In this post, we want to go beyond the typical aspects of innovation culture-building. We simply assume you know that innovation is one of the most demanding jobs, and it needs extraordinary talents to make innovation happen. Many aspects of Motivation, Empowerment, Inspiration, Failure as a way of learning, and a clear innovation mandate are prerequisites to get results and have been discussed countless times. On the contrary, all the many playful ways to inspire people with internal hackathons, innovation days, creativity workshops, pitching contests, and many other activities have not brought a single genuine innovation forward.
Who is an innovation culture for?
Brilliant talents are not interested in playtime; they are interested in making a difference, achieving something nobody else has achieved yet, and making the impossible a reality. The goal to “make the impossible a reality” is not only a goal of intelligent innovators, it is also the dream of the CEO, the hope of early adopters in the market, and even expectation from investors. When those people say innovation, they mean it. They don’t even think of conventional improvements.
It’s all about making the impossible a reality
To make that dream a reality, you should start with a culture that can make it happen.
1) C-Level Involvement
Discussing innovation culture, innovation success, motivation, results-orientation, job satisfaction, and alike topics with innovation managers and executives, it turned out that the most ambitious and most creative people request a clear mandate from the CEO. Most people’s experience has been, that if the C-Level is not actively engaged and sees innovation as a strategic effort, nothing will get done and the career as an innovation manager is in jeopardy in those companies. The CEO does not necessarily need to be a visionary person but needs to ensure that groundbreaking innovation is happening. Highly innovative people look for companies and teams that have a high probability of creating extraordinary outcomes. Grass-roots efforts to build more innovation in a business have so far failed as far as we could see. Highly talented innovation team members, rather join insecure startups than companies that see innovation just as a marketing message and not as an effort to make a difference. And therefore, the innovation culture starts at the top with a clear mandate for groundbreaking innovation, backed by its board.
We see best results when both the innovation culture and innovation purpose comes from the top management and flows down into the relevant teams. Many executives have the hope that every employee becomes innovative. Whether this is a good idea or not is no longer important as top-down culture development automatically reaches the entire organization.
2) Team Composition
Already when assembling an innovation dream team, the innovation culture plays a strategic role. One aspect of the culture is the definition of the team composition. While conventional R&D centers were primarily experts, the ideal innovation team is a highly diverse team from diverse backgrounds. The innovation culture should include that diversity as part of the model. You will want an innovation team that comes from customer-oriented backgrounds such as sales, from a broader market background such as marketing, from an operational or administrative background, definitely from a financial background, and also subject matter experts from your industry field. If you have all engineers, you not only are limited by having more of the same but, most importantly, limited background. Understanding how ideas get created in our brain, a diverse background of experiences (not business experience) is of great importance.
Another aspect of an innovation culture and its team development concerns traits or talents; some call it soft skills. There are a few traits that all team members should share: For instance curiosity, fearlessness, abstract thinking, team spirit, competitiveness as a team, openness, and positive thinking. One mismatch can ruin the whole team. Candidates should know upfront what you are looking for and how you assemble the team. Never try to “re-wire” people’s minds that will either fail immediately or have long-term negative effects on the mindset of the respective individuals.
3) Co-Ideation Culture
Your idea or my idea? In a successful and inspiring innovation culture, it should not matter who’s ideas any given concept was from. The co-ideation culture is an essential part of the innovation culture. The innovation team must know that all ideas come from past experiences and are composed of millions of impressions, often co-produced by other people. Meetings, exchanges, and joint ideation are the sum of all brains, and the confluence of content sparks ideas. There cannot be individual ownership, and it would distract the ideation process to an unbearable degree. Teammates should be rewarded for ideas but also equally rewarded for building new ideas based on previous ideas from other teammates or anybody else for that matter. Groundbreaking innovation rarely comes from one genius individual – but in almost all cases in the past century from a group of people. Co-Ideation as a cultural element can be stimulated when the innovation software has integrated gamification and reward equally the ideation and idea confluence based on other people’s ideas.
4) Information Culture
Groundbreaking innovation is a tough but absolutely doable goal. Working in isolation, i.e., only inside an innovation lab, is a terrible mistake. Groundbreaking innovation means change. When those changes, coming out of the blue, 99% of homo sapiens will reject it as a natural process. If the innovation team is not keeping adjacent teams in the loop, success moves far away. First and foremost, the C-Level needs to be in the loop. If they don’t care, all innovation efforts are a waste of time and resources. Have a jour fix meeting with the CFO or CEO once a week or every other week for only and exactly 3 minutes. Don’t dare to make it a 4-minute presentation. You will need internal supporters, those from sales who help you work with selected customers, or from marketing who provide you with research or finance, which help you get some key insights. Keep them in the loop. Provide an update once a month for 5 minutes, for instance, the first Monday at 11:50 am sharp. Include selected customers and business partners into the process and if necessary ask for a non-disclosure agreement. An even better way to ensure success is an open innovation project where you include others from your market and even those not from your market.
For most corporations, Open Innovation is a no-go. However, it is more than worth considering it and take the necessary actions that public companies need to make in order t communicate with the outside and ensure equal information to their shareholders. The extra effort is negligible compared to the value it adds to the process and the shareholder relationship. The open information strategy represents the most visible aspect of the innovation culture and helps the innovation process band prevents copying ideas. Who will say “we too have this idea” when the idea has no proof yet? Who will want to be a follower of something that does not even exist yet? But you, with your genuine idea, can and prove the concept over time, very much like Microsoft, Tesla, Ikea, and in the past Carl Benz, Robert Bosch, Alfred Escher, and hundreds of others.
5) Performance Culture
Assuming you understand how the brain creates ideas, you will not want to wait for the magical idea or wonder if the prototype even works. You know how to compile groundbreaking ideas, how to develop a vision, how to get approval and funding, how to build your first minimum viable product (MVP), and how you get it to market. You know that any groundbreaking idea gives you a headstart of approximately 3 to 5 years. Yes, you will not want to lose a single day. Every successful startup or Unicorn is executing with relentless speed, working for recognition and growth every single day like there is no tomorrow.
In most conventional innovation centers, however, teams meditate, play games, follow all kinds of stimulation efforts, try to find random ideas, experiment, not know if an idea is working or not, and finally come out with an improvement at best. They are no competition to even mediocre startups.
The performance culture is a strategic part of the innovation culture. You and your team are in it for extraordinary results. The performance to do so and the achievement of the respective milestones are as important to that team as it is for any top-class athlete at the Olympics. Performance culture is mainly for highly intelligent people who compete against the best and brightest around the world for a solution that is thought to be impossible – they are hardly motivated by money. Competitiveness is a trait every innovation team member has to have. This culture is stimulated by serious goals and rewards that reflect the extraordinary outcome, a groundbreaking innovation. To maintain a performance culture as part of the innovation culture, team members are wired to go for a long-term effect on society, building something that nobody believed is possible. Some will try to do it on their own, others prefer to make it in a team that has already some profound resources. Innovation is the ultimate competition of the mind. Those individuals want to be a part of the organization they bring forward. Getting recognized for their outstanding achievement, become a shareholder, have a chance to make the impossible a reality is the main motive and key to performance.
During the BlueCallom implementation, we provide an innovation team development program involving HR/HT Management that includes the development of an innovation culture model that will need to be accepted by the CEO.
On Aug. 12th, 2021, BlueCallom will host a “Creating an internal innovation culture” event, part of the Innovative Minds Series. In this Innovative Minds event, gain insights into how to stimulate innovation culture-building from the middle up so it can flow down and how Innovation Leaders can best support it. Please visit to see more details and registration: https://bluecallom.com/creating-an-internal-innovation-culture-webinar/