing means just that, to be unsuccessful in meeting goals or standards. Nevertheless, fear of failure contributes to risk aversion. Failing doesn’t have to carry such negative overtones. Failing really means that you tried something and it didn’t work out. At least you tried. As long as you tried and learned…quickly…then you can move on. If it wasn’t for trying something new, we would be forever stuck in routines. And routines lead to complacency or irrelevance. Truth is that people will remember your hits over your misses. Edison failed 10,000 times before he made the electric light. The best companies find and communicate success even in failure. It’s how we learn.

Manage Accountability:

In a culture of innovation, accountability is critical. It’s not just employees who are responsible for generating ideas and improving skills and expertise, managers too are measured by how well they cultivate ideas, spark imagination, and encourage collaboration.

More so, managers are answerable for how well they promote ideas toward experimentation and implementation programs. Leaders lead. And for a healthy culture of innovation, one that strives to earn relevance, solve problems, and create new and even improbable opportunities and solutions, managers and executives are held to the same if not higher standards as everyone else. Eventually hierarchies fall in favor of flatter, more nimble models that move beyond just competing. This gives way for product strategies and also the way people work together, to become more than just competitive, they become the industry standard.

The Change Heard Round the World

Innovation begins with an idea on how to improve something that may or may not be broken. The secret to change is that it can arise from anywhere led by anyone. Optimism and hope are contagious. To fight for resilience and transformation falls upon those who believe that the path to success is not charted by any one single route or any one person. Instead, the journey toward triumph is actually fought for and realized as you go. It takes change agents and revolutionaries. It takes you.

Remember, it’s the little things that unfold as significant discoveries and alterations over time. When you look backward you will see you’re achievements. But, you cannot just look backward to move forward. Instead, recognize that the path toward differentiation, value and meaningful relationships is oft met by winds of resistance. If this was easy, anyone could do it. That’s why the future of business is up to you.

Don’t look back; you’re not going that way.

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